Griffey, Bonds, Alou, Mota, Alomar, Stottlemyre, Navarro, Javier, Boone, Perez, Borbon, Sprague, McRae, Hundley, Kessinger, Amaro, Schofield, Tartabull, Haney, Buford, May, Segui, Oliver, Nen, Alomar (again), Kunkel, Bell, Fletcher, McKnight, Merullo, Howard, Skinner, Carreon....
For the next six months those names will not only appear in box scores but will also trace the arc of the ball as it goes from father to son. Nearly every team in baseball had the son or grandson of a former major leaguer on its spring roster. Funny how the little kids running around the Cincinnati Reds' clubhouse in 1972 and '73 turned out to be Kansas City Royal centerfielder Brian McRae, California Angel leftfielder Eduardo Perez, Atlanta Brave reliever Pedro Borbon Jr., Oakland A's centerfielder Stan Javier, Toronto Blue Jay third baseman Ed Sprague Jr. and Seattle Mariner centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. And on their spring roster, Cincinnati had second baseman Bret Boone, son of Bob and grandson of Ray; shortstop Keith Kessinger, son of Don; and utility man Casey Candaele, son of Helen St. Aubin of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
They all stand—and hit and run and throw—as a testament to the simple game of catch between parent and child. The movie Field of Dreams and the novel that inspired it, Shoeless Joe, were also paeans to that cross-generational tossing around of the old dun sphere. In fact, you can still see the tracks of the tears on the cheeks of some of the men who got choked up when Kevin Costner asked his dad if he wanted to play some catch.
But neither familiar names nor fiction can compare in eloquence to a snapshot found by accident this winter. And it was discovered in the best of all places, namely Cooperstown.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was being renovated. When the World War II display case on the second floor was removed, a worker found a photo that had been secretly wedged underneath the case. He gave it to the Hall's curator, Ted Spencer. The picture was of a man in a Sinclair Oil baseball uniform, a burly, seemingly friendly fellow who looks as if he might have batted cleanup. Attached to the back was a note, reproduced here with the snapshot, from his son, Pete.
Pete's spelling may have been a little off, and his penmanship could have been a bit better—the last sentence of the note says, "I wish I could share this moment with you"—but his heart was in the right place.
There is no way to tell when the picture was placed underneath the display, which was installed 15 years ago. Nor is there much to tell us when and where the picture was taken. Spencer, who was both moved and fascinated by the discovery, at first wondered if the photo's placement under the World War II case had any special significance. He checked into teams that were sponsored by Sinclair Oil but drew a blank.
"The more I thought about it," says Spencer, "the more I realized that the beauty of the picture lay in its anonymity. That way it's a gift to every parent who has taken the time to play baseball with his or her children."
(The purpose of this piece is not to initiate a search for Pete or his dad. To the contrary, ignorance is bliss.)
For a few weeks, Spencer and other staff members at the Hall of Fame debated what to do with the photo. One suggestion was to make Pete's dad the focal point of a special exhibit every year around Father's Day. There was even some thought of incorporating the picture into the museum's education program; grade-school children would be asked to write a story about the photo. Ultimately, though, the Hall decided to do the right thing.