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Saturday, July 06, 2002

  Ted Williams' Wake

Ted Williams died yesterday. Today, I went to the wake.

There was no body and there were no family members. But there were mourners, plenty of them, who came to pay tribute. They looked at pictures of the deceased and shared their favorite stories about him. Many had personal memories of having seen him play. A few even brought flowers.

The site of the gathering was the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When I heard of Ted's passing from my father yesterday, the first thing I said was, "I may have to make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown this weekend." And today I did just that. I left shortly before 9:00 this morning, and it took me just under four hours to drive there. I stayed for almost three hours then came home. I'm very tired. But it was worth it.

The first thing you notice at the Hall of Fame after you go through the turnstile is the life-size and life-like carving of Ted in the front lobby. It depicts him swinging the bat in his inimitable way. The carving was commissioned by the late Red Sox owner Jean Yawkey, who thought that if the Hall of Fame had a statue of Babe Ruth, it ought to have one of Ted Williams too. She got the same sculptor who carved the Babe to do Ted's, and they now stand side by side. Yesterday, a memorial plaque was placed beside the Williams statue, and there was a large white floral arrangement in front with a ribbon that said "Splendid Splinter" in the same way that funeral arrangements usually say "Mother" or "Beloved Husband." Two other cut flower bouquets, the kind you can buy at the supermarket, lay on the statue's base, apparently placed there by fans. Someone else left a picture postcard showing an aerial view of Fenway Park. As I stood there, a man wearing a New York Yankees jersey explained to his young son that the flowers were there because Ted Williams was very special.

Inside the Hall of Fame gallery, visitors milled around reading all the plaques, but there was particular interest in Ted's. People were quiet and respectful as they approached. The Hall of Fame had placed a mourning spray under it, as they do whenever a member dies. I asked one couple who were there with their son if they would mind taking a picture of me standing beside the plaque. After the picture was snapped, I noticed he was wearing a golf shirt with red socks on the left chest and she was wearing a Red Sox logo pin. They had arrived in Cooperstown from their home in Agawam, Massachusetts yesterday morning and were at the Hall when Ted's death was announced. The man told me about the time his father took him to Fenway and he got to see Ted hit.

Beyond the gallery, people waited in line to enter the tiny Bullpen Theater, which usually shows baseball movies in the early evening. But almost continuously since mid-day yesterday, they have been showing two videos featuring Ted. The first is a black and white film of excerpts from his 1966 Hall of Fame induction speech. The second is a mid-'70s interview by Tom Seaver. There were several humorous moments in both, and people laughed heartily. The videos lasted a total of about a half hour, and when we filed out at the end, another line of people quickly took our place.

The Hall of Fame bookstore, a small gift shop separate from the larger main shop and selling mostly books and videos, had a display of books by and about Ted. The postcard depicting his plaque was a hot seller. I bought one for my mother and one for myself.

I took about an hour to quickly make my way through the other exhibits, as it's been a few years since I was last at the Hall. Ted was everywhere. On my way up the escalator, I turned around to look at the enormous bat that hangs above, which had been made for Ted out of a telephone pole from Gardner, Massachusetts. I snapped a photo of the display of color-coded balls that represented Ted's analysis of a hitter's batting average if he swung at pitches in different parts of the strike zone. I saw the painting of Ted in his famous follow-through position. I watched the film in the Grandstand Theater, the one designed to get you "in the mood" for your visit, even though I had seen it before, because I wanted to see the several references to Ted.

And lest I forget the rest of baseball, I checked out the 2001 and 2002 highlights display to see the mementos of Hideo Nomo's and Derek Lowe's no-hitters, and I paused to enjoy one of my favorite exhibits, the 1981 Longest Game between AAA teams Pawtucket and Rochester. But that's not what I was there for.

I went to Ted Williams' wake today. It was a fitting tribute.

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