They are eulogies in those binders they carry to the Sunday afternoon podium in Cooperstown.
Page by page, turned by trembling fingers, they are goodbyes.
Man by man, what they talk about is immortality. Line by line, tear by tear, what they honor, what they examine, what they express, is mortality.
So they find the eyes of their moms and dads, these men, to say thank you again. Sometimes they must pick a place in the sky that seems about right. They search for their children, their wives, their brothers and sisters, their friends, to say the things that got lost in the days. They’d finally written them down so they wouldn’t forget.
It is all meaningful. For the years that led to it, the hours under the sun in an upstate New York field, and the years that come, it is meaningful.
It also is a rehearsal, though it is hard to know for sure.
Brandy Halladay wiped her eyes before she stood Sunday afternoon, before she crossed the stage with her binder, before she passed the men who’d grayed and been recognized as great, before she arrived at the podium and opened her binder to the first page. She apologized ahead of time for what might come, for, as she said, “I never know what’s going to get to me.”
Her Roy will have been dead for two years in November.
She sniffed back a tear.
She mentioned the men on the stage behind her, her friends, some maybe she’d only just met. And still friends, she was sure. But she would not turn and face them.
“I’ll cry again,” she explained.
Their sons, Braden and Ryan, sat before her in the sun, their elbows on their knees. The past 20 months have been theirs to bear, too. And who knows what gets to them. Maybe all of it. Maybe all of those dads who on Sunday afternoon looked across to all of their sons and daughters and said all of the things that got lost in the days.
“This is not my speech to give,” their mom would say. “I’m going to do the best I can.”
She was perfect. She was strong. She was composed. She honored Roy, the man, the son, her husband, their father. She honored her family. She allowed the moment, the highlight video she could not bring herself to watch, the event, the company it kept and the crowds it drew, to handle the ballplayer part. She dabbed at her eyes and collected herself and sniffed and spoke of the important parts. The boys he helped raise. The friendships he fanned. His generosity. His spirit. What he left for them.
It was so sad. She smiled.
“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect,” Brandy said. “We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle. But with hard work, humility, and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments. Roy was blessed in his life and his career to have some perfect moments.”
Roy probably loved that. Baseball is not a game of perfect. Not very often. Neither is life. Not ever.
And so Mike Mussina and Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith and Mariano Rivera had their turns with their binders. Baines picked a place in the sky and thanked his father, who’d told him, “Words are easy, deeds are hard. ... Deeds speak loudest and sometimes they echo forever.” And Smith picked a place in the sky and thanked his sister, the woman who’d given him courage and comfort. And Rivera found a woman in the crowd, his wife, Clara, and called her his pillar, his backbone, and said that if he were to do it again, do it all over from a fishing village in Panama to a stage in Cooperstown across three decades, “I would love that we will do it with you again.” Then he picked a place in the sky and thanked his God.
It’s why the voices of the men who hold those binders shake. Why the words so thoughtfully composed and memorized blur. When they were young and powerful, the Hall of Fame indeed was about immortality. When they arrive, however, and look around and must pick a place in the sky for their thank-yous, when an imperfect game seems so much closer to perfect in hindsight, it is time to reconsider what the Hall of Fame is about for them.
On this Sunday, Brandy Halladay held her own binder, the eulogy, and lauded the men behind her “for being such a good example to him.” Congratulations, she said to them. And thank you, she said. And if anyone on that stage, anyone in that crowd, anyone watching anywhere, had thought this was about the baseball, Brandy Halladay wiped her eyes and suggested otherwise. Maybe, it was about those lost days, especially now that they’re gone, and the days ahead, before they are, too.
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