In 1972, as an eleven-year-old who lived for baseball, Tom Stanton dreamt of visiting Cooperstown. His plans for that summer never materialized, disappearing in the turmoil caused by his mother's life-threatening illness. Twenty-nine years later, he was invited to speak at the Hall of Fame. He asks his father and his brother to accompany him. Time has changed them all, and he recognizes one change in the rearview mirror: His dad is riding in the back seat of the car. All three men realize that this will be their last journey together. A true bonding experience is the heart of this book about baseball, family, the Hall of Fame, and the town with which it shares a rich heritage.
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Thomas Dunne Books
June 01, 2003
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Excerpt from The Road to Cooperstown by Tom Stanton
1. Spring 1972: Cobb's Birthday
My father, Joseph Stankiewicz, was born in 1920, the same year Carl Mays accidentally killed Cleveland infielder Ray Chapman by beaning him with a fastball. My mother, Betty Muse, arrived two seasons later, days after Wally Pipp and teammate Babe Ruth went at it in the dugout. But please don't read into those associations. There is no correlation. Mom was feisty, not violent, and Dad, though stubborn, certainly would have relinquished the inside of the plate rather than take a ball to the head.
The Chapman and Pipp incidents say nothing about my parents, but they say everything about me and how I pictured the world as a boy: as spinning on an axis of baseball. Everywhere I looked, I found parallels to my life and the game. I remembered dates by placing them on baseball's timeline; I remembered people by connections I conjured between them and the men who wore the uniforms.
My parents met during World War II, when Dad was stationed in St. Joseph, Missouri, close to Mom's home, and at a time when Ted Williams, who had enlisted in the Navy, was giving baseball fans something more to remember him by: a Triple Crown performance. Long before Mom caught Dad's eye in a soldiers' hangout near Rosecrans Field, Dad was hitching rides to town with her stepfather, a carpenter who built barracks. He was a strapping, sturdy farmer, and when I see pictures of Cy Young I think of him. Mom's mother, who smiled tight-lipped like Ty Cobb, was a pioneer woman who wore dungarees and ball caps and could shoot the head off a rattler from twenty feet.
Mom and Dad came from different, Depression-era worlds, neither well-to-do. Mom and her three sisters (a brother died young) lived in small towns and on farms in Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas, their American roots nine generations deep. Dad grew up in an industrial city, Detroit, born to Polish immigrants. His mother raised him and his nine siblings to be good Catholics. His father raised him to love baseball.
They married in 1944 and moved from Missouri about the time Mickey Mantle was making news in the minors at Joplin, where, depending on whose stories you believe, he may or may not have gotten drunk with Uncle Grubby. My parents settled in the Detroit area to raise their children, each separated by four to seven years: first came Jan, who followed Jackie Robinson into the spotlight; then Joey, a rookie with Hank Aaron; next, me; and finally Colleen, a bigger 1965 surprise than Zoilo Versalles.