Father-son bond strengthened at Cooperstown

NSJ’s Brett Friedlander and his son attended the Hall of Fame induction of former Braves star Chipper Jones, a player who brought them together as baseball fans

North State Journal’s Brett Friedlander, left, and his son Paul traveled to Cooperstown to see the Hall of Fame induction of family favorite Chipper Jones. (Photo courtesy of Brett Friedlander)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — I woke my son Paul at around 10:30 on the night of Oct. 28, 1995.

He was almost 5 at the time and didn’t completely understand why I did it.

He does now.

The ninth inning of World Series Game 6 was about to begin, and if Mark Wohlers could get the final three outs, the Atlanta Braves would be the champions of baseball.

As a Braves fan since I was a kid myself growing up in Atlanta, this was the moment for which I’d been waiting for as long I could remember. And I wanted to share it with my child because baseball, more than any other sport, is a father-son game.

Love for a team is handed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom kept proudly on display in a curio cabinet.

Ask any Tigers, Indians or Angels fan why he’s a Tigers, Indians or Angels fan and he’ll probably tell you it’s because that’s the team his dad rooted for. It’s the same with virtually every team in both leagues.

Some of those bonds are stronger than others, of course. One of the most poignant aspects of both the Red Sox and Cubs ending their respective World Series “curses” were the stories of sons going to cemeteries the morning after to celebrate together the victories their fathers didn’t live long enough to see.

In “Field of Dreams” — the definitive father-son baseball movie — there’s a scene in which one of the characters, reflecting back on his one and only game in the Major Leagues says: “We just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought there’d be other days. I didn’t realize that was the only day.”

Which brings us back to Oct. 28, 1995.

The Braves were about to win the World Series and sleep could wait, because I wanted Paul to see it happen. And I wanted us to experience it together because you just never know if there will be “other days” like that.

Paul was already in the process of adopting the Braves as his own favorite team by then, thanks to a gentle nudge from his parents. He had a Braves hat and a Braves jersey with the No. 10 on the back, 10 being the number of his favorite player, Chipper Jones.

I think Paul gravitated to the rookie third baseman because he thought his name sounded more like a kid than those other guys on the team. But as the years went by, Chipper stayed his favorite because of the way he played the game.

Like many young Braves fans at the time, Paul wore No. 10 throughout his own baseball career. He wore his pant legs up high the way Chipper did, too.

It is a connection that lasted an entire childhood. Jones was drafted first overall by the Braves in 1990, the year my son was born. By the time Jones retired in 2012, Paul was in his final year of college. Paul told me that day that he wanted to be in Cooperstown when his hero was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. So I told him I would go with him.

And I did last weekend.

The trip got off to an ominous start after flying into New York on Friday. We bought tickets to see the Yankees play — my first trip to their new stadium — and the game was rained out. Things brightened up quickly the next day, though, as we rented a car and escaped the clutter of the city for the rolling green hills of baseball’s idyllic mecca.

Cooperstown is a tiny little place on Lake Otsego located about 90 miles from everything. It would be just another dot on the GPS if not for the brick building at 25 Main St., the place at which the most revered names in the game are enshrined.

Paul and I got to see and cheer more than 50 of those all-time greats on Saturday as we watched the annual Parade of Hall of Famers. It was at that moment I realized that this trip wasn’t just a celebration of Paul’s favorite player.

How could it be, given the father-son fabric of the game?

Among those driving by waving to the crowd were the great Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro, the two best Braves from my formative years. They were followed later in the parade by John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Bobby Cox, players and a manager Paul and I cheered on together.

It was an experience that would have made the trip magical on its own merit. But then came Sunday’s induction ceremony.

Paul and I had set up our chairs a day early at the large field that resembled a baseball version of Max Yasgur’s farm at Woodstock, so we had a great view of the stage. Around us were a multitude of other fathers and sons, many like us wearing Braves jerseys.

The estimated crowd of more than 50,000 was the second-largest ever for a Hall of Fame induction, the product of an unusually large class of new inductees. Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jack Morris, Jim Thome and Alan Trammell also earned entry into immortality Sunday.

Chipper gave the first speech, a matter of necessity rather than honor since his wife, Taylor, was about to give birth to another son — to be named Cooper — at any moment.

It was a heartfelt narrative that focused on all the people that helped the new Hall of Famer get to this moment. He even gave a shoutout to us in the crowd, saying the support he received from Braves fans was a big reason why he stayed with the team his entire career.

But of all the people he mentioned, there was little doubt who was the most special. It was his father, Larry Sr., a man he described as his “mentor, coach and best friend.”

When Chipper was done, we all rose to give him a standing ovation. While we were up, Paul reached over and hugged me.

It was around 3:30 on the afternoon of July 29, 2018. And I hoped nobody would wake me up.