Maese: Hall of sons, fathers, too

Cal Jr. won't be 1st to think of dad at Cooperstown. Ask Pat O'Donnell.

There's a part of Cal Ripken Jr.'s Hall of Fame induction speech he's both anticipating and dreading. He's been rehearsing it privately, hoping to smooth out the voice cracks and the sniffles. He's normally a composed and articulate speaker, but when Ripken talks about his father Sunday, even he can't predict where his emotions might take him.

It's the subject matter that gets him --- fathers and sons. And baseball. The three are intricately tied together, and wouldn't you know it, among the artifacts on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum - where you can find everything from Babe Ruth's bowling ball to the cap Ichiro Suzuki wore in the 2007 All-Star Game --- is a subtle tribute to the most enduring facet of America's storied pastime.

Officially, there are 280 inductees in the Hall of Fame, a list that includes 198 players, 35 Negro leaguers, 23 executives, 16 managers and eight umpires. Unofficially, there's only one Hall of Fame Dad.

"If you walk around here on any given day, you'll see that the game is personal to people," says Ted Spencer, chief curator for the Hall of Fame. "And many are connected to it because it was given to them by their parents. Many adults pass it along to their children, who pass it along to their children. So in that sense, it's not that surprising that a guy like Pat O'Donnell came in here and did what he did."

Reunited in leather

The best place for us to start is probably with Pat O'Donnell and his own son, Rick, out back of Pat's old tavern. This was 22 years ago, on Pat's 38th birthday, and though Rick was a young man by then, the two hadn't built much of a relationship. A divorce, some distance and plenty of time apart does that.

Pat walked out the back of the Blarney Stone - he can't remember why - and saw his son drive up.

"Hi, Rick."

"Hey, Dad."

Without another word, Rick reached into the back of his car and tossed something toward his dad. "Happy birthday," he said.

"It was a baseball glove," Pat says today. "I can still remember it like it just happened. He threw it to me, and it was almost like it was suspended in midair. By the time it hit my hands, it was like a huge healing had taken place in a split-second."

Rick brought along his own glove and a ball, and the father and son started playing catch right behind the bar. They only made it a few throws before Pat walked over and hugged his son. Both men were in tears.

Pat went home that night and started thinking about his own dad and how perfect their relationship had always felt. Joe O'Donnell worked at an oil refinery in Wellsville, N.Y., and even though he came home filthy and tired, he always had time for a game of catch, always had energy to hit pop-ups for the neighborhood kids. And when the community needed new ball fields, Joe volunteered to help build them.

Joe was already pretty well-known in the area. He was a catcher for the refinery team before Pat was born, and baseball always seemed to play a role in their relationship. Even today, Pat remembers a conversation about the Hall of Fame.

"What's that?" an adolescent Pat asked.

"That's where they put the best of the best," his dad told him.

And for several years, the two talked about visiting Cooperstown together. They never made it, though. Joe O'Donnell had a heart attack and died in 1966. He was 50; Pat was 18.

That day playing catch with Rick planted a seed for Pat, but three years would pass before he was finally able to take his dad to the Hall of Fame, more than 20 years after Joe O'Donnell's death.

Taking along a friend




Eduardo A. Encina

Eduardo A. Encina

Orioles beat writer
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck

Sports Columnist
Dan Connolly

Dan Connolly

Orioles and national baseball writer
Dean Jones Jr.

Dean Jones Jr.

Orioles editor