Nestling in a valley in upstate New York’s rolling woodlands, picture-postcard Otsego Lake marks the source of the Susquehanna River’s northern branch.
Along the lake’s southern edge there’s a small village with a single set of traffic lights. Yet Cooperstown has a claim to literary fame, as the birthplace of James Fennimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans.
Cooperstown’s second claim to fame rests on America’s passion, which sits in an unlikely brownstone building on 25 Main Street, two blocks from the lake’s shaded shoreline. Eight huge red, white and blue rosettes across its otherwise bland façade, and a constant cavalcade of cars and buses that disgorge their enthusiastic human cargoes, indicate a major attraction inside.
Actually, it’s a major League attraction, for this is Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Inside its walls are the statues, plaques, statistics, photos and footage of the game’s heroes. These mementos settle as many arguments among older fans as they inspire younger fans towards their own potential greatness.
In 1971, eight inductees included Leroy “Satchel” Paige, the first black to be given this prestige, for he was one of the first blacks to step into integrated baseball in 1948.
Despite being a forty-two year-old rookie, Paige’s Major League career lasted until 1965, on his retirement from the Kansas City Monarchs. And since he had played for twenty years amidst the overt and covert racial prejudice which kept baseball segregated, his Hall of Fame citation includes recognition of his career in what had been called the Negro Leagues.
Few batters faced his fastball with any confidence, but neither were they helped by his favorite method of breaking their concentration. This was to pause at the point of delivery, lifting his left leg and wiggling his foot to catch the batter's eye, before unleashing a pitch that fired across the home plate and crashed into the catcher’s glove. More than one sportswriter felt that Paige’s left foot struck out as many batters as his throwing arm!
Paige claimed to have never thrown an illegal pitch, “though I have thrown a few that have never been seen yet!”
His legendary speed spawned many stories, like one of the batter who let a pitch go past and heard the umpire call: “Strike one!”
The batter spun around to challenge the call, protesting: “You never saw that pitch! It was too fast!”
“That's true,” replied the umpire, “but it sounded like a strike!”
Away from the game, Paige coined some notable lines, such as his rebuke to mean-spirited people: “No man can help being born average; but any man can help becoming common.”
Self-deprecation kept him underwhelmed by his own success, for he once quipped that “baseball has turned me from a second class citizen to a second class immortal.”
Encouragement to look beyond any drudgery shines through another pearl: “Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching.”
His life story made it to the big screen in 1981. Starring Louis Gossett Jnr, the movie’s title “Never Look Back” is taken from Paige’s best-known quip, which adds his distinct irony: “Never look back – someone might be gaining on you!”
The warmth behind Paige’s insights constantly challenges me to let go of failures and successes from the past, so I may concentrate on what’s ahead.
For in spite of my self-doubts or others’ suspicions or hesitations, God’s offer for the future is always a fresh start that is infused with his acceptance and trust, so I can keep exploring his freedom and keep spreading his grace throughout my circle of influence.
And the best is still yet to be.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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