Sometimes you are a Pee-Wee League All-Star, and cherish that jersey patch the rest of your life. But if you are lucky, dedicated and exceedingly skillful, you can wind up standing in a grassy field in upstate New York, entering the Hall of Fame.
Either way, when you look back, you think about the people who got you into the game. That lasting bond between parents and baseball was a central theme of Sunday's inductions, as they are every time the Hall welcomes new members.
"I would not be standing here today if not for all the positive people I've had in my life," Greg Maddux said. "When I was 6 years old, my dad, Dave, was my first coach. He taught me to enjoy the game. He would hit my brother [Mike] and I countless ground balls every day after work, and we had fun doing it."
Maddux said he was blessed that his mother, Linda, was the perfect mom.
"She drove us to practice and every game, and made sure we were never late," he said. "I love her, and she is my biggest fan."
Tom Glavine, Maddux's Atlanta teammate from 1993-2003, was a two-sport star as a kid. Growing up in Billerica, Mass., he spent winters playing hockey and summers playing baseball, and his parents were always there.
"I had a couple of goals in mind each time I put on a uniform," Glavine said. "The first was to represent the logo on the front. That meant to play hard, play the game the right way, and give it your all every time you stepped on the field. … The second part was to not embarrass the name on the back. I wanted to represent my parents to the best of my ability. They worked hard to earn the respect they had in the community, and I wanted to do everything I could to protect that."
Glavine said he always knew he was going to be a professional athlete.
"Red Sock or Bruin, I didn't care," he said. "I loved Bobby Orr, I loved [Carl Yastrzemski], [Carlton Fisk], Jim Rice. But my role models were, and always have been, my parents, Fred and Millie. They gave me the two best things you could ever ask for as a kid. They gave me their time and they gave me their example."
Glavine told how his parents disciplined him for throwing snowballs at cars from his front porch, and how his dad refused to indulge his son's self-centeredness after a losing hockey game when in his pre-teen years.
"I remember a hockey game as a kid that didn't go so well, and in the car on the way home, my dad wanted to talk about the game," Glavine said. "He didn't want to criticize me, but he just wanted to have a conversation. After a short time of me being less than pleasant in the conversation, because things didn't go so well, my dad told me something I never forgot, and in fact use on my kids today. He said, 'You're going to go into that locker room with a smile on your face, and you're going to come out with one, or I'm not taking you anymore.'"
Frank Thomas no doubt had similar talks with his late father, Frank Sr., who died from heart problems in 2001. His dad's death is a heartbreak that he still wrestles with, according to his sister, Sharon Porter.
Thomas' mother, Charlie Mae, headed the delegation that traveled from Columbus, Ga., for the induction. She has had her own health problems, forcing her to use a walker and sometimes wheelchairs for mobility, and according to Thomas, his mother hadn't left Georgia in 15 years before the trip to Cooperstown.
On stage in front of Hall of Famers and a crowd estimated at 48,000, Thomas cried like a baby when he talked about his parents. He thanked them for instilling his core values and ambition.
"We didn't have much, but my parents worked tirelessly for me and my four siblings," Thomas said. "Frank Sr., I know you're watching and smiling from heaven. Without you, I know, 100 percent, I wouldn't be here in Cooperstown today. Thanks for pushing me and always preaching to me, 'You can be someone special if you really work at it.'
"I took that to heart, Pops. Look at us today. … Mom, thanks for hanging in, and believing in the same vision. I know it wasn't easy, but I thank you for all the motherly love and support. Raising all of us was tough, but you and dad made sure we made it. You guys made it look easy for us."
While Thomas broke down, Charlie Mae kept her emotions together.
"She was stoic," Thomas said after the ceremony. "We had spent a long time last night at a party, and she got all her crying out last night. She said, 'I know you're going to cry as soon as you mention your dad's name.' … You don't understand that my dad's my everything. He pushed me day-in and day-out to go to practice and do all these little things. He lived [for his children], was so proud with me. I was overcome with emotion. I'm sorry about it, but I'm not sorry about it. It's what I am."
We're all parts of what we've been given from our parents. They put the bat and ball in our hands, and the mystery of life is that no one knows what lies ahead.