Friday, February 17, 2012

Talkin' Baseball at the Smithsonian with Joe Torre

When I was young, my mother and I would spend summers at "mommy and me" events at various museums where I could dig up fossils, be confused by modern art, and play with various sea creatures. While I can't say that all of these events hit the mark, something positive must have rubbed off because I love museums. In fact, one of the things I was most excited about when moving to DC was becoming a member of the Smithsonian.

For several years now, J and I have been part of the Smithsonian Associates program. In addition to giving to a great cause (FREE museums!), we receive discounts at Smithsonian programs and occasionally attend members-only events.

We've seen the stars with Smithsonian astronomers, slept through a lecture on Van Gogh's Giverny (the garden with the water lilies), heard Mario Batali and Marisa Tomei discuss food, saw Tommy Lasorda and Joe Torre (more on him later) talk baseball, got a behind the scenes tour of the zoo and several other museums, and attended a couple of cocktail parties.

Last Wednesday was probably the best of all. Being able to hear from Joe Torre about his experience as a player (borderline Hall of Famer) and manager (definite Hall of Famer) was, not surprisingly, a lot of fun for two lifelong baseball fans.

We were treated to stories about legends (Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron), goofballs (Ruben Sierra, Jose Canseco, and David Wells), "tragedy" (2004 ALCS - depending on which side you're on), and real life tragedy (9/11, prostate cancer, domestic violence).

When the panel discussion was over, "donors," who also got front row seats, were led to a private reception to meet Joe Torre. As we enjoyed the baseball themed appetizers and open bar, I wondered how we were associated with this well-heeled crowd. It seemed like we were rubbing elbows with people who have business cards that say "philanthropist" on them. While the Smithsonian probably names wings after these people, they couldn't get much more than a box of Kleenex with our measly donation. I guess every dollar counts?

Being the baseball nerd that I am, we waited patiently behind Daddy Warbucks, Thurston Howell III, and the Monopoly Man to chat with Joe Torre. Maybe I'm delusional, but he seemed genuinely happy to discuss baseball with us rather than continue playing the "you've heard of me because..." game. We even had time for a brief (and yes, mother, respectful) debate about his favorite ballplayer (Willie Mays) and mine (Jackie Robinson).

We started donating to the Smithsonian because we believe in its mission and visit the museums regularly. Doing something good for the country is enough reward. But getting to meet Joe Torre sure is icing on the cake.

J Says

I've always liked baseball but it wasn't until I met B that I began to appreciate baseball for its history and its quirks. I'm a sucker for stories of superstitions and traditions. Most of the time I'm convinced B is pulling my leg.

A typical exchange:

J: You want me to believe that they take mud from the bank of some old river in New Jersey and rub it on every Major League baseball?

B: Yes.

J: Are you sure? I'm going to Wikipedia it. . . . Darn, you're right!

That's a long way of telling you that B didn't have to drag me to see Joe Torre. I went willingly and was truly captivated by his stories. When he thoughtfully answered B's question (How do you honor baseball's history and traditions while keeping it relevant and "hip" for the younger generation?), I thought I might keel over from excitement.

At the reception, I got a chance to shake his hand and thank him for answering our question. (If you're curious, the question sort of stumped him, but he suggested the game needs to be sped up and we need to put faces on each franchise that people can get behind and root for) He really could not have been more gracious. He looked us in the eye and took his time speaking with us in a way that I'll treasure. He didn't even roll his eyes when B asked him the silly question I was too shy to ask: how does he decide which World Series ring to wear each day? (Answer: the first win is the most special so he always wears that one).

Thank you to the Smithsonian for making moments like this possible. We say all the time that DC is a special town. It's nights like this that make us thankful for the chance to live here.

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