Steve Fiffer

Steve Fiffer

A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 8 2000 9:00 PM

Steve Fiffer

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OK, for all of you readers now following the fortunes of (and I hope rooting for) the Skokie Indians in this week's Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament, here are the results of Monday's games. In the morning contest, the Indians rebounded from Sunday night's disappointing defeat and played the kind of baseball their fans (a k a parents and siblings) have come to expect and enjoy. So, too, however, did their opponents, the New Orleans Pops. This pitchers' duel was decided in the bottom of the sixth and final inning. With the scored tied 2-2, a pitch in the dirt eluded our catcher, and the New Orleans runner on third base marched in and scored the winning run. While the loss was as tough to swallow as the food served in the dining hall, players and coaches alike were encouraged by the return to form. The optimism was well placed, as in the afternoon game, the Indians beat the Utah All Stars 8-6. Our record is now two wins, two losses. Three games remain. Then the single-elimination tourney begins, with the 48 teams seeded based upon their record in the first seven games.

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Before the second game, one of the Utah coaches visited our bench and asked if we would be willing to ignore a tournament rule that restricts the free substitution of players. He explained that a number of parents on his side of the field were demanding more playing time for their sons. We told him to substitute as he pleased. Our flexibility prompted one of our parents to say, "Geez. They may be entitled to multiple wives in Utah, but they don't get multiple substitutions, too."

Now that I've given you the game summaries, let me get to more important business. Monday was Day 1 of my Clete Boyer Watch. Clete, for those of you who don't know your baseball trivia, was the fine-fielding, unassuming third baseman on the New York Yankees teams that dominated baseball some 40 years ago, when I was just about the age of my son Rob and the others playing in Cooperstown this week.

Although I grew up in Chicago, I was a rabid Yankees fan. Once, when asked to write down my favorite color, I answered, "Pinstripe." My favorite number was 7—after my hero Mickey Mantle, of course. And I was the only kid in my elementary school who could find Commerce, Okla., the Mick's hometown, on a map without looking at the key.

On family summer vacations, my younger brother Jim and I played a game at the restaurants in which we ate: "Guess the Bill." My parents found the game gauche and banned us from speculating on the cost of the meal. So, we resorted to a code. We knew all of the numbers of Yankees past and present: Richardson 1, Crosetti 2, Ruth 3, Gehrig 4, DiMaggio 5, Boyer 6, Mantle 7, Berra 8, Maris 9, Kubek 10, Lopez 11—you get the picture. Now when a bill came, we didn't guess, say $25.63. We'd say Crosetti, DiMaggio, Boyer, Ruth.

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Yesterday, while driving to the Dreams Park, which lies a few miles outside of Cooperstown proper, we passed an aging gray frame building with a sign reading, "Clete Boyer's Hamburger Hall of Fame." Although there seem to be halls of fame or museums for everything (we are thinking about visiting the Salt Museum on our drive home), this particular sign is deceiving. The frame building does not house exhibits of the great hamburgers of all time; it houses a restaurant.

To tell the truth, I had not given Clete Boyer a great deal of thought over the past 35 years or so. I didn't know whether he was dead or alive or, if alive, where he lived. When I saw the sign, I assumed that he had allowed some friend or relative to use his name for a hamburger joint. It never occurred to me that he might reside in Cooperstown; somehow I envision old ballplayers retiring to Florida or California, where they can play golf every day, year-round. But this morning a few of our Skokie Indians crowd mentioned they had gone to the restaurant on Sunday, and that Clete had actually been there.

When my wife and I would visit New York some years ago, I was always tempted to go to Mickey Mantle's restaurant on Central Park South, next to the St. Moritz Hotel. I never did, though. I was afraid I'd see my hero drunk on a barstool. I preferred to remember him rounding the bases after hitting a mammoth home run.

I was never so invested in Clete. Thus, we went to his place for lunch today, hoping for not only a sighting but some conversation. Where better than Cooperstown to revive the memories of my Yankee fanaticism?

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The restaurant's menu offers standard roadhouse fare, but many of the entrees are named for Yankees from Clete's day to the present. Rizzuto Pancakes, Yogi's Special Meatball Sub, and burgers named after Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Mickey Mantle, and Whitey Ford, among others. Those eating with us were amused by the Chicken Catcha "TORRE." My favorite item was the "Pepitone's All Beef 1 Ft. Long" Frankfurter—apparently named in admiration of the Yankee's playboy first baseman of a generation ago.

After we had placed our orders, I asked our waitress if Clete was in. She said she expected him shortly. We waited ... and ...waited ... and waited. I passed the time looking at autographed pictures of past Yankee stars like Goose Gossage and Chris Chambliss and the Yanks' current top prospect Alfonso Soriano. These pictures are for sale, and perhaps not surprisingly, Soriano's is priced the highest—at $50. Youth must be served.

I didn't buy a picture, but I did get a Hamburger Hall of Fame Shirt for Tony Kubek dollars.

Clete did not show up. But I am not throwing in the towel. Today will be Day 2 of the Clete Boyer Watch. Our team has secured the restaurant for a private dinner tonight. Surely, Clete will pay a visit. Won't he? And while my son chases his dreams on the field, I'll chase the ghosts from my youth.

Tomorrow: highlights of the games and, I hope, my dinner with Clete.