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High class

High class

CHATHAM - It was a day to celebrate old friends.

The Cape Cod Baseball League inducted the third class into its Hall of Fame yesterday at Chatham Bars Inn.


The latest crop of Cape League Baseball Hall of Famers left their mark with a box of baseballs at yesterday's induction ceremony at the Chatham Bars Inn.
(Staff photo by STEVE HEASLIP)

The morning induction ceremony, emceed by Channel 7's Gene Lavanchy, turned into a fascinating storytelling hour, as one by one the honorees recalled their days on or around Cape diamonds. Following dinner, the inductees answered questions from host Kara Henderson of CNN and members of the audience for nearly two hours.

Inducted were former players Jason Varitek, Ron Darling, Nat "Buck" Showalter, Paul Mitchell and Nomar Garciaparra.

Garciaparra, the Boston Red Sox shortstop, was the lone absentee but called in a message from California to be read at the ceremony.

Also inducted into the Hall of Fame Class of 2002 were longtime umpire Curly Clement, former league president Russ Ford, player and manager George Greer, player, manager and administrator George Karras, player and commissioner Bernie Kilroy, player and manager Bill Livesey, and former president and commissioner Dick Sullivan.

It was a day when emotions ran the gamut from tears to laughter.

Varitek, now the Boston Red Sox starting catcher, nearly broke down when speaking, noting how difficult the week was for him and his family because of his father's open-heart surgery.

"We had a rough time getting here," he said. Then he recovered. "This is a happy moment, not a sad one."

Varitek was presented by his house mother during his two seasons (1991, '93) with the Hyannis Mets, Kelly King of Marstons Mills.

"What makes the difference (between the Cape League and other leagues) is the Cape Cod families," said Varitek, a former Cape League MVP. "They had two brothers about my younger brother's age, and two younger sisters. I didn't have any sisters. That's what made the whole difference for me."

Garciaparra, who called Chatham Bars Inn on Friday night to deliver his message, said people inquiring about his Cape League experience usually ask what job he had and who his host family was.

"They should have a Hall of Fame for host families," Garciaparra said. "I'd would definitely put my host family (the Andrulot family of Eastham) in the Hall of Fame."

Eyes grew moist when Falmouth's Arnie Allen, who was bat boy and equipment manager for 47 years and is battling cancer, was presented with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.

ESPN's Peter Gammons took a moment out while introducing Showalter to relay a message to Allen.

"The afternoon of Game 7 over the World Series, Adam Kennedy asked me if I was going to the Hall of Fame ceremony up here. He said to make sure I passed on his best wishes," Gammons said. "You were talked about quite a bit during the playoffs and World Series."

Hearts were touched when Cape native John Karras presented his father George, who first graced Cape Cod League ballfields in 1929 and went on to be president of the Upper Cape League and scout for the Boston Red Sox.

The elder Karras was present but unable to speak yesterday, but when his son brought the conversation to the Field of Dreams, the connection with the audience was immediate.

"That would be a dream come true, to throw a baseball around with my dad one last time," said John Karras, the oldest of 10 children, who quit school after the sixth grade to support his family.

For the most part, though, the day was a celebration of baseball at the amateur level.

"The Cape Cod experience for me was my last baseball innocence," said Darling, a product of Yale who starred as a pitcher, shortstop and outfielder for Cotuit before turning pro.

"Here, George (Greer, his manager) was nice enough to let me play the infield, outfield and pitch, the things you do when you're a kid."

Darling proved his worth as an all-around player in the 1990 All-Star Game, pitting the Cape League against the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League at Yankee Stadium. He homered, doubled, singled, drove in two runs and pitched the ninth inning to earn a save.

"I kept hearing I was a good Ivy League player," said Darling. "I came here and became a peer, a contemporary. It's when I felt I had a chance to play pro ball."

Darling, who comes from Worcester, said beating the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series was a bittersweet moment, but had the crowd laughing at his next line.

"I'm from here," he said. "I'm a masochist. I pick up the paper in the morning and die a little each day."

Curley - who had the crowd alternating between tears and laughter - nearly stole the show, speaking on a range of topics from his wife of 62 years and her dislike of baseball to the strike zone of major-league umpires.

"They call it from the belly button to the belt," said Clement, drawing a big laugh from the crowd in the afternoon session. "It is supposed to be from the armpit to the knees."

"I wish you were my umpire," Darling said.

Showalter, Darling and Varitek spoke of the jobs they held during their Cape League tour of duty. Showalter, the new Texas Rangers manager, was first a painter at the Kennedy Compound and later worked as a short order cook beginning at 5:30 a.m. Varitek's first-year job entailed washing uniforms and cleaning the clubhouse beginning at 7 a.m.

But Darling's job took the cake. "I was a school custodian. My job was to move all the desks in a classroom to the side, then lay down and sleep on them as the other guy buffed the floor. Then he'd wake me up and I'd move all of them back."

Livesey, who moved to Brewster just after World War II when he was 9, said he grew to love the sport watching the Town Team play. Livesey, who played baseball at Orleans High, went on to the University of Maine, partly with a small scholarship from the Cape League.

As a manager, his teams won a record six championships. He coached in college, then became director of player development for the New York Yankees. He is currently special assistant to the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.

"The public Bill Livesey was all about winning," said Cape League commissioner Bob Stead, who introduced him. "The private Bill Livesey was all about helping young men prepare for life."

Greer, who had a stellar career as a player and manager on the Cape, kept the humor going after being presented by current Chatham manager John Schiffner.

When initially asked to manage at Cotuit by Hall of Fame general manager Arnold Mycock, Greer refused. "Having played in the league, I wanted no part of managing if those guys did what I did up here," he said.

Yet he managed Cotuit for nine years under Mycock, going 213-143-2 and winning three championships. "I was with Arnold for nine years and they were the best nine years in baseball I ever spent."

The jobs of Ford, Kilroy and Sullivan may not have been as glamorous as those held by the players - though Kilroy was a former league MVP and went 8-0, 1.44 in 1964 - but they were at least as important. Ford was a former league president and a big booster of the Orleans Cardinals as well as the league.

He mentioned the different jobs players had, but made special note of Jeff Conine, whose work on a landscaping crew with Down Syndrome youths was as the highlight of his Cape career.

Sullivan was described as Mr. Special Events by league president Judy Scarafile. Sullivan was integral in bringing Team USA, the Silver Bullets and the Junior World Championships to Cape League diamonds. Typically, Sullivan deflected any credit after receiving his award.

"Together, this league and its franchises have a 1 million and a half dollar operating budget, yet are operated strictly by volunteers who expect nothing in return. Their love of the game is the one glue that allows this league to maintain its prominence."

That was obvious yesterday as fans, volunteers and former players mingled in a celebration of this little league full of big hearts, a celebration worthy of the title Hall of Fame.

(Published: November 3, 2002)