How do you get through your work day when you know at the end of the day you will get to do something which brings together your passion and memories in one place? Slowly, excruciatingly slow. This is how I got through my day at work when I knew I was going to see Babe Ruth’s Hall of Fame plaque on display at Grand Central Station. I tried to stay busy to encourage the minutes to tick by faster, but with every glance at my watch after what seemed like an hour I was met with the cold reality that only ten minutes had passed. This back and forth continued for eight painful hours until finally it was the end of my day. I was packing up to leave and could already feel my heart beating that little harder and a touch of the butterflies in my stomach.
On the streets, I knew it was a 30 minute walk to Grand Central but I knew I could do it faster. Walking by Madison Square Gardens and Penn Station and the mad house it can be, pushing through the crowd like a salmon trying to swim upstream. The flood of people heading for the subway, other trains, or buses seems to never end when you are going to opposite way of traffic. Shortly afterwards I pass by the Empire State Building and the congestion finally beings to break up. Now that I am no longer weaving in and out of people to move forward I feel like I can really get to moving towards the Great Bambino.
I always walk quickly when I am excited, almost in a jog when it has to do with baseball. I just know there was going to be a mob of people looking at the Babe and I needed to beat as many as I can if I want to get a good look at him. I am moving as fast as many people jog now, but it is because of both excitement and the unusually cold weather in New York in mid-May. The long, cold winter seems destined to hang on for the entire Spring and at least part of the Summer.
Up 5th Avenue I go. I normally take the path of least resistance when I am walking through Manhattan. Always keep moving: straight, left, right; whichever path enables me to make progress. Clearly the baseball gods are smiling on me this day because I am able to go straight up 5th Avenue, past Bryant Park with the memories of watching Broadway in the Park with a friend. Past the New York Public Library and the lions out front.
I turn right onto 42nd Street and walk down the incline towards Grand Central. The taxis are lining up on the Park Avenue Viaduct, which is raised and wraps around my destination. I go through the corner doors and into the Main Concourse. The clock on top of the information booth in the center of the concourse greets me like everyone else who passes through this landmark every day. Looking up, I scan for the circular hole in the ceiling; you would miss it if you did not know it was there. It is all that remains of the Redstone Missile which was displayed in 1957. Next my eyes scan to the only remaining dirt on the ceiling. The black streak shows not only how dirty the station once was, but also what a marvelous job the restoration team did in returning this icon to her full luster.
My best guess is that the Sultan of Swat will be in Vanderbilt Hall. I finally slow myself down, so as to not be nearly as hot and sweaty once I get to the Colossus of Clout. While I am walking, I recall my grandfather’s story about his experience in Grand Central Station. During World War II, my grandfather left behind the farm in north Georgia for the Army. He has a million stories and each one is special, but the one about Grand Central is my favorite.
After the Nazis surrendered, one of his assignments was to escort German Prisoners of War (POWs) to New Jersey so they could return home. On a trip to New Jersey he dropped off the German POWs, and was to catch a return train back to Camp Atterbury in Indiana. After getting into Manhattan, my grandfather walked into Grand Central off of 42nd Street with some other soldiers. They all had their .30 Carbine rifles on their shoulders, which they were responsible for carrying back to Indiana. They had some time before their train so they began wandering around the station. The police officer on duty inside the station knew a bunch of soldiers walking around with their rifles on their shoulders could cause everyone else to panic. They were asked to stand off in a corner, so as to not cause the other people in the station as much worry.
I can just see my grandfather walking into Grand Central looking around at the beauty of the station; a farm boy a long way from home, walking around on the stone floor. One of his grandsons retracing his steps nearly 70 years later. I remember this story every time I walk into Grand Central and it makes me smile.
I stroll up the walk way into Vanderbilt Hall. There is a Visit New York State exhibit set up and information tables. Colonial New York, the Adirondacks, the Great Lakes Region, and so on. Despite my searching I do not see a large group of people assembled around Babe Ruth. I can feel a bit of panic as I try to assure myself that I read the information about the plaque being here today correctly. I finally see the top of the plaque next to a booth back in the corner. Again the baseball gods are smiling on me, there is no one here!
I walk straight up to the booth and the two men manning the table say hello. In my excitement, I announce to them that I marched across Manhattan just for this. They greet me with friendly smiles and I feel like I am 5 years old and meeting my hero. Turning, I finally look at the plaque and all the wonder that is George Herman Ruth. I have so many butterflies in my stomach I can barely stand it. The noise of Grand Central fades away. It is just me and the Babe. I scan his face and read the inscription a half a dozen times,
“Greatest drawing card in history of baseball. Holder of many home run and other batting records. Gathered 714 home runs in addition to 15 in World Series.”
I am sure someone could have walked up and stolen the shirt off my back and I would not have noticed. I know it is just a plaque, but it is Babe Ruth’s plaque. It took a road trip from Cooperstown and I was now inches from it. I was afraid if I went go to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I may never get through it. I could spend an hour on every plaque or item they have on display.
Finally I come back to reality. The guy at the booth asks if I want my picture taken next to the plaque. OF COURSE I DO! I hand him my camera and smile a big, goofy smile; failing miserably not to look too overly excited. I thank him and take a few of just the plaque. I just stare at the plaque and they ask me if I am a Braves fan, which judging by my hat it is apparent. We discuss the upcoming inductions of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Bobby Cox. We throw in Tony LaRussa and the nine games he played for the Braves in 1971 and Joe Torre and the 12 seasons he spent with the Braves as a player and manager. We talk about Columbus, Georgia native Frank Thomas. Clearly it is a great year for baseball in Georgia.
Another man walks up to the booth and begins talking with the two men. I decide he too should get a few moments alone with the Babe. I grab my things and head for home. As I am walking down the street I call every other baseball fan I know so I can rub it in their faces. I just met Babe Ruth!