Steve Fiffer

Anyone reading my previous two “Diary” offerings knows we have two different plot lines working toward dramatic resolution by Friday. Plot No. 1 centers on the Skokie Indians 12-year-old All Star team’s effort to perform well on the baseball diamond at this week’s Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament. My son Rob plays on the Indians, and I help coach the squad. Plot No. 2 centers on my efforts to meet a Yankee favorite from my childhood, Clete Boyer. Upon arriving in Cooperstown this week, I learned that Clete is the proprietor of the Hamburger Hall of Fame restaurant a few miles south of town on Route 28. I’m happy to report that on Tuesday, each plot moved a little bit closer to what may be successful resolution.

First, the tournament. Yesterday morning our team beat California’s Powry Flames by the score of 9-1. Then, in the afternoon game the boys spotted the Beechmont, Ky., Lightning three runs before rallying to win 5-4. These victories were particularly gratifying because Rob broke out of a month-long slump at the plate to contribute three solid, important hits. His relief was exceeded only by the relief of his parents and 16-year-old sister, Nora. Entering Wednesday’s competition, our record now stands at four wins, two losses, placing us somewhere in the top third of the 48 teams. After a seventh game, all teams will be seeded for a single-elimination tourney to crown a champion. 

Clete Boyer, the object of my second quest, knows the meaning of the word “championship.” The slick-fielding third baseman played in five consecutive World Series for the Yankees from 1960 to 1964. I didn’t meet him on Tuesday, but I came close. The Skokie entourage that traveled to Cooperstown for the tournament rented the Hamburger Hall of Fame for a party Tuesday night. Clete was supposed to have been there, but he was under the weather. A disappointment, to be sure, but in his stead Clete was represented by his girlfriend, Brenda, who is also a partner in the restaurant.

Brenda, a raspy-voiced redhead of about 60, was a most delightful pinch hitter. She told of meeting Clete on a sidewalk in Cooperstown a few years ago. “Hey, Red,” he said with a smile. When he introduced himself, she was unimpressed by his credentials. “He was divorced. He was a ballplayer. He was a Yankee. And he’d hung around with Mickey Mantle. I knew what those guys were like,” she told me in the restaurant last night. To make matters worse, the widowed Brenda was a dyed-in-the-wool Dodgers fan. She resisted his overtures for some time.

Eventually, however, Clete won her over. Brenda’s affection for old No. 6 is apparent. At one point during the party, she ducked into the kitchen and returned with a program from a recent “Celebrity Sports Nite” held at Alfred State College in Wellsville, N.Y. Clete was a featured speaker and regaled the crowd with stories of Mantle, Billy Martin, and his close friend Roger Maris.

Brenda then regaled us with her impersonation of Clete entering the restaurant. Donning a Yankees cap, she strutted in the door, winking and waving to the assembled. When Brenda/Clete doffed the cap in recognition of being recognized, one of the waitresses giggled, “That’s him.” 

“Does he wear a Yankees cap?” I asked.

“Always,” said the waitress. “And other Yankee stuff, too.”

Lest anyone be confused about her feelings for Clete, Brenda remarked that her beau had worked with current Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. “Derek only made two errors after that,” she said proudly.

But lest anyone think she isn’t grounded in reality, Brenda laughed, “Whenever Clete mentions he was a star, I tell him he’s stardust now.”

Maybe. But I still want to meet him and hear his stories. Brenda said that if Clete felt better, he’d be in on Wednesday. Guess where I’m having lunch today.