Former Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Mike Mussina will take his place in Cooperstown on Sunday afternoon after a dominant career and long wait for his call.
On Sunday, former Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Mike Mussina will officially take his place in Cooperstown, among true pioneers of the game and the greatest baseball players to ever run on to a major league field. What’s on the hat doesn’t matter. Where he ended his career doesn’t matter. For a decade, Moose wore the black and orange and ended his time in Baltimore as one of the most dominant pitchers in franchise history.
His induction ceremony comes at a good time. The Orioles are going through massive internal changes, resulting in an on-field product which is hard to watch most nights. Of the 25 players on the active roster, no more than three or four will be around in three years. Better times are ahead, but sports fans are the least patient group of people there are. Watching your favorite team lose again and again isn’t easy.
The lead up to and the actual induction of Mike Mussina into the Hall of the Fame provides an opportunity to reflect on a few things. I’m not going to regurgitate his numbers and list of honors and accolades, you have heard those a million times and will likely read a million more articles listing them again. Instead, here’s what watching Moose enter the Hall means to me.
Growing up, I was never a great athlete. Now closing in on my 32nd birthday, what little athletic ability I had is long gone, as much as I think my jump shot still looks smooth when playing pick-up basketball. Baseball was always the one sport I did excel at, finding my home in the hot corner. Baseball consumed my life then just as much as it does now.
When I wasn’t playing the game, I was with my friends playing baseball video games and MLB Showdown. Remember the old baseball card game?
So many epic showdowns with my brother and friends on this paper version of the baseball diamond. The only thing that took up more of my time was collecting, buying, selling, and trading actual sports cards. Thousands of cards, all in protective binders, divided by team and broken down alphabetically.
Mike Mussina had his own page in my “special notebook.” The special notebook was full of notable rookie cards, autographed cards, and those with pieces of jerseys, bats, or whatever else included. There was one card, in particular, I was fascinated with. It featured Mussina following through on a pitch with a shiny black and orange background. For whatever reason, it was always my favorite baseball card, among the thousands in my collection.
After a day of trading cards with a good friend, I noticed this particular Mussina card was missing. I looked everywhere for it but my prized Mike Mussina baseball was gone. Two days later, while outside in my parents’ backyard, I found the card. It was in the grass by our garden. Despite taking meticulous care of my collection and adding an extra step of protection and care to my most beloved pieces, I left Mike Mussina outside for two entire days. Worst of all, it had rained the night before. Being 11 at the time, I was devastated.
Whether it was on the table diamond or the video game diamond, Mike Mussina was always my guy. I always tried to imitate his delivery in the backyard and I didn’t just watch Mussina’s starts on tv, I studied them. I don’t think I really understood how pitching rotations worked at a young age, so I checked the sports section of the newspaper every day, looking for Mussina’s name under that day’s list of probable pitchers. When I saw Mussina’s name, I would set up the VCR to record his start that night so I could go back and watch it again the next day.
Going back to the baseball card, I was clearly down about ruining one of my most prized possessions and my dad took notice. Two weeks later, I was watching my favorite pitcher in all of baseball warm-up from the railing overlooking the bullpens at Camden Yards. I was mesmerized. I had been to Camden Yards plenty of times, watched Cal Ripken Jr. send home run balls into the stands, even met the Iron Man, got his autograph, and when I told him I played third base, he didn’t hesitate to offer up a young kid some advice. But seeing Mussina was different for me.
Twenty years later and I still occasionally talk about that game with my dad. It was because of him I came to love baseball, especially the Baltimore Orioles. It was his persistent pushing that led me to love playing the game, and that moment in Baltimore was just one of many memories I will cherish forever.
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Mike Mussina brought my dad and me closer together every five or so days during baseball season and it’s those memories that come rushing back as the tributes and discussions pour in ahead of Mussina’s Hall of Fame enshrinement.
I often find myself half-heartedly watching Orioles games as I work on grad school assignments or paying more attention to a minor league game I have on my iPad at the same time. But as I have talked about Mussina, this Hall of Fame class, and Sunday’s ceremony with friends and family, I was reminded why baseball means so much to me.
I’m just some guy who lives in Virginia, never met Mussina personally, and he will never read this piece, but I had to sit down and put my thoughts down here. In about five weeks, I get to welcome my first son into this world. I can only hope that by the time he’s old enough to understand what baseball is, there’s someone on the Orioles roster who he can look to as I did to Mussina.
Congratulations, Moose. This is your day and all of Birdland is behind you!