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  • The old man stood still staring at the wall of photos. He was bent just a little, but you could tell he had been a big man in his younger days. Dressed conservatively in a suit and tie, like many of his generation did, he clasped his huge brown hands behind him as if he was inspecting the wall of pictures.

    As I approached to get a better look at the photos, he peered at me through eyes that were rich brown, tinged with humor, sun, and a little bit of cataract film. "Know these fellas?" he asked me.

    His voice was a rich baritone, with a mellow Southern accent.

    "Some of them I do," I replied, not sure if I wanted to engage in a deep conversation during my walk-through. I had snuck away from a business conference to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but had commitments this evening. I needed to make the best use of my time here.

    Visiting the Hall of Fame was something I had always wanted to do, to see the greats and their legacies left for future generations. Even the smell of the place was wonderful, a combination of old leather, a rich spring day, and just a tinge of dirt.

    In fact, the old man standing there waiting for his answer smelled like that too. The kind of smell that takes you to a gorgeous day in June, before it has gotten too hot to enjoy a doubleheader.

    "Which of these fellas do you think was the best? If I may ask..." the man leaned forward toward me, searching my face.

    "Well, on this wall, Roy Campanella, I would have to say." I replied, rising a bit to the challenge. I had about a hundred reasons why, and I was hoping he'd bite.

    "Good answer son! Good answer! That would have been my answer too. I'd seen old Roy play, and I would say, of these boys here on this wall, Roy was the best."

    I had an inkling that this man was saying more than he had just watched from the stands. "Did you play ball, sir?" I asked.

    The old man laughed, again, a rich sound. His eyes crinkled, like so many other men who had spent most of their years outside. "You could say that. You could say that."

    "Professionally?" I asked, feeling a little embarrassed. Should I know him? Am I making a fool of myself here?

    "Well, kinda sorta professionally. I wouldn't expect that you would know me. I don't expect even your paw would know me. I stopped playing in the 50's. Been down South since then." he replied, reading my mind.

    I stuck my hand out. "Bill. The name's Bill. I'm pleased to meet you." I told him.

    He looks at my hand for a moment, and then, after an almost imperceptible hesitation, he enveloped my hand in his. "Well now, my name is Bill too. They used to call me Wild Bill back in my day. Got that because I was a lousy pitcher," he laughs, that deep, infectious laugh, "But maybe it was the ladies too." Still holding my hand, he leans forward and gives me a stage wink.

    I laugh too. I'm wracking my brains for any "Wild Bills" I may have heard of in baseball. "So, Wild Bill, what teams did you play for?" I ask.

    Wild Bill lets go of my hand and tilts his head back in thought. "Well now, that's the right question. Let's see. Nashville, Columbus, Washington and Baltimore. The Elite Giants, if you know what I mean." He peers at me with those big eyes, framed up by wrinkles deep enough to fall in.

    "No, I can't say that... Oh, wait a minute! The Negro Leagues! Is that what you're talking about?"

    "Got it in one, son," he says, chuckling "Back when 'negro' was, and wasn't a dirty word."

    "What years did you play? You said you played in the 50's, but when did you start?" I ask, hoping that I haven't offended him.

    "Oh, pretty much the 30's until the 50's, I guess. Mostly played centerfield, but did some pitchin' and a lot of hitting..." his voice trails off as his gaze goes back to the faces on the wall. "Did a lot of hitting."

    "Well, that's great!" I say awkwardly, not knowing what to say now "I think they really should devote more space in here to the Negro League Players. It seems a bit, you know, devoid of color..."

    I'm mortified at what's come out of my mouth, but Wild Bill just laughs. He looks closely at me and asks "Ever seen anybody who hit a .488?"

    "No sir, I don't think anyone hits those kinds of numbers any more."

    Wild Bill has already started to move off, his hands clasped behind his back. Over his shoulder he says to me "Ever seen someone who hit a .488 in a season who ain't in here?"

    I stand there, not knowing what to say. A voice from behind me startles me a little. "Now that's the truth."

    I turn and see a younger man standing there, also dressed in a suit and tie. With a bit of squinting, I can see he resembles Wild Bill a little. Seeing the question on my face, the man chuckles, a younger version of Wild Bill. "Yeah, that's my Granddad. Wild Bill Wright. In 1939, he hit a .488. Finished up his career with a .361."

    He gestures widely to the walls, covered with the faces of my youth, my father's youth, America's youth. "But, you won't see his picture here. He could run the bases in 13 seconds flat and out hit most of his contemporaries, but you won't find his picture here."

    I think about this for a moment. The legacy of the men who loved the game. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, they made the game of baseball great.

    "Thanks for the info," I tell Wild Bill Wright's grandson, "Do you know where the curator's office is?"
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