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A spot reserved in Cooperstown for Bob Elliott 0

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - 

His place is located just down the hall from where Ferguson Jenkins lives. Just around the corner from Stan Musial's place and next door to Peter Gammons.

Bob Elliott, Toronto Sun baseball writer, has moved into baseball's high-rent district.

It started simply enough with an ordinary kid from Kingston who wanted to join the local newspaper with ideas of writing about the neighbourhood baseball nine.

It culminates this weekend with private jets, a suite in a swanky hotel on the southern shores of Lake Otsego, where complimentary truffles come in boxes made of pure chocolate, and a place in baseball's hallowed Hall of Fame. The opulent Otesaga Hotel has been home to Honus and Gehrig, its halls have echoed to the footsteps of Mantle and Reggie.

And, this weekend, it is home to that ordinary guy, as he stood under the pillared portico Thursday night in a red windbreaker with "Canada" emblazoned across the chest.

Bob Elliott has arrived in Cooperstown.

He's been here before to write about the famous players who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. He's vacationed in the area, even bringing his son, Bob Jr., to play here as a little leaguer.

But this time it is different. This time, Elliott is staying in Cooperstown. Forever.

Saturday, he becomes the first Canadian since Damon Runyon and Ring Lardner first chronicled America's baseball heroes in prose, to win the Spink Award. It is presented annually by the Baseball Writers Association of America. But always before it has been won by someone from New York to Los Angeles, Wyoming to Chicago.

Until now.

Saturday is Canada Day in Cooperstown with almost 100 of Elliott's friends, colleagues, and kids grown into adulthood, such as my own son, Phil, who once played on his minor baseball teams, arriving in town to celebrate.

You know something special is happening when Quebecor and Sun Media president and CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau springs for the private company jet.

"I called the woman at the company to find out if we had to be there two hours early, like with commercial flights," said Bob. "She laughed. She said, 'Hey, they can't leave without you. Just show up 15 minutes before you're supposed to leave.' "

So they did. Bob, his wife Claire, Bob Jr., and daughter Alicia. Phil. Myself.

This is no ordinary plane. Thick carpet, gleaming wood and plush leather chairs that could make even my white-knuckled son believe the joys of the wild, blue yonder might extend beyond the bottom rung of a step ladder. OK, maybe not quite, but instead of a hyper-ventilating crimson colour on takeoff, he only turned a lighter shade of pink. And Mrs. Bob didn't even need her usual pre-flight Chardonnay.

Alicia, the designated family wit, watching her father disappear up the ladder, noted the least he could have done on boarding was to turn and give "the royal wave".

Claire filled in. Did the honours. Which just proves once more that behind every successful man is a great woman.

Co-pilot Jean Valliquette and captain Steven Neil, of Acass Canada, have flown Quebecor executives all over the world in the Bombardier Challenger.

"It's not a job, it's an adventure," says Neil.

Funny, but Bob says the same thing when it comes to writing about baseball.

So we're all good. Well, except for Bob Jr. being a little slow retrieving father's favourite tipple: A Diet Coke.

"The flight attendant's not very good," notes Bob Sr., in fine laconic form.

Bob Jr. gives him a look that suggests Hall of Famers aren't always what they're cracked up to be.

Even the washroom on this flight has an air of ... ahhh, opulence. But, 'nuff said there. On the tarmac at Albany airport, it's in-and-out of a customs office in minutes. And they smiled. Honest.

Then chauffeured cars await. There's only one thing you can say to that: "What? No police escort?"

Probably just an oversight.

Cooperstown has a population of about 5,000 and the drive from Albany meanders through the foothills of the Catskills and Adirondack ranges for about 75 minutes. The landscape is dotted with farmhouses, split-rail fences, saltbox homes and a feeling of timeless Americana.

It would all be utterly Rockwellian, if not for the mobile homes attached to flag poles, and a growing fringe of hotel chains and purveyors of Big Macs that surround the village. There is a potpourri of memorabilia stores, bars, restaurants, historic Doubleday Field, the iconic Hall of Fame and ... Pete Rose shooting a reality show, and selling off another piece of himself. At this rate, they'll soon have to start amputating body parts.

But, on Hall of Fame weekend, even the uninvited show up.

Ah, the uninvited - such as myself, when attempting to walk into the Otesaga without credentials to meet Bob and Claire for supper. Guardians at the front door almost have a seizure that son and I have already infiltrated the walled outer security perimeter.

Disdain is registered on stern faces. Deportation loomed imminent.

And the hounds were about to be unleashed, when who should appear from the front doors but Mr. Canada, Elliott pronouncing: "Ahhh, Mr. Bill! I've been trying to call you."

Sweet reprieve. Sometimes good things come to those who wait. The muscle at the door looks disappointed.

I grin. They don't. Go figure.

It's off to supper. George Brett, Hall of Fame third baseman, comes in and settles at a table about 20 feet away. Our own Mr. Cooperstown gives the big "Harr-umph!" Brett looks, grins, and walks over to chat. Introductions are taken. Hands shaken. Now there's something that doesn't happen every day.

But then, Elliott is no ordinary writer. This is no ordinary place. And this is no ordinary weekend.


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