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The Insider

Aug 11, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert plays hardball with Washington’s newsmakers and power brokers. As the son of a father and the father of a son who have bonded in baseball stadiums and in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., he’s a sucker for softball questions about his election to the Hall’s board of directors.
“It’s the first game my father taught me and the first game I taught my son,” said Mr. Russert, who was 26 the first time he visited the Hall of Fame. He returned with his then-6-year-old son Luke, now 17 and a veteran of eight consecutive pilgrimages with Mr. Russert to spring training, a ritual that results in an annual installment of his eponymous CNBC show.
Luke was born with a Velcroed ball and bat and an NBC cap in his crib but, “He and his friends do not have the same identification with or affection for baseball as I did,” Mr. Russert said. “It’s not central to his life like it was for me.”
As a kid in Buffalo, N.Y., Mr. Russert would faithfully send off every year for a Cleveland Indians schedule, identify the New York Yankees visit on the Sunday closest to his birthday, confident that his present would be tickets to that game for him, his three uncles and his father, Timothy.
It was from his father, who worked two jobs for 35 years and had accrued 200 unused sick days by the time he retired, that Mr. Russert inherited his work ethic. But Mr. Russert also believes the Cal Ripkens of baseball demonstrate that “going out and giving your best every day is part of life.”
Mr. Russert’s favorite stadium food? Hot dog (“You gotta charcoal it.”) with “lots of spicy mustard,” french fries doused with vinegar (“Not balsamic!”), and “then, of course, Diet Coke to save calories.” He laughs at the recollection of finding sushi among the stadium offerings at a long-ago game in Seattle.
Mr. Russert’s favorite baseball movies? “The Natural” (some of which was filmed in a Buffalo stadium since torn down) and “Bull Durham.”
And what might Mr. Russert have said if he were a member of the board last spring, when Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey canceled a 15th anniversary celebration of “Bull Durham” because of the anti-war stance of co-stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins?
He would have said to both sides that “Baseball is above politics and always should remain such. I think the Hall of Fame is there for one thing, and that’s to honor baseball.”