Thursday, May 28, 2015

President Gerald R. Ford Museum, Grand Rapids, MI Nov 2008

Shortly after returning from Royston, Ga, I received an email from a friend informing me there was a show called Born To Play Ball at the President Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The show was sponsored by the Hall of Fame and would run from August 8th to February 4, 2009. It featured the five greatest players at every position. I was excited to learn about this event and immediately wrote a letter to the Director at the Ford Museum. A week later I received a letter from the director asking me to send him information. I promptly mailed my press kit explaining who I was and my experience as Cobb.

President Gerald R. Ford
President Gerald Rudolph "Jerry" Ford Jr. was the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977. He was the  only U.S. president from Michigan. He became the 40th vice president from 1973 to 1974 under President Richard M. Nixon. Upon the resignation of President  Nixon in 1973, he became president. He is the only man to become president without having been elected.

Ford was a Congressman from Michigan from 1949 to 1973.

About ten days later, I received a phone call from Mr. Jim Kratsas, the curator at the museum explaining the show started two weeks ago, numerous baseball writers had spoken and they were booking other speakers as the show ran until early February. He told me no one had been booked to speak about Cobb, would I be interested. Of course I said yes but I don't talk about Cobb, I am an actor and portray him on stage. I bring him to life, so to speak.

He was impressed by my response and asked me what my fee was. I told him but said I was willing to work within their budget restraints. He told me he would get back to me.

Several days later he called and quoted a figure that pleased me. He asked if I would come to Grand Rapids early November and perform a show on the evening of November 4th. All expenses paid, airline tickets for two would me emailed to me, he said. I told him that would work, thank you.  Then I called Clay Beatty, my assistant to make sure his schedule was open. He said it was.

Posing at the poster in lobby of Ford Museum 

I called my nephew Steve in Los Angeles and asked if he could make a DVD with some video of Cobb, a few photos and a voice over explaining to the audience about the show. This would be my introduction. He said he would and Clay and I got down to rehearsing. 

We flew out of San Francisco early on the morning of November 1st on Southwest Airlines and arrived at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport at noon. We had lunch and settled down to wait for our flight to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids. It left about three pm and we arrived in Grand Rapids about six pm.

Clay asked me how are we getting to our hotel. I said by taxi. As we left the airport and stepped on to the street, a gentleman in uniform stood next to a stretch limousine. This was my surprise for Clay. He asked if I was Norm Coleman. Yes, I replied. He introduced himself, placed our luggage into the trunk and chauffeured us to the Amway Hotel where we were escorted to our suite.

It was late, we were hungry and went to one of the six elegant restaurants in the hotel, the only one that was open at nine PM. The waitress handed us a velvet covered menu indicating as Clay would comment, "this place is expensive." I told him to order whatever he wanted, the client was paying. 

Hotel lobby
 The following morning after breakfast and a swim in the olympic sized pool, we had lunch with Mr. Jim Kratsas, the curator of the museum.  

He advised us to relax today and enjoy all the amenities the hotel offered. Clay told Jim he enjoyed tennis; Jim  suggested we take advantage of the tennis courts. 

He said to make sure we ate at the sports bar in the hotel and suggested we try the bar-b-que. It was excellent, he said.
The following evening, we rehearsed in the theater. Clay hooked the computer to the sound system and we started our rehearsal
with the music.

He found out they did not have the proper equipment to play the DVD that Steve created to open the show. After several phone calls, an engineer came to the theater and provided Clay with the proper equipment. We ate in the sports bar that evening, the bar-b-que was terrific.

On the evening of the show, we arrived at the theater two hours before showtime. Clay seemed more nervous than usual, he is normally cool under pressure, nothing bothers him. "What's wrong." I asked. He was concerned about the machine that would play the DVD. "Let's rehearse." I said, "everything would be fine." 

Clay went upstairs to the sound room, placed the DVD into the projector, it worked. He played the music in the computer and we rehearsed my lines for thirty minutes. We both relaxed and I changed into my Tiger's uniform

About fifteen minutes before showtime, Mr. Kratsas told me about the tradition at the Ford Museum. All speakers sign the guestbook he said. He went to hi office and returned with a beautiful leather album. He suggested I look at some of the signatures in the book.
He pointed out, Presidents Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton,  George H.W. Bush, George Bush, along with Hillary Clinton, Dick Cheney, Condaleeza Rice, Madelaine Albright General Colin Powell, and now, Norm Coleman.

I was stunned at all those famous people who spoke and signed their autographs. I was electrified, high as a kite. My hand shook slightly as he handed me a pen and asked me to sign.
I took the pen and signed my name in the best penmanship I could, Norm (Ty Cobb) Coleman.
He said, "you are now linked forever with some of America's greatest and famous people."
I profusely thanked him as tears of joy began to roll down my cheeks. He walked away saying he would announce me in ten minutes

Posing with Jim Kratsas
wiped my eyes and stood off stage as he introduced me. Clay played the DVD with video of Cobb, photos of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, all Hall of Famers. This was followed by photos of every President from William Howard Taft to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Cobb knew them all. He played Take me Out To The Ballgame and I walked on stage. It was showtime.                                                                                                                              

At intermission, both Jim and Clay entered the green room. Jim said he spoke with several attendees who told him how much they were enjoying the show. Clay shook my hand and said "good job, now knock it out of the ballpark." 

There was a party for the attendees in the lobby, I shook many hands and posed for photos.
Jim said he would like to have breakfast with us in the morning. He had a special gift for me. I changed out of my uniform, we went to our room and ordered room service. It took me several hours to come down from the high of the performance. Clay took a long walk and I fell asleep shortly after midnight.

The three of is met for breakfast early the next morning. Jim gave me a box of beautiful, gold colored pens signed by President Gerald R. Ford. He told us after breakfast, he would take us on a private tour of the Museum The photo below shows us sitting in a replica of the Cabinet Room. This is the meeting room for the cabinet secretaries and advisers serving the President. The room is located in the West Wing of the White House complex adjoining the Oval Office and looks out upon the Rose Garden.

Jim took us throughout the museum and we saw many galleries featuring Ford star football player, World War 11 navel officer, vice president and president. Other galleries featured the Nixon pardon, Queen Elizabeth's visit, the Bicentennial and the challenges of Reagan and Carter. Also an exhibit of Vietnamese refugees and we heard the President say, "at long last, the nations long nightmare is over."

We walked into a replica of  the "Oval Office", another featuring  the "seventies" where the music of Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees and others were piped in. 

We were driven to the airport and left Grand Rapids at three in the afternoon, arriving in San Francisco shortly after midnight. Several days later, a letter arrived from Mr. Kratsas stating that, “Mr. Coleman captured the essence of this legendary player…who was misunderstood by the public and brought him to life for our audience." signed,  Jim Kratsas, Deputy Director, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum.

Performing at the President Ford Museum was a dream come true and left me with a feeling of remarkable accomplishment, a feeling that my study and practice gave me the skill to perform at this level. This experience was one of the most remarkable of my life, truly unforgettable.  I believed there would be other great experiences to come, but for me, this would be an unforgettable adventure.

         Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum  303 Pearl St. NW Grand Rapids, MI 49504


No comments:

Post a Comment