BILLERICA -- Four days from now, their friend Tommy Glavine will become a bronzed baseball god, immortalized on a plaque that will hang in a hall echoing with Ruths, Cobbs, Musials and Mathewsons.
Back in the old neighborhood of Tierneys, Crandalls, McCaffreys and Ameses -- Billerica guys who knew all along that Tommy Glavine kid was special -- they are nevertheless trying to wrap their minds around the immortal Tommy concept.
"I'm in awe," said Ed Tierney, a boyhood friend of Glavine's. "He got to where he wanted to go, and he deserves it."
On Sunday, a firmly grounded son of Fred and Millie Glavine of Treble Cove Road -- and an honor roll student from the Billerica High Class of 1984 -- will be inducted in that most sacred of American sporting shrines, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
His boyhood buddies are never forgotten by Glavine, who is always quick with a text from his home in Georgia. They will be in Cooperstown for a surreal and emotional day.
"I'm sure he's going to be a bunch of nerves and emotions," said Paul Ames, who played hockey and baseball with Glavine at Billerica High. "But I'm sure whatever he says will be great."
Ames still thinks of Glavine in terms of his Billerica days.
"In those days we didn't think about playing pro baseball or pro hockey," said Ames, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins and played at UMass Lowell. "It was about playing with your buddies.
"But you still knew Tommy was special back then," added Ames, 49, a production manager for the Boston Globe.
Tierney, 48, now Billerica's highway superintendent, grew up at 73 Treble Cove Road, a few doors down from the Glavines at 89 Treble Cove Road. He remembers waiting outside 89 with the other neighborhood kids for Tommy, a straight-A student, to finish his homework.
"Millie had a tight leash on him," said Tierney, smiling.
"Whatever the season, we'd be out there playing -- street hockey, Wiffle Ball, football, basketball," said Tierney. "We had older kids playing, but Tom was always the first one picked."
To Scott Crandall, it seems like yesterday he was picking up Tommy in his Trans-Am for their Billerica High baseball games and practices.
A strike from center
Crandall was playing right field on that Tuesday in Rockland 31 years ago -- so he still clearly sees center fielder Glavine, after having pitched nine innings, fielding a single and unleashing a lightning bolt to strike down an already-celebrating Brockton High runner at the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning of the 1983 Eastern Mass. championship game.
"The runner came around third base Bernie Carbo-style (arms in the air)," said Crandall, who never tires of telling the story, laughing each time. "He was so surprised. He didn't slide or anything."
Glavine of course then led off the 13th inning with a single. He scored the eventual winning run on a single by another future big leaguer, Gary DiSarcina.
But that throw from center field remains The Legendary Highlight of the Billerica Years of a baseball god-elect. Glavine, then a junior, was interviewed after that game while licking a strawberry ice cream bar. (Glavine last week said that Brockton game still is in the top five of all games he ever played in.)
Crandall, 48, a senior sales rep for the technology consulting firm Ironside Rational Solutions, remains Glavine's best friend. He remembers a night when Tommy Glavine the fan and Tommy Glavine the big league pitcher came full circle. Crandall was at a Bruins game with Glavine when Ray Bourque, who was not playing that night due to an injury, asked if the Atlanta Braves pitcher could sign an autograph for his son.
When Bourque walked away with Glavine's autograph, Crandall told Glavine, "That puts things in perspective. That was one of your favorite players of all-time, asking you for an autograph."
But quite famously around town, not everybody has always recognized Billerica's own. Around 2 a.m. one day about 10 years ago, a suspicious policeman pulled Crandall over as he drove through Billerica Center with a two-time Cy Young Award winner as his passenger. They were returning from a benefit.
The officer asked to see Crandall and Glavine's licenses. Crandall figured the officer would immediately recognize Glavine.
"Kind of a long way from home, aren't we, Mr. Glavine?" Crandall, with a laugh, recalled the officer saying as he looked with suspicion at Glavine's Georgia license.
The officer called in Glavine's information to the station. "As if he were a drug lord or something," Crandall said with a laugh.
Crandall can still hear several voices over the cruiser's scanner, imploring the officer, "They're all set!"
"That officer did not live that down for a very long time," said Crandall.
Crandall said the ever-respectful Glavine not once during the exchange say, "Don't you know who I am?"
There is a little of that little boy from Billerica still in the 48-year-old Glavine. Crandall's 19-year-old son Aaron, who played on a state championship baseball team at Lowell Catholic, sounds prouder to have once hit a walk-off homer against Glavine in Wiffle Ball. "It was me and my dad against him and his sons, and they really wanted to win," recalled Aaron, who was 12 at the time.
When Glavine was home in Billerica last December, this 1984 fourth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings shoveled off a nearby pond so he could join his kids and others from the neighborhood in a hockey game.
Scott Crandall's older brother Dale Jr. treasures an Atlanta Braves cap signed by Glavine several years ago in tribute to his old deck hockey teammates. Glavine for a while continued to play hockey with the old gang after becoming a professional pitcher. "We tried to keep it quiet," said Dale Crandall, 53, a general contractor. "He always wore a padded sleeve on his left arm."
Mike McCaffrey, who played hockey at Billerica High on a line centered by Glavine, can still hear coach Roger Richard's basic instructions: "Get the puck onto Tommy's stick!"
"You'd go dig it out of the corners and get it to Glavs," said McCaffrey. "We called him 'Silk' because he was so smooth."
Back in the early 1990s, as Glavine's major league career was gaining star traction, McCaffrey visited Cooperstown. He remembers being struck by seeing Glavine on the cover of a USA Today Baseball Weekly in a newspaper machine right outside the Hall.
"So I grabbed a couple of copies," said McCaffrey. "I sent him one. I penned something to this effect: 'Glavs, saw you in Cooperstown this week. I hope you're there at the end of your career.' "
Like Jim Bowley, the Little League coach who told Fred and Millie Glavine when Tom was 10 that people would pay to watch their son play someday, McCaffrey sensed way back when that Glavine "was going on to greatness."
"There is a fine line between cockiness and assuredness," said McCaffrey, 49, now the athletic director at Groton-Dunstable. "Tommy always had that assuredness and confidence ... You just knew he was in control, but he wasn't cocky about it. He just knew his swagger."
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