Named in memory of legendary Brooklyn Dodgers baseball fan Hilda Chester, the Hilda Award was established in 2001 by the Baseball Reliquary to recognize distinguished service to the game by a baseball fan. The award is an old cowbell, Hilda Chester’s signature noisemaker, encased and mounted in a Plexiglas box bearing an engraved inscription. The Hilda is awarded annually at the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day. The recipients are as follows:
2001: Rea Wilson
In the summer of 2000, at the age of 77, Rea Wilson of Seal Beach, California made a pilgrimage to all thirty Major League ballparks, traveling alone and sleeping in her van, making a trip that she and her husband had dreamed of before he succumbed to cancer in 1993.
2002: Dr. Seth Hawkins
Affectionately referred to by his friends as Dr. Fan, retired professor and St. Paul, Minnesota resident Seth Hawkins has pursued a lifelong desire to bear witness to baseball history. Among the many baseball milestones he has been present for is every 3,000th hit recorded in the Major Leagues since 1959 (total of 19). He also witnessed Henry Aaron’s 715th career home run and Pete Rose’s 4000th career hit as well as numbers 4,191 and 4,192, the hits that tied and broke Ty Cobb’s all-time career mark. He was on hand for the 300th career wins of Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, and Tom Glavine. And the list goes on.
2003: Ruth Roberts
A lifelong New York baseball fan, Ruth Roberts of Port Chester, New York has expressed her love of the game through writing music and lyrics for some of the liveliest baseball anthems of the last half century. Along with her frequent collaborator, Bill Katz, Roberts wrote the 1956 song, “I Love Mickey,” a celebration of Mickey Mantle which was recorded by Teresa Brewer, and followed that up in 1960 with “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game.” In 1963, she wrote “Meet the Mets,” which is played before every Mets home game. In fact, the song is such a staple among generations of New York baseball enthusiasts that some diehard Mets fans have requested that, upon their death, “Meet the Mets” be sung at their funeral before their casket is closed.
2004: Jennie Reiff
A graduate of Pitzer College in Claremont, California, where she majored in American History, Jennie Reiff is so obsessed with baseball played in a bygone era that she goes to Halloween parties dressed up as her favorite 19th century ballplayer, Big Ed Delahanty, and hands out cards with his biography since no one at the parties has any idea who he is.
2005: Dr. David Fletcher
Among an extremely rare breed of Chicago baseball fans who root for both the White Sox and the Cubs, Dr. David Fletcher started a campaign and Web site to reinstate to the ranks of Organized Baseball one of the most acclaimed infielders of the deadball era, Buck Weaver, one of the notorious Black Sox players who was banished from professional baseball for life in 1920. Fletcher, who in 1998 was married at home plate where the old Comiskey Park once stood, has also launched an ambitious project to build the Chicago Baseball Museum.
2006: Bill Murray
Comedian and actor Bill Murray, the first “celebrity fan” to receive the Hilda, is a Chicago Cubs fan extraordinaire and part owner of the St. Paul Saints (a franchise in the American Association, an independent professional baseball league), for whom he also serves in the capacity of team psychologist.
2007: Cass Sapir
In 2006, documentary filmmaker Cass Sapir crisscrossed the nation in an old Honda, traveling to every Minor League and Major League ballpark, a total of 189 stadiums, in an astounding 157 days. The Cambridge, Massachusetts resident used his self-financed road trip (maybe “odyssey” is a more appropriate term) as a means of raising money and awareness for the Jimmy Fund, a Boston-based charity that raises funds for cancer research.
2008: John Adams
A baseball fan whose devotion to the hometown team has reached almost mythic proportions, John Adams of Brecksville, Ohio is celebrating in 2008 his 35th consecutive year of pounding his bass drum in the bleachers at Cleveland Indians games, come rain or shine. Adams has twice thrown out a ceremonial first pitch at Jacobs Field and was honored in 2007 with his own bobblehead night (naturally, it was designed so that his arms could be bobbled up and down to bang on a toy drum).
2009: Bob Colleary
A Brooklyn-born TV writer now living in Los Angeles, Bob Colleary is a collector of relics from baseball’s past. At one time or another he owned Donn Clendenon’s 1969 Mets World Series ring, Babe Ruth’s spittoon, and the lineup card from Game Six of the 1975 World Series which was won by Carlton Fisk’s 12th-inning homer. As a gift to his long-suffering Bucky Dented Red Sox fan friends, he also performed a complex ritualistic exorcism which Reversed The Curse using a straight razor which had once shaved Babe Ruth. While much of his collection has been redistributed throughout the collecting landscape, his prized possession remains Bill Veeck’s wooden leg, which is the centerpiece of his Strat-o-Matic baseball league of the same name. The annual draft lottery is conducted each New Year’s Eve by placing dice inside the leg and rolling them onto the floor.
2010: Sister Mary Assumpta Zabas
A member of the Roman Catholic women’s religious community of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit since 1962, Sister Mary’s passion for baseball has been focused largely on her beloved Cleveland Indians. She wrote and edited her own segment, “Tribe Habit,” for the ABC television news affiliate in Cleveland. Baking cookies for the Indians players since 1984 eventually led to a small business operation called “Nun Better” Cookies, with the profits helping support her religious community. She also had two cameo appearances in the 1989 film, Major League, and even has her own baseball card (made by Upper Deck in 1997).
2011: Chris Erskine
Chris Erskine’s weekly columns in the Los Angeles Times, “Man of the House” and “Fan of the House,” have been widely lauded for their wry insights and (often) tongue-in-cheek celebrations of fatherhood, life in the suburbs, and sports as a way of establishing relationships with children and sharing a distinct sense of belonging with others in his community. His wide-ranging observations on the national pastime always come from the perspective of a fan, engaging baseball with a warmth and poignancy which allow his readers to reflect on the enduring nature of being a true supporter. Whether ruminating on the experience of being a volunteer coach for Little League baseball or rhapsodizing about a Chicago-style hot dog at an Angels game, he examines the myriad ways that baseball allows fans to pass time and to connect with their personal histories.
2012: Arnold Hano
Arnold Hano attended his first baseball game in New York in 1926 as a child, and saw all the greats of that era from his seat in the bleachers. Memorable moments he witnessed in baseball history include the last game Babe Ruth pitched for the New York Yankees (1933), Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series (1956), and Sandy Koufax’s first no-hitter (1962). His account of the first game of the 1954 World Series between his beloved New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians, A Day in the Bleachers, is a classic of baseball literature and one of the most enduring expressions of the meaning of fanhood, especially of those who sit in the bleacher seats.
2013: Emma Amaya
Born in Honduras, Emma Amaya has been an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan since 1979 and a season ticket holder since 1981. In recent years, she has attended most Dodger home games and some on the road, while maintaining a full-time job! Like all Reliquarians, Emma is a strong proponent of the philosophy that baseball should be fun. And in this spirit, she has been known on more than one occasion to dress up as Hilda Chester at Dodger Stadium. Far more than just a fan in the stands, Emma shares her passion for baseball and for the Dodgers, and her love of Dodger Stadium, which she proudly refers to as “Our Lady of Chavez Ravine,” through her blog, Dodger Blue World.
2014: Jerry Pritikin
A Chicago Cubs fan since 1945, Jerry Pritikin is known as “The Bleacher Preacher” for his efforts to convert non-believers to the Cubs. As “The Bleacher Preacher,” he wore a pith helmet with a solar-powered propeller; his antics included cavorting with a life-sized voodoo doll that would be dressed up in the uniforms of opposing teams, and carrying around handmade signs including one fashioned after the Ten Commandments, inscribed “The Ten Cub-Mandments,” and another which read, “How Do You Spell Belief? C-U-B-S!” While he has attended well over a thousand games, Pritikin’s most memorable one was on May 18, 1947, when he was on hand to see Jackie Robinson’s Chicago debut. Called “the #1 Cubs fan” by no less an authority than broadcaster Harry Caray, Pritikin was inducted into the Chicago Senior Citizen Hall of Fame in 2012 and the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in 2013, the latter for “excellence and courage as a sports fan, photojournalist, and advocate.”
2015: Tom Keefe
An admirer of Eddie Gaedel since first reading about him in 1962 in Bill Veeck’s autobiography Veeck—as in Wreck, Tom Keefe founded the Eddie Gaedel Society, Spokane Chapter #1, in the summer of 2011 to promote the legacy of Gaedel’s walk into baseball immortality as a pinch-hitter for the St. Louis Browns in 1951. The society meets annually on August 19, the anniversary of Gaedel’s historic plate appearance, at O’Doherty’s Irish Grille & Pub in Spokane. When not out spreading the “Gaedel Gospel” across America, Keefe can usually be found lunching at O’Doherty’s, where a shrine to Eddie Gaedel is located above the bar, or attending Spokane Indians baseball games during the summer months at Avista Stadium, where he holds season tickets.
2016: Tom Derry
Tom Derry is founder of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, an all-volunteer group which, between 2010 and 2016, preserved and maintained the historic Tiger Stadium playing field in Detroit, transforming a demolished local landmark, neglected by the city, into a baseball mecca. The Navin Field Grounds Crew was the subject of a 2014 documentary, Stealing Home, and the group was honored at home plate in 2016 with the “Spirit of Detroit” award, one of the highest recognitions in Detroit. Derry has also, for 29 consecutive years, hosted a birthday celebration for Babe Ruth on the first Saturday in February. The ultimate hot-stove league party has become a major baseball happening, with a thousand Ruthian rooters from all over the country packing into Nemo’s Bar in Detroit for the 2016 festivities.
2017: Cam Perron
At age 12, Cam Perron began corresponding with veteran players of the Negro Leagues, initially to obtain their signatures. By the seventh grade, he was often talking on the phone for two to three hours per day with these players. He became immersed in tracking down former players for whom very little information existed or, in some cases, were not even known to be alive. He also started conducting extensive newspaper archive research to piece together the puzzle of a relatively undocumented aspect of American history. Cam’s path eventually led him towards the Negro League pension program, a program offered by MLB which provided pension funds to those who could furnish evidence that they played in the Negro Leagues for four years. By scouring computer databases and newspaper archives, Cam was able to supply the necessary documentation that would allow well over a dozen Negro League players to received pensions of nearly $10,000 a year.
2018: Bart Wilhelm
A native of Northern Michigan, where he has lived in Traverse City since the age of five, Bart Wilhelm attended his first major league game at Tiger Stadium on August 5, 1984, the year the Tigers started 35-5 en route to the World Championship. Since that visit to Tiger Stadium, Bart has attended over 1,100 games in 275 different professional ballparks. Included are all 159 affiliated minor league ballparks, major league stadiums, independent professional stadiums, spring training stadiums, and several defunct ballparks. Bart has attended the last three World Baseball Classics, and has seen baseball action in 48 different states, including the Midnight Sun game in Alaska. All in all, he attends about 110-125 games a year. Bart was also a dedicated member of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, the all-volunteer group which preserved and maintained the historic Tiger Stadium baseball diamond in Detroit between 2010 and 2016. Bart would drive four hours each way from Traverse City to Detroit to work on the field.
2019: Ralph Carhart
In 2010, Ralph Carhart fished a simple baseball from the small creek that runs next to Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York, thus beginning an epic quest spanning the United States and beyond. Over the course of eight years, Carhart traveled over 40,000 miles, visiting 34 states as well as Puerto Rico and Cuba, on a journey to have The Hall Ball’s picture taken with each member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, both living and deceased, thus utilizing this unique artifact to create a link between generations of the game’s greatest figures. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame declined to receive The Hall Ball as a donation, Carhart arranged for the Baseball Reliquary to serve as the ball’s permanent home. His book on the project, The Hall Ball: One Fan’s Journey to Unite Cooperstown Immortals With a Single Baseball, is scheduled for publication by McFarland & Company in 2020. Carhart’s Hall Ball work led to his involvement with the Society for American Baseball Research’s 19th Century Baseball Grave Marker Project, dedicated to placing stones at the previously unmarked graves of the game’s pioneers.