Engineers and construction workers in hard hats, utility communicators and administrative staff, even cafeteria workers expressed a common line of inquiry near 1:30 Tuesday afternoon at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Operating Station in Harrisburg. Pa.: Is it here yet?
There was a palpable buzz at the power plant early yesterday afternoon, for the Hershey Bears were making their first-ever visit to the historic site, and bringing along a special piece of hardware: the 2010 Calder Cup trophy. TMI has no small number of Bears’ fans (especially season ticket holders), and so this visit by this championship organization created a most special break from turbine room duty and reactor operator training in the middle of a mid-summer weekday.
The Bears do something special with this special trophy, the second-most famous in all of hockey. A team staffer maintains a full and strict travel schedule for it, and the team wants it moved all about Pennsylvania during the summer, where Bears’ fans are widely dispersed. And they want fans to get up close and personal with it. The Calder is heavy — more than 30 pounds it seems — and so the Bears’ John Walton stands ready to assist smaller members of the community with a photo-worthy lifting of the American League’s grand prize. This he did a few times Tuesday in the TMI cafeteria.
Calder also travels well beyond Pennsylvania. It gets Fed-Ex-ed at times. Since the Bears began winning it in bunches as affiliate of the Washington Capitals it has traveled, Walton estimates, to every Canadian province in summer time. It’s already visited Mathieu Perreault in Quebec this summer.
My most recent view of the Calder Cup came out on Giant Center ice after finals game 6 nearly six weeks ago, where it moved from Bear to Bear amid a victor’s shouts and hugs, an overflow Giant Center crowd remaining crammed in jubilation at the rare sight of a Calder celebration at home. I was reminded about how special that moment was to the central Pa. community yesterday as I saw the plant workers pass digital cameras back and forth among one another and reminisce about a 76-win hockey season.
Tuesday’s encounter with Calder seemed much different from last month’s but every bit as special to me: this was the Bears’ organization vividly reminding its community that it shared a stake in the triumph, that their emotional investment as fans merited a special, tangible reward. Hockey’s championship connections with its fans are more impressive, more personal than those of any other sport. This I freshly observed on Tuesday.
I met John Walton in the TMI parking lot near 2:00 Tuesday, and just returned from summer vacation, he welcomed Calder’s weight in his arms relative to that of his family’s travel luggage. We didn’t make it more than 20 paces from his car before the first plant worker stopped us with surprised admiration and the usual request. The Calder Cup stops for all photo requests, I learned on Tuesday.
We were ready to resume our arrival in the plant cafeteria, and somewhat reflexively I just lifted the trophy and marched it into the dining hall. For some years now the Hershey Bears have afforded me all manner of access and perks and support, and I guess I just felt like I was back among family, and presumptuously able to so participate. It was hot out, too, and I wanted to give JW a bit of a hauling breather.
Hockey’s hardcore fans come from all walks of life, and among those at a big power plant, all job descriptions. Many of the employees on Tuesday still wanted to talk about that sudden reversal of fortune Hershey enjoyed in the middle of Calder Finals game 3, when it sure looked like a 3-0 series hole was soon to seize the Bears. I thought it appropriate that the analogy of a light switch getting turned on in Hershey’s favor was articulated at a power plant yesterday.
There’s a great success story, too, about TMI, for those interested in the backfile on America’s most recognizable nuclear plant. After the accident in 1979, it took fully six and half years to get approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart the other reactor on site. That reactor recently set a world record in the nuclear industry for operating continuously for 705 days, and today it reliably provides electricity for more than 800,000 homes and businesses. On Tuesday excellence met excellence for the first time, and it was love at first sight. Also on Tuesday, TMI employees asked me what I could do to get that other hockey trophy up to the site for a visit.