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Tommy and Me brings Didinger and Hershey full circle

Hall of Fame sportswriter Ray Didinger brings his play 'Tommy and Me' to Hershey this week. It tells the tale of his evolving friendship with Tommy McDonald.

HERSHEY, Pa. — Since opening the curtain in 1933, the Hershey Theatre has hosted countless plays and performances. But this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday might be the rare time when it hosts a play, where Hershey has a role to play.

"Hershey to me wasn't just part of my childhood.  It may have been the best part of my childhood, said Hall of Fame sportswriter Ray Didinger with a smile.  "It was coming up from Philadelphia where we lived, really, to watch the Eagles practice."

'Tommy and Me' will take center stage in Hershey.  Didinger penned the play on his evolving friendship with Hall of Fame player Tommy McDonald.  It's a friendship that all started in Chocolatetown.

"This is where the game became real to me.  When I was a kid, I sat in the stands. I sat at Franklin Field and watched Tommy play and I watched the team play but you know, I'm up on the twenty-fourth row.  They're down on the field.  Well, here, there was no distance," recalled Didinger.  "I mean here, I could walk right up to Tommy.  We could talk.  He could put his arm around me, which he did, we could walk together, and you know, all of a sudden I was in that world.  That was really when I just fell in love.  I fell in love with him. I fell in love with the game. I fell in love with the life and I just decided 'You know, this is what I want to do.'"

"For me, I've been hearing about it for six years from Ray," said the play's director Joe Canuso.  "He talks about it all the time, about how much it meant to him as a kid growing up, coming up here. I think it was a very formative time for him."

What started as an idea for a magazine article, then maybe a book, ultimately became a play after a year and a half of work.

"I did not want to make a documentary or a lecture with film clips and talking about things," said Canuso.  "I wanted to do a real story that had an arc to it.  It had real characters and real emotions and passion."

"The heart of the play is how it all started with the little ten-year-old kid, carrying his heroes' helmet, to then, later on, I become a sports writer.  I begin to lead the campaign to try and get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He finally gets in after a 30-year wait.  He asks me to be his presenter in Canton.  I just said, 'You know, I have to tell this', but always in the back of my mind was the thought. 'I would love to bring this back to Hershey,'" recalled Didinger.

Whether you're a sports fan, a theatergoer, or somewhere in between, Didinger says that everyone can find something to love in 'Tommy and Me,' with the highest praise coming from Tommy McDonald, before his passing in 2018.

"It was so wonderful to see him laugh, to see him get tearful, and to see him nudge his wife and son and point to the stage and say 'That, that, yeah, that happened!  That happened.  Yeah, I remember that!' That was the best part of it," said Didinger.

And for an area so rich in history, it's part of a story that some in this region may not have known.

"Every summer, a pro football team came here and lived here and trained here and played games here.  And you could go to the stadium here and see the Eagles and the Baltimore Colts play a game.  Two dollars general admission, walk in, find your seat, and watch a game with 12 hall-of-famers playing," exclaimed Didinger.  "You know the game today is so enormous and it is so corporate and it is so billion dollar.  But in 1950s, it was really the game in your backyard almost, and the fact that you can kind of tell that story through the play, and we do, is something that I think the people up here would really find interesting, enlightening, and probably pretty entertaining." 

Following each performance, there's a question and answer portion for the audience, with the Hall of Fame writer, as well as some special guests, who are no strangers to the gridiron.

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