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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Two New Immortals

Much has been written about the Hall of Fame induction this past weekend, especially about the merits of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. While I obviously share in the admiration for these two baseball greats, I'm not going to go into their stats or speeeches here in any great detail. What I want to do is share with you our HoF weekend and some of the things we learned and experienced while in Cooperstown.

This was our first trip to Cooperstown, and I wish we'd been able to take more time to really be able to soak everything in. Schedules being what they were, we just had the weekend. We left Friday night and made it as far as Scranton, PA. Traffic was an absolute nightmare out of DC and around Baltimore, and what should have been a 2.5 hour drive ended up about six. Absolutely miserable.

We rolled into Cooperstown Saturday around lunchtime, parked at a satellite lot (basically a corn field next to one of the hundreds of little league fields) and took the trolley into town. Once on Main Street, we wandered around open-mouthed at all the people filling the streets and lined up at the various storefronts waiting for autographs from the Hall of Famers. "Look, there's Rollie Fingers!" or "Wow, Yogi Berra". It was really incredible walking down the street and seeing all these HoFers in one place. Here's a pic of maybe next-year-inductee Goose Gossage.

We had lunch at the Doubleday Cafe and watched some of the Nats-Mets game. That's when it hit me that there were ALOT of Mets and Yankee fans around. I completely forgot we were in New York! Actually, we saw hats from all the teams in the bigs, which was neat. We also saw a bunch of anti-Barry Bonds shirts and just a couple Pete Rose support shirts. We also saw Pete himself. Cheryl went into the store looking for something and Pete happened to be there signing! She talked to him real briefly, but passed on the $85 to get a picture signed.

After lunch we headed down to the Hall. Man, was it crowded. We asked the ticket girl what attendance was and she showed us the counter on their computer. When we entered around 3 pm it was just over 12,000. Media reports had the total day just over 15,000, which was a one-day record, surpassing the previous by over 5,000. So when I say it was crowded, you get the idea. First was the Plaque Gallery, which was AWESOME. Just as I've always pictured it, only with many more people milling about. We sought out our favorites, but with so many people it was hard to linger or really soak it all in.

We toured the rest of the museum and saw many cool things, but the highlight for us were the displays from the seventies World Series years of the Orioles and Reds. Seeing artifacts from those WS Champions was awesome for me and Cheryl, as they represent why we are such big baseball fans to beging with.

After the museum we gathered outside the Hall for the "Red Carpet" arrivals of the HoFers. They weren't scheduled to arrive until 9 pm after their dinner banquet, but people were already lining up as early as 6 pm. So we got our spot. Cheryl talked to a security guy and he told us to get a spot in front of the Post Office right across the street from the Hall, that was the best vantage to see the HoFers getting off the trolleys from the dinner. He was absolutely correct in that it was the best vantage. Once they started arriving, they got off the trolleys directly in front of us just like he said. Only problem was we could still hardly see them. For an event that was scheduled to be at night, they hadn't set up any flood lighting. All the light we had were the streetlights.

This could have been really, really cool with only a little more effort from the organizers. As it turned out, it was kinda disappointing and at times health threatening. Combine Ripken autograph-seeking crowds and low lighting and it got scary at times. All they needed was a couple banks of flood lighting, and it could have had all the panache of an Oscar-style event. They certainly had the enthralled crowds!

It didn't stop us though, or the others around us. We met a family from Connecticut, a couple from Toronto and many others, and we all exchanged email address and promises to trade photos from the evening. Part of the coolness of the weekend was meeting the other people that had made the trek there for the festivities. You realize how strong a hold the game has on some folks, and that even with steriods and labor strife and ungodly salaries, people still WANT to love the game.

We obviously stayed to the very end, when they took down the barricades and cleared the streets. That's when we met Brady Anderson and David Segui, who were guests of Cal at the reception. They were the last ones to leave the Hall and signed for everyone that remained. Segui talked with us for about five minutes while Brady finished up. He was perfectly happy just to chill with us. They were headed to a restaraunt around the corner that John Travolta rented out for late-night supper. Cal and John are friends, as is Richard Gere and Lynda Carter apparently, and they were all there to support their buddy Cal.

We were hungry so we stopped at the pizza joint that had been closed for two hours but was still serving anyway. We met Jim Caple of and Scott Miller of there. They were kind enough to put up with my babble for about 15 minutes. Real nice guys.

After all that we tromped out to the Clark Sports Center where the ceremony was on Sunday. We were told that it would be a good idea to set our chairs out that night to reserve our spot. We got out there a little after midnight, and the field was already full of camp chairs and folding chairs and blankets and coolers! Simply incredible. It really was an eerie sight with a full moon breaking through the fog. Imagine a field full of thousands of empty chairs on a foggy-but full moon-night. We finally got back to the place we were staying with friends in Oneonta, about a half hour south, sometime around 2:15 am, with plans on rising at 7:30 am.

We did get up at 7:30 am, only to find one of the friends we were staying with had to go back home. His wife had fallen ill and he needed to get back. I can't imagine that 6 hour drive. All was fine eventually, but still. Anyway, we loaded up our cars and trekked back into Cooperstown for the induction ceremony. We found our chairs unmolested at 10-ish and settled in for the 1:30 pm ceremony. It was a long, hot, typically humid July afternoon, and I must admit I slept a good portion of the next two hours. They played highlights from previous induction ceremonies on the big board, which was nice, but once they started re-running the same ones over and over, that lost our interest. Cheryl spent an hour walking around taking pictures of fans and the signs and shrits they had made.

The ceremony itself started precisely at 1:30 pm, and Gary Thorne handled the emcee duties. After the welcomes, he introduced all the HoFers in attendance, along with video hightlights. What a truly awesome experience. 53 of the living 61 HoFers were there, the largest gathering of living HoFers ever. The crowd was HUGE, estimated at 75,000, 50% larger than the previous record.

The speeches were much like I thought they would be: Gwynn talking about hitting, Ted Williams, San Diego; Cal talking about his responsibility, Baltimore and the future. Both guys got emotional when talking about their families. It was really touching to see both guys break up when talking about their fathers, both of whom have passed on. People forget these guys are human, with all the emotional fragility that we all share. And I will readily admit I wore my dark sunglasses to hide my tears as well.

We left right after the ceremony, carrying our camp chairs, coolers, cameras and memories back to the car parked a mile and a half away from the field. This sign was indicitive of the entrepreneurial spirit of the tiny hamlet of 2,000 folks. And getting out of Cooperstown proper took almost as long to get there Friday night. Only a slight exaggeration. But all would agree worth every last ounce of energy expended.

This ceremony was unique in that both players played for the same franchise their entire careers. They both expressed the great honor and responsibility of playing for the city they played for--their hometowns. And in the era of free agent mercenaries, it was refreshing to hear it come from the players themselves.

As Cal eloquently stated, "As the years passed, it became clear to me that kids see it all, and it's not just some of your actions that influence, it's all of them. Whether we like it or not as big leaguers, we are role models. The only question is will we be positive or will it be negative."

All photos (c) C. Nichols 2007


KEUNHEE said...

wow, this looks and sounds like an amazing trip. really enjoyed it, cuz i've never been up there. I watched all of the speeches online, and after reading your blog and looking at your pictures, my newest goal is to make it to an induction one day. Too bad there won't be any more O's during my lifetime to get inducted lol. I'm trying to start a new blog site myself, much like yours. Come check it out

Maryland Orioles' Fan said...

Awesome trip! I would to have loved to go, but I could not as I spent a fortune going to the All-Star Game, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Looking back, I should have gone as Cal may be the last Oriole Hall of Famer until my kids have kids...

Griff said...

Very cool trip & very well reported. you should go back to Cooperstown furing some other non-HOF weekend.

Joseph said...

Sounds fantastic, and what heroes you saw.