Sunday, July 28, 2019

My Hall of Fame Adventure

The Induction Field

I love going to the Hall of Fame. I have gone up Hall of Fame weekend a handful of times throughout my life, but I never really had the full experience. Typically my day of choice is Saturday, the day before the induction, because the crowd is on Main Street is incredible. What makes Cooperstown so old-timey, it is simply one road, with a bunch of old time shops, and eateries that you can find in every corner of the country. What makes it different is that everything is about baseball. There used to be a General Store, and despite the disappointment and loyalty of Mike (who had to walk in there every time he goes), but they closed that up. But Hall of Fame weekend, the street comes to life, like Times Square, but baseball themed. People are wearing different teams hats and shirts to not only identify their beloved heroes, but also as a way of identifying how far they have travelled from. Whether people are from Queens, Seattle, Phoenix, Puerto Rico or Panama, everyone is there for the same reason. For the chance to be with their heroes. 

It sounds corny I know, but after this weekend, I felt a way I had not felt in a very long time. The older you get, the more the magic goes away. I never quite got why the kid in the Polar Express couldn’t hear the bell ring when he got older (You met Santa Clause, and hung out with hobo on top of a train, how do you forget that?), but the older you get, things become too real, too ugly at times, that the childlike innocence fades away. 

I’m 34 years old, most of the players I watch now, in any sport, are younger than myself. Therefore its difficult to look at players the way I did when I was kid. No player is perfect (except Tom Brady), no player is flawed (except Tom Brady), and no player is mythical (with of course, the exception of Tom Brady). So I find myself getting angrier with players, I look at them with less awe, and more “uhh, what are you doing?” 

It’s normal, it’s nothing you can avoid. Growing up comes with its consequences and while I learned to accept most of the cosmetic changes, losing the ability to worship players is a side effect. I love sports, I love baseball (a little too much my wife would say) but I don’t love it the way I did when I was kid. It’s more mature, its more economical, its more like an adult. 

But this weekend, I got to go back in time, and feel all of those feelings I had playing baseball in the backyard, emulating my favorite players. It was a surreal experience 

Day 1

Meeting Tom Glavine

So as soon as  I parked the car, the trip was different than any other one we had been on before. First off, we parked farther away than we ever had before. 

We pulled in around noon, which already, we knew, there would be no good spots, and neither one of us wanted to pay the 40 bucks to park on someone’s lawn. So we drove around for a while and ended up parking across from Price Chopper, right next to “Welcome to Cooperstown” sign, aka, the border. But despite the long walk we had to get into Main Street, we ended up having some company. 

As we walked, three other fans, began their journey to the Hall as well, one was an elderly man, his son, and his grandson, all of which were wearing Puerto Rico jerseys from the World Baseball Classic. When our paths crossed, we ended up talking and learning about three generations of fans from Puerto Rico. The grandfather flew up for the occasion to celebrate the induction of Edgar Martinez, not because he was a Mariners fan (unfortunately he is a Yankees fan) but because Edgar is Puerto Rican. So we started talking about baseball in Puerto Rico, famous players from Puerto Rico, like Clemente, Ivan Rodriguez, and of course Edgar. We talked about other sports as well (apparently basketball is very big down there, but not football, because like he said, who wants to wear all those pads in 100 degree heat). But it all came back to baseball, and patriotic pride that these three had for their players and their country, was pretty moving. We didn’t talk about politics, didn’t talk about the removal of governor Ricardo Rossello, or anything else that could tarnish the day. These three appeared to be the happiest people on earth. 

When we got to Main Street, we parted from our new friends, and made our way down towards the Hall of Fame, and man, was it crowded. The record attendance for induction weekend at Cooperstown was an estimated 60,000 back in 2007, the year Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were inducted. I was there for that, and this felt bigger. But despite the masses, there was a way of finding people. As we began to walk down the street, someone appeared out of the corner of our eye. It was one of those instances like you see in a movie, where you walk by someone, stop, shake your head and ignore what you clearly saw, but can’t believe its true. Except this time, we both stopped at the same time, and looked behind us, and there he was, sitting at table, by himself with a stack of books…

…Jim Leyritz.

Now I have been to the Hall many times, and this is something that is not irregular, but something that has always puzzled me. Did someone invite Jim Leyritz? Does anyone know he is there? Was there a chance he brought his own table? Who knows? But he was trying to sell copies of his book, and take a few photo-ops for those who recognized him. We recognized him, but we moved on. Not even 15 feet away from Leyritz, there was someone much more recognizable, and someone who was definitely invited; signing autographs at table, the great Ozzie Smith. Now this was more like it. I loved Ozzie Smith growing up, even though he was a bit older when I was kid, but he is a fan favorite at Cooperstown, someone I had seen before so we moved on. This trip, was about experiencing something new, doing it different, and the next table we saw, that was something different. 

Ozzie Smith
As we worked our way down every block was the same, someone was selling Hot Dogs, Burgers and Sausage, another was selling popcorn, another lemonade and then boom, there was someone from your past. Whether it was Leyritz, Ozzie Smith, Ferguson Jenkins who we also saw, but then there was a much larger table with a collection that came right from the Field of Dreams cornfields. 

Interesting side note, one of the tables actually had the guy who played John Kinsella from Field of Dreams! I stood close enough for a decent picture, but not too close to strike up conversation. It was cool to see him, but really what do you say to the guy? Hey, thanks for making me cry. 

John Kinsella, well, the guy that plays him.

The table consisted of the following: Daryl Strawberry, David Justice, Lou Pinella, Tommy Lasorda, and Jimmy Hart! Yes, the Jimmy Hart who was famous for being wrestling managers to Brett Hart, Hulk Hogan and a slew of other wresters. He’s there every year! No clue why! We stood there and observed the table, I debated if I wanted to get an autograph. 40 bucks to sign ball, not a bad bargain, and I knew who I wanted. Again I was very reminiscent and sentlemental to my past, so even though Daryl Strawberry is a Met legend, David Justice meant more to me. His homer in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series put the Braves ahead was single-handedly one of the greatest memories of my childhood, and reliving those moments is what this weekend is all about. But I balked at the chance. I held off because I had one guy on my mind and that was the man who pitched a gem in Game 6 of the 95’ World Series, Tom Glavine. And who knows, maybe Justice will be there on Sunday as well? I won’t leave you in suspense, he was there, I’ll get to that later.

We continued down to where there was a couple of tents and tables outside this small white house on a side street to Main Street. This was our destination. Outside the house there was a man with a megaphone yelling out different players names, and I watched as a select group of people would then enter the house. The last two times Mike and I have gone on this day, we have seen this house, this set up and wondered, what is it like in that house? The guy comes out, and announces “Ok, Frank Thomas, tickets 15-20, come on in, we also have Rickey Henderson tickets 30-35 come on in, last call on Trevor Hoffman.” We wondered, are all of those guys in there? Are there more? And why does it look like nobody is leaving the house. Not to continue the Field of Dreams puns, but people literally entered the house and you didn’t see them come out. If we entered a place where our childhood heroes supposedly were, were we going to have a James Earl Jones experience and just dissolve away? We needed to find out. So I head to the table and grabbed a schedule to see who was signing. By the time we go there it was 2:10, and when I looked at the schedule I hoped Glavine would be available sometime soon. If he wasn’t available, I wasn’t going to purchase a ticket. I debated if Pedro Martinez, or Randy Johnson, or possibly Vladimir Guerrero, but chances were I wouldn’t pony up the dough for any of the three. Great players, loved them all, all three gave me great memories, but none meant as much to me as Glavine. So we looked at the schedule, found Glavine’s name and his time slot:


Perfect. So I bought a ticket for Glavine to sign a baseball, and I eagerly waited. I had ticket number 12, so it couldn’t be that long. As we waited for the guy to announce people to enter for Glaivine we ended up standing next to this guy, who was by himself, not as patiently waiting. 

“I got this for Hoffman to sign”

That was his hello apparently. This elderly gentleman had a photo of Trevor Hoffman and he was waiting to get the go ahead to go inside the house. Apparently, he had been out there for a while. He was beginning to get frustrated and since, I don’t know, I was next to him, that he could share his frustrations with me. I tried to change the subject, and I asked him, “Are you a Padres fan?”

“No, I have everybody else.”

I didn’t know what that meant. The literal translation was, he has every single autograph ever. Is that possible? And why is Trevor Hoffman last? He’s not exactly scrapping the bottom of the barrel. After all, Jim Leyritz is just down the street. But why Hoffman, why just a picture, and why do you have all of these autographs. All questions I really didn’t want to ask him because the conversation had already gone on far too long for my interest, and I just wanted to focus on getting my number called. 

“Tom Glavine, 1-5.”

Really, only five people at a time? How small is this house? Its ok though, I had Mr. Autograph next to me to entertain me for the next several minutes. He noticed I was wearing a Mets hat, so he asked me if I was a Mets fan. Deep stuff. I told him I was, and he told me that he too was a Mets fan. This guy had so many layers. So we talked about the Mets for a while until the guy with the megaphone came out again. 

Me & Mr. Autograph

“Tom Glavine, 6-11.”

Son of a bitch! I’m number 12 and I have to wait again. At this point Mike is laughing because he can tell I am very eager to get into this house and I have had enough small talk with ‘suspenders’ another name I gave the guy in my head. Then before I knew it, the megaphone guy came out and said: “Glavine 12-17”. Here was my moment, as I approached the house, Mike behind me, I asked him if he would be able to get in without  a ticket, he was unsure, but we were going to try anyways. I showed the guy with the megaphone my ticket and Mike and I darted inside. And that’s when we stepped into heaven. 

So you walk into this tiny colonial with this old staircase and dozens of people, there was a lady in front of the stair case and I simply just said the following words: “Tom Glavine”. She pointed to her right, my left, and there he was, sitting at a table Tom Glavine with just one person ahead of him (makes you wonder what the hell happened to all 1-10 and 13-17). I proceed into the room, which just looked like an old living room without any furniture where there were three tables. One table was empty, the other had Glavine, and the table right to my left when I entered the room, was Ivan Rodriguez. As I waited for the guy ahead of me, who apparently brought his entire wardrobe for Glavine to sign, I looked into the next room, there were more tables, and our jaws were dropping. There was Chipper Jones, Wade Boggs, Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley and Randy Johnson. All just sitting there, signing autographs and talking to one another. We were amazed. But nobody was talking to Pudge, so as I was waiting, I thought I would become his friend. Plus the guy ahead of seemed to take forever, even Glavine seemed annoyed. So I extended my hand to Pudge and simply said “You’re the greatest catcher I ever saw” he said “Yeah, thanks” and he engulfed my hand in his. He was massive! His shoulders could have fit my entire torso. By the time I was done shaking his massive hand, the guy in front of me was finally done. 


I walked up to Glavine, and I had all of these things planned I was going to say. I was going to tell him how I am one of his biggest fans, how I rooted for him throughout his career, how important Game 6 of the 95’ World Series was to me, the whole nine. I was even going to ask him what he is up to now? Smoltz does analysis and commentary for Fox and the MLB Network, Greg Maddux coaches in college, but Glavine has been relatively obscure. I thought it would be an interesting question, not the same old boring ones he probably gets, and from that we would launch a conversation that would lead us to exchanging cell phone numbers and possibly organizing a golf outing with Smoltz and Maddux. I don’t like golf that much, but this all seemed pretty reasonable to me. So I walked up to him, he signed my ball, and I said:

“Thank you.” 

To which he said:

“Thank you!”

And that was the end of the conversation. I choked, like Carlos Beltran against a Adam Wainwright curveball, my knees buckled. I missed my opportunity to become best friends with Tom Glavine. While I look back at it and wondered what could of been, in the moment I didn’t have long to dwell on it because we had some staring to do. Mike and I entered the room where Chipper and the rest of the Hall of Famers were and just preceded to stare in complete astonishment. Other fans were walking up to different players asking them questions, asking for autographs and pictures, and we just stood there wondering if someone would kick us out. I’ve already spent my 70 bucks and got my autograph, I doubt my fee included staring at these guys in the corner. But we stayed and just couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Just imagine what it is like having a party at your house, everyone moving around between the living rooms, the kitchen and a den, and the house is packed. That’s what it was like, except it was being occupied by baseball gods. 

Me and Tom Glavine

Dennis Eckersly 

Randy Johnson
Wade Boggs

Glavine ball

We eventually decided to leave, and you could only leave through one door, and it was the same door that the players left through. By the time we made our way we were practically following Chipper Jones to his car, in the driveway that wrapped around the back of the house. Chipper got in, pulled out, and we continued onto our journey. But for the 15 minutes we were there, it was like we were James Earl Jones.  

The Rest of the Day

The rest of the day and night, consisted of heading over to Doubleday Field to watch the Writers Award which was highlighted by Jason Stark being awarded the Spink Award, which recognizes contributions to baseball writing. He gave a pretty good speech, it do go a bit too long, but he was funny, and he told some pretty good stories. However, he was outdone by the elderly couple who plopped down next to us.

There was a couple from Queens, had to be in their 70s, or 80s for that matter, who made the trip up to sit in the immense heat that Saturday. It didn’t take long before they struck up a conversation…and shared their entire life story. But they were incredibly sweet and funny. Every time the wife told a story, the husband would then ask her to tell the same story.

“Let me tell you about my husband’s claim to fame. He met Gil Hodges! On the night they won the World Series! See this picture from the paper, that’s him right there, just two over!”

30 seconds later…

“Hey hun tell them about my claim to fame.”

In his defense, it was pretty loud, so he just couldn’t hear her that well, but it was hilarious. 

After the awards we made our way back to Main Street for the Hall of Fame parade. There, every Hall off Famer who made the trip to Cooperstown would ride on the back of a pick up truck waving to the crowd, its a very scenic, picturesque way to bring the crowd into induction Sunday. Except, moments before the parade got started, large storm clouds rolled into Cooperstown and an announcement was made that the parade would be shortened because storms were about to hit the area. So naturally people booed. Fans will be fans.

But it never rained but the players never got in the back of the truck. Instead they decided to sit inside the truck in case it started to rain. Which made the parade a much more intense experience. We stood roughly 5-6 deep of people who had placed their chairs and sat nearly all day to reserve their spot in the parade. Now these poor people who had played the long game to see their heroes were being pushed up against so that others could get a glimpse. Sometimes it was hard to watch as adults, not kids, but adults jockeyed for position against, other adults. To make things worse three obnoxious “Bleecher Creatures” made the trip up and just yelled at one another throughout the parade. One of them actually screamed at Jason Stark and called him a bum because you know…why not. 

We stayed until the end until we saw Mariano Rivera ride in on a fire truck, which was pretty cool, but then we decided to head out.

Day 2

Meeting David Justice

David Justice & 'My Man'
The next day was just as amazing. We arrived around 9-10 am, and literally parked in the same exact spot. This was induction day, but I thought we could get a block or two close but to no avail. We headed back to Main Street to see if any other former stars, or Jim Leyritz, was there, and they were, including Leyritz. I went back to the table that featured David Justice, spent 40 bucks, and had him sign a ball. Everything I wanted to say to Glavine, I got to say a fraction of to Justice. After all, it was his homer that gave the Braves the lead and the in in the 95 World Series. I said what I wanted to say and the guy couldn’t of been better. He was very energetic, very appreciative of my kind words, and he kept calling me “My Man!” I got my ball, and I got a much more memorable exchange. I was happy.  

Justice Ball

The Induction

We walked to the induction ceremony which is held in a big field roughly 2 miles from the Hall of Fame. Mike has a membership to the Hall of Fame, so he got two tickets to sit in actual seats semi-close to the stage (roughly 100 yards, if not more). One thing was for sure, its was better than sitting on the grass. But some people went all out. Tents, barbecues, stereos, the works. It was a pretty fun tailgate to walk around, especially those from outside the country. Panama was strongly represented to support Mariano, as well Puerto Rico. But the fans who really stole the show, were the Mariners fans. 
Everyone behind us
Our seats
Fans from Panama

I grew up with a few Mariners fans, worshipping the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez. But I never thought there would be as many there to support Edgar Martinez. That’s quite the commitment to fly across the country, and when Edgar’s name was announced the place went nuts, like we were inside the old Kingdom (Griffey and Johnson also got some of the louder ovations when they announced the other Hall of Famers on stage). Hats off to Seattle!

The ceremony began around 1:30, and it was that moment the sun really began to beat down on ya. The staff was phenomenal, passing out free waters throughout the speeches, each one wearing khaki pants and a polo, I wouldn’t of want to have been them that day, but they were amazing. Every now and then the clouds rolled in to lock out the sun, and it would be accompanied by a nice breeze to give you relief. But it never lasted as long as you wanted, thankfully there were some really good speeches to distract you from your heat stroke. 

When it got started I was little nervous that this whole thing would be a bit much. 6 speeches in 93 degree heat with little to no break from the sun. But to my surprise it was a very fast three hours. 

The speeches were excellent, from Mike Mussina was hilarious, Harold Baines tried really hard, but didn’t go on too long (which I guess is a compliment), Roy Halladay’s wife brought everyone to tears, Edgar’s speech was…I may have blacked out there a little bit, because I don’t remember much of it, I remember he talked in Spanish for a little and the crowd went nuts, then he said I love Seattle and the crowd went nuts. After Edgar Martinez spoke Lee Smith was next, and at that point everyone just wanted to hear Mariano speak. Many of us first timers wondered if they were going to go in alphabetical order, which would of made Smith last, and we were worried that most of the crowd would just leave after Rivera to get out of the heat. Thankfully they did not do that to Lee Smith, but still people wanted to hear from MO. But Lee Smith actually gave one of the best speeches. He was very funny, and he told a touching story about how his high school principal bought him a glove, a jersey, and spikes so he could play baseball. It was awesome, and by the time he was done, the crowd loved him. Then it was time for Mariano. And just like he did throughout his career, he closed out a gem. He was funny, heartfelt, and appreciative of all those who helped him. 

Mariano finished off a great induction day, and tremendous Hall of Fame weekend. 

The masses leaving the Induction Ceremony

Closing Thoughts

If you are a baseball fan, this weekend is a must do on your bucket list. It doesn’t have to be one of your guys getting in the Hall that year, because you may run into one on the street which will create memories you will have forever. 

I have gone to the this weekend a handful of times and each time I do more and see more. And each time I go back to that feeling like when I was a little kid. 

You get older, you get grayer and life has away of chipping away at your childlike innocence, which, unfortunately is necessary to being an adult. But every now and then, a vacation shouldn’t be just about decompressing or getting away from life’s stresses. 

Sometimes going back in time can be a great way to enjoy life again. 

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