"I feel very fortunate that we have a very close relationship," said Van Roby, who accompanied Thompson to Cooperstown on Thursday. "You don't get to make that many -- and I consider Chuck the closest friend I have."

Buck Mann grew up and still lives on the Eastern Shore, where he is an Ocean City councilman. Although he's met Thompson on several occasions, he is like the vast majority of those who identify with him -- a fan.

"Chuck is the man, it seems like he's always been the voice of sports in Maryland," Mann said. "Everybody grew up listening to him.

"When you think of Baltimore, you think of Chuck. He's a big part of the community. He's just one of us, which is one reason we're so proud of him. This is a great tribute, and I think we all feel we can share in it with him."

Growing with Baltimore

Since coming out of his self-imposed retirement -- even though he never seemed to be away because he would fill in on occasion -- Thompson's acceptance has been greater than ever. It hasn't gone unnoticed.

"I think maybe a lot of people close to my generation looked at it as though an old friend was back -- and isn't it nice he's still around," Thompson said.

Still, it took his selection for the Frick award and a spot in Cooperstown for Thompson to see the entire picture. "I always had the feeling that once I spoke into the microphone, the words just disappeared on the other side," he said.

"But the reaction to going into the Hall of Fame has been unbelievable," Thompson said. "On the first road trip this year I took hundreds of letters, because I wanted to try to read and answer them all.

"It was awfully hard to get through some of the letters I received. One gentleman wrote on a legal pad and said he hoped I understood that it wasn't the kind of letter he wanted to put on a machine.

"I think that's when it hit me. I never knew someone like myself, doing what I do, could have that kind of impact on people.

"Then I think back and realize that I've been here for parts of six decades and crossed a few generations. It's truly been a great career."

And Thompson feels that what some considered a drawback to his national acclaim was one of the reasons for his success and longevity. "The best thing that ever happened to me was coming to Baltimore," he said.

"I don't think this could have happened anywhere else. When I first got there, Baltimore got some bad raps, but it has grown and I was able to be there and grow along with it.

"I've been there to see the city rebuilt to the point where it now is one of the best in the country.

"I believe in luck, I believe in fate. I really do. And I think I was the right guy, in the right place at the right time.

"When the Orioles developed into one of the best organizations in baseball, I was the guy behind the microphone. When the Colts became a championship team, I happened to be the guy behind the microphone.

"It [his career] has been very satisfying, there's no doubt about it. But I don't think it could have happened anywhere else."

Groomed by a legend

Three years ago, Byrum Saam, who broadcast major-league baseball in Philadelphia for 33 years, went into the Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Frick award. He was Thompson's original mentor -- and the reason Thompson went to Baltimore.