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Ripken Hall of Fame induction reports

The Sun's Alex Pyles chronicled the scene in Cooperstown, N.Y., with online exclusive articles on the Hall of Fame induction festivities. E-mail Pyles.
Alex Pyles

Belief in baseball

With many of the estimated crowd of more than 70,000 fans departing from Cooperstown today, and most of the rest leaving tomorrow, the town is no doubt looking forward to getting back to business as usual.

This was my first trip to Cooperstown, and I have to say the village has treated me well. All good things must come to an end, but the weekend did teach me a few things:

I learned some Cooperstown residents may fear the weekend, fleeing as their town is invaded by baseball fanatics, but others embrace it. One resident shouted from her porch as I walked past this afternoon that the scene this weekend is a great show to witness.

I learned that the same person who might cut you off on Interstate 695 will help you merge onto a busy Cooperstown street if you're wearing orange.

I learned that local shopkeepers love this time of year. Gail McManus, who owns Straws and Sweets on the corner of Main and Pioneer Streets, said that she has made thousands of dollars worth of sales at her little candy and souvenir shop this weekend alone.

After spending the day in the baking sun at Clark Sports Center, I learned that I should have heeded my mother's warnings and worn sunscreen. No doubt my girlfriend will get a nice laugh out of my new farmer's tan next time we go to the beach.

I learned that strangers, when united by a common bonds such as Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, suddenly turn into friends. I've never been around a group of people so willing to sit and chat about any subject at all.

I learned mentioning that the conversation could find its way onto baltimoresun.com doesn't hurt, either.

Most importantly, I learned that Baltimore baseball fans may be some of the most impassioned fans in all of sports -- they proved it this weekend by making up the vast majority of the record-setting crowd. I learned that when Baltimore fans have something to stand behind, when they have something they care about, they come out in mobs. For the past three days, Cooperstown has been Baltimore-north. Orioles fans have been trapped in a tradition of losing baseball for nearly 10 years now, and they just needed something to cheer for, something to be proud of.

Posted: July 29, 7:31 p.m.


Your two new Hall of Famers

In his introduction speech, National Baseball Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey confirmed what we've all suspected for the last several months: this year's induction ceremony is officially the largest in the Hall of Fame's history.

An estimated crowd of more than 70,000 fans turned out to see Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn get inducted.

Filling in for usual master of ceremonies George Grande, who was tending to his ill mother, Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne began the day by introducing the 53 current Hall of Famers in attendance, which also set a record.

After introducing former Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson to thunderous applause from the mostly Orioles crowd, Thorne quipped, "I don't think there's anybody back in Baltimore, they're all here."

Thorne also called the assembling of the Hall of Famers "the greatest gathering of baseball talent in one place" in the game's history. Few would argue, with former players like Robinson, Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, and Tom Seaver all in attendance.

Both inductees seemed understandably nervous. Gwynn was introduced first and got up to start his speech, but then had to turn around and go back to his chair. He had forgotten his notes.

Gwynn's plaque describes him as "an artist with the bat." Having watched Gwynn mostly on television in the later part of his career, I can't think of any better words to describe him.

Ripken was presented with his plaque second and gave a heartfelt, earnest speech. In a rare show of candid emotion, Ripken choked up three separate times during his speech: when talking about his father Cal Sr., his children Ryan and Rachel and his wife Kelly.

Both men hit on the same notes: family, hard work, dedication -- the same values that caused the largest crowd of Hall of Famers and fans in Cooperstown history to be in attendance.

They both saved their final thanks for the fans that followed them through their storied careers and traveled hundreds of miles to be present this weekend. But the fans were the ones doing most of the thanking, interrupting the newest Hall of Famers with their cheers, raising homemade signs high into the air and even shedding a tear or two of their own.

The only regrettable part of the afternoon was the threatening thunderstorms, which caused the Hall of Fame to reverse its usual order of presentation. With many leaving after Gwynn and Ripken delivered their speeches, those who remained in attendance found the task of hearing the presentation of the Ford C. Frick Award to Kansas City Royals broadcaster Denny Matthews and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award to Rick Hummel impossible to hear or see.

Then again, the day was mostly about Ripken and Gwynn. The feelings of so many, including myself, were perfectly summed up by my favorite sign of the day: "Classiest Class 2007."

Posted: July 29, 6 p.m.


Crowded streets and parking lots

As crazy as the scene was yesterday, it seems like even more people have arrived for today's induction ceremonies, set to start at 1:30 p.m.

Walking into town this morning I was fighting against the current, as a throng of mostly Orange-clad fans were already on their way out to the Clark Sports Center field.

With the sheer volume of people making their way to the town outskirts, I figured downtown Cooperstown would be fairly quiet. Wrong.

The record for an induction weekend attendance is about 50,000, set in 1999 when Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Orlando Cepeda were enshrined. Some estimate there were about that many in town yesterday alone, with potentially thousands more busing in for today. Even with rain threatening, the streets are packed.

According to one Cooperstown resident at the town's Chamber of Commerce, the whole of Ostego County has around 70,000 people in it, so this weekend is like jamming the entire county, and maybe a few thousand more, into this modest village.

Many parking lots opened at 6 a.m. this morning so people could make their way to the induction grounds and stake their claim to a piece of real estate in the field. Many of the houses on Cooperstown side streets are not only selling hot dogs and desserts for a few dollars, but are also selling their front yards as parking lots for anywhere from $25-$50 for the entire day.

I'll be heading over to the Clark Sports Center field in a few minutes, with hopes that the chairs I set up near the podium yesterday haven't been reassigned to the side of the road.

Posted: July 29, 12 p.m.


From far and wide

Lining up for the arrival of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I got to talking with Larry Messer, an Orioles fan from Louisville, Ky.

Messer, his wife Leighann, and son Bailey Siegrist, have never lived anywhere near Baltimore. So what drew him to the Orioles?

Ripken.

"When I first started watching baseball, he was winning the World Series in 1983," Messer said. "The Orioles have been my team ever since."

Messer, who has an Oriole bird tattoo above his ankle, went on to say that ever since Ripken retired, he's had the date of his Hall induction marked on a calendar. He even joked that when he married his wife, the eventual trip to Cooperstown was "kind of a pre-nuptial."

Meanwhile, Gregg Wiggins from Arlington, Va. and Ann Karistal from Centreville, Va. -- both Washington National fans -- also made the trip despite no longer calling the Orioles their team.

"It's like a friend with a barbecue grille. He may invite you to use it, may want you to like to use it, and you may even enjoy it, but in the end, it's not yours," Wiggins said, explaining his allegiance to the Nationals after years of being an Orioles supporter.

Still, he said, he had to come see Ripken and Gywnn be inducted into the Hall, simply because he is a baseball fan.

"They're both such great examples," Wiggins said. "On and off the field."

Wiggins and Karistal are both receiving the VIP treatment in Cooperstown, as both have made charitable donations to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wiggins donated the ticket stub from the game when Ripken ended his streak of 2,632 consecutive games. Karistal contacted the Hall of after attending the first-ever Nationals game, and donated that ticket stub in return for free lifetime admission. The Hall accepts any donations that are considered historic artifacts.

I still have a cup from Oriole Park in 1997, the last time the Orioles had a winning record. I wonder if that's considered a historic artifact.

Posted: July 28, 10:31 p.m.


Fans and former ballplayers

You haven't lived until you've blogged sitting on a curb on a crowded Cooperstown side street.

Let's just say I've been getting some funny looks.

Although the word on the street is that nearly 200 busses came to town this morning from Baltimore, San Diego fans have made the (considerably longer) trek as well.

Van Treadway is from San Diego and came into Cooperstown from Milwaukee with his brother-in-law Mick McManus and wartime friend Mike Toomey. All three served in the military, with Treadway and Toomey meeting in Okinawa 29 years ago.

Toomey, who lives in Ohio, and McManus are in Cooperstown as baseball fans, watching what the three men agreed to be the induction of the last two class acts in baseball.

"You never saw Cal or Tony in the paper for crimes or anything like that," Treadway said. "You couldn't have picked two better guys [to be inducted together]."

Still, the streets in Cooperstown seem to be made up of a largely Orioles crowd. Two of the approximate 200 buses from Baltimore were filled with retired NSA employees, one of which was Jim Piersall.

No, not Jimmy Piersall, who played 17 seasons in the majors, mostly for the Boston Red Sox. This Piersall grew up in New York.

Moving to Baltimore for duty at Fort Meade, Piersall became an Orioles fan, and passed that tradition on to his daughter Linda, who made the trip from St. Louis to join her father this weekend.

"It's her Christmas present," the elder Piersall said.

Not a bad gift. According to the Freeman's Journal here in Cooperstown, a record 53 Hall of Famers have descended upon the town this weekend, plus a few other well-known baseball players from years past.

Walking down the street, my father stopped me to point out Denny McClain, whose 31-6 record as a a Detroit Tigers starter in 1968 makes him the majors' last 30-game winner. McClain was one of many former ballplayers lining the streets of Cooperstown, signing autographs and shaking hands.

And by the way, the Aberdeen Ironbirds defeated the Oneonta Tigers 10-8 in 10 innings at Doubleday Field, after the game had to be stopped for rain earlier in the day. Between the two teams, 12 errors were made, including eight by Oneonta.

Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but I don't think there were many future Hall of Famers on the field.

Posted: July 28, 6:48 p.m.


Trivia with the Hall of Famers

Credit Mario Francioli from Parkville with a save for this blog, as he provided me with an extra ticket so I could get into the sold-out Connecting Generations trivia show.

The trivia contest was more comedy show than Jeopardy, with contestants being chosen at random to try and stump Jim Palmer, Robin Yount, Phil Niekro and Duke Snider. The Hall of Fame panel had eight guesses to discover the identity of a post-World War II Hall of Fame player chosen by the contestants.

While struggling to learn the identity of one player, Snider joked, "You don't have to be smart to get in here."

Following trivia, the Hall of Fame panel engaged in a question-and-answer session with the audience. The highlight of the session came from Palmer, when answering that the most difficult park to pitch in was the Kingdome in Seattle.

"Four moments stick out as the most important in my life," Palmer said. "The day I was adopted, the day I got married, the day I had my children and the day they imploded the Kingdome."

Looking out onto the lawn at the Clark Sports Center, there are already hundreds of chairs set up for tomorrow's induction ceremonies. Parking lots are opening at 6 a.m. around the area, and visitors are being urged to arrive early and avoid leaving once they arrive.

Elinor Pollock, who has been living in Cooperstown since 1967, told me this year's crowd is "at least 10 times" larger than any other she has seen for an induction weekend.

Posted: July 28, 4:09 p.m.


A sea of orange

With the house I am staying at being outside of Cooperstown, the best way to get downtown is via a trolley that runs from the outskirts. The trolley lot itself was full, but a local eye doctor is selling parking for $50 a day.

For an additional $20, he'll even throw in an eye exam.

According to the trolley driver, local radio stations are predicting 100,000 Cooperstown visitors this weekend. Though it's only an estimate at this point, that number is roughly twice the previous high for an induction weekend.

So far it looks like they're well on their way to reaching the number. The main drag is a sea of orange, speckled with some blue and white-clad Padres fans. The scene more closely resembles a crowded county fair grounds than a quaint, small-town street. Vendors sit on either side of the street. A few homeowners are even taking the initiative to make a little cash, selling hot dogs and sodas on their front lawns. Thankfully, they haven't taken the opportunity to mimic major league ballpark food prices.

Cal Ripken Jr. and his family were involved in ceremonial first-pitch duties before the New York-Penn League game between the Aberdeen IronBirds and Oneonta Tigers, which is about to start. The stadium, again made up of mostly Orioles faithful, erupted at the mere sight of the Iron Man.

I'll be checking back in throughout the day once I get my bearings around town and find a reliable wireless signal, including posts from the trivia session with Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson.

I think I can take them.

Posted: July 28, 2:05 p.m.


A belated arrival

A word of advice if you're ever coming to Cooperstown, N.Y., on induction weekend: leave early and avoid Interstate 81 during rush hour.

A lifelong Orioles fan, I'm here to fulfill a promise I made to myself when I was a freshman in high school.

You see, the last time Cal Ripken, Jr. set foot on a baseball diamond wearing a pair of cleats and the number eight on his back, I was dancing on a high school gymnasium floor wearing a red striped tie and a pair of loafers at the homecoming dance.

That was nearly six years ago, and I'm still not exactly sure how I allowed myself to miss Ripken's final game. I didn't see a minute of Ripken's last hurrah, my only knowledge of it being that he finished his career standing in the on deck circle as I did the electric slide.

Guilt-ridden, I promised myself I wouldn't miss the day that my childhood baseball hero joined the other immortals in the Hall of Fame.

So, true to my promise, I hopped in my jeep this morning and after six hours, a few thunderstorms, and a two-hour traffic backup on I-81 near the New York state line, made it to Cooperstown.

Apparently, I'm not the only once who pledged to be here this weekend, judging by the cars I passed with painted on No. 8's, Orioles stickers, and my personal favorite: "Cooperstown or bust."

All puns aside, at first glance it looks like Cooperstown will be Baltimore north this weekend. Saturday will feature plenty of options for the Baltimore faithful, with Ripken's minor league Aberdeen IronBirds playing the Oneonta Tigers in the annual New York-Penn League game at 2 p.m. before Orioles Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson, among others, participate in interactive trivia with fans.

Posted: July 27, 8:50 p.m. Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun

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