Monday, July 27, 2009

There aren't too many things that would drag me out of bed at 3:30 in the morning. The Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Jim Rice is one of them.

Rice and I go way back. My first vivid memory of seeing a professional baseball game is watching Jim Ed hit a home run for the Pawsox at McCoy Stadium in 1974, when I was 10 years old. Rice won the Triple Crown in the International League that year, got a late season call up to Boston and played with the Sox until 1989.

My friend The Hey and I ended up taking a bus to Cooperstown. Our original plan was to drive out the night before and get a hotel room in Utica, but I discovered this bus trip at the Worcester Tornadoes game I was at a week or so ago. For $50, they would pick us up at the Park & Ride lot off the Mass Pike in Worcester, drive us to Cooperstown and drive us home after the ceremony. Sounded like a good deal to us, so we signed up for the trip.

The one drawback was that we had to be in Worcester at 5:00 AM sharp, which necessitated the 3:30 wakeup. However, we got there, boarded the bus, and got to Cooperstown a bit before 10 AM.

The bus dropped us at the Clark Sports Center, the site of the induction ceremony. The ceremony takes place on a huge field, with a tent and a video board at one end. We had a few hours until the ceremony was to take place, so we went down to Main St. to see if we could get into the Hall of Fame.

It's been 19 years since I was in Cooperstown for induction day, and I didn't know exactly what to expect. Surprisingly, the crowds were very manageable. I had images of people shoulder to shoulder on Main St. and a mob scene in the Hall, but it was nothing like that. It was crowded, certainly, but not crazy. According to Bob Ryan's blog post today, the crowd estimate at the induction was 21,000, which feels about right. The Hall of Fame has managing this weekend down to a science. They've been doing it for 70 years, so they should know what they're doing, right?

I can't even imagine what it was like in 2007, when 75,000 people, mostly Orioles fans, showed up for Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. I think the message there is not to go in years when iconic franchise players for teams within a days drive are being inducted. I don't even want to think about what it will be like when Jeter gets inducted.

Many of the Main St. businesses bring in various baseball players to sign autographs during the weekend. We saw some Negro League players, Willie Mays ($200!) and Pete Rose, among others. The oddest person selling autographs, however, was John Schneider, best known as Bo Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard and more recently as Jonathan Kent on Smallville. He was just set up on the sidewalk with a table and some pictures. Not exactly sure why.

We wandered around the Hall for a bit, taking some time to check out the new Hank Aaron exhibit. After a visit to the plaque gallery, we headed out to get some lunch before the ceremony started. Surprisingly, we walked right into my favorite Cooperstown restaurant, The Shortstop.

After lunch we took the bus back to the Clark Center for the ceremony. We set up our chairs quite a way from the stage, but we could hear perfectly well. The first order of business was introducing the 50 (!) Hall of Famers on hand for the induction. The loudest cheers went up for Yaz, from the highly Red Sox partisan crowd, and Hank Aaron, who was introduced as "everybody's home run king". Damn straight.

The Hall of Famers were up next. Joe Gordon's daughter gave a very moving speech about her father. I think everyone choked up a bit when she said that since her father had never wanted a funeral, her family would consider the Hall of Fame his final resting place.

Rice was up next. Jim gave a very nice speech, thanking all the appropriate people and getting in a few laughs. My favorite was when he talked about the irony of his now being a member of the media. so that "we could all now see his smiling face."

I think everyone was waiting to see what Rickey Henderson had to say, but he was fairly restrained. He didn't refer to himself in the third person and was appropriately humble. There was a bit of fractured syntax ("Mom do knows best"), and a funny story about how he would go to the Oakland Coliseum to get Reggie Jackson's autograph, and Reggie would give him a pen with his name on it.

The ceremony ended with the broadcaster (Tony Kubek) and writer (Nick Peters) awards. It was cool to see Tony Kubek, who was one of the voices of the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week of my youth. I don't know much about Mr. Peters, but he covered baseball in the San Francisco Bay area for 40 years.

All in all, it was a very fun day and a much more pleasant, less stressful day than I was expecting. I think there's a fair chance we'll do it again next year!


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