COOPERSTOWN, NY (KDLM) – The National Baseball Hall of Fame during induction weekend has always been an item on my to-do list.
The real diehards started hitting town Thursday to check out all the new memorabilia from the weekend, get the first memorabilia on memorabilia, or pick up special autograph tickets with the MLB alum and Hall of Famers. who would be in town. Thursday or Friday would be a great day to get there if you ever plan to go to Cooperstown for the induction festivities (Joe Mauer is on the ballot in 2024…). Smaller crowds, maps easy to navigate, museum and gallery are fairly open, and there are queues at the gift shop.
Hall of Fame Weekend is baseball’s biggest gathering of Hall of Famers of the year, with 43 participants in the Hall of Fame Parade down Main Street in Cooperstown on Saturday, and even more seated presenting on Sunday for the induction ceremony.
There were four main fan cliques in Cooperstown this weekend: the Twins faithful who made the trip to see the long-awaited inductions of Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, the Boston fans who made the four-hour drive to see David Ortiz inducted, the fans who came from the Dominican Republic to cheer on their local hero Ortiz, and the fans who were there for the experience.
The most fun was the fans of the DR. Four DR players were inducted: Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero and Ortiz. All four were in town for the induction and they brought the whole island with them. There were giant groups of fans with DR flags parading through the streets, fans with instruments in the alleys and randomly bursting into cheers, chants and chants. About halfway through Tony Oliva’s speech on Sunday, Alex Rodriguez (whose parents were from the Dominican Republic) tried to sneak into the ceremony but was loudly cheered on by DR fans in the crowd. A-Rod tried to ignore them but eventually had to turn to them and motion for them to be quiet while Oliva spoke.
Friday began with a special Ozzie Smith clinic at Abner Doubleday Field just blocks from the museum. Ozzie, who was inducted into the Temple as a St. Louis Cardinal in 2002, was joined by fellow Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr and Jim Thome. Fans with pre-purchased tickets spent 15 minutes with each Hall of Famer for a Q&A, then had the opportunity to play catch, throw balls to the ground and pop flies, and to make double plays with them on the field.
Fans walking down the street sometimes randomly encounter players (who want to be found). Many of the players roaming the streets are former players who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Denny McClain, who won two Cy Young Awards with the Detroit Tigers in 1968, set up a tent to sign autographs and talk baseball with fans. Jose Canseco was also in town, joking with fans and telling stories about his playing days. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were signing together Sunday before the induction ceremony.
— Jeff (@MNTwinsZealot) July 24, 2022
Many players have set up special autographs at the various restaurants and bars for fans to get a nicer, inscribed autograph. Many autograph seekers have special requests for signed balls: sign them on the sweet spot, write a special message (HOF, MVP, etc.) instead of having a random and quick signed ball on the street.
If your favorite player doesn’t sign, you can always just buy an authenticated autograph ball from one of the dozens of Main Street stores…but they’re expensive. A Hall of Fame Ken Griffey Jr baseball will set you back around $450, a David Ortiz ball is around $800, and a Derek Jeter push ball is $1,000. The most expensive piece I found was a Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig double signature ball for $35,000.
The Otsego Hotel on Lake Otsego is the getaway for players and their families. Each participating player has two rooms. But, sometimes, a player will move away from the hotel… because why not? As well as being a giant reunion for the best players of all time, they also like to stroll through The Gallery and reminisce about their favorite players and friends, view some of their old memorabilia in the museum, and interact with fans.
Twins Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven is one of the players who frequently left the hotel to explore Cooperstown. I spotted Bert entering the museum’s gift shop as I looked at some of the memorabilia. No one saw it at first. Or if they saw him, they didn’t recognize him. Unless you’ve watched Bert on the Twins TV shows all these years, he looked like a regular visitor to the museum. Then, little by little, the buzz started. A few Twins fans walked into the museum and recognized him instantly. Then we learned that a Hall of Famer was in the gift shop. Luckily, I was able to sneak up on Bert and ask him a few questions before the crowd of Twins arrived.
Next is the Hall of Fame Parade. Behind the barricaded streets, fans can watch, cheer and interact with their favorite Hall of Famers as they ride down Main Street in the back of pickup trucks with their wives. The end of the parade route in front of the museum is the place to be: this is where players exit their vehicles and enter a special player-only gathering inside the gallery before setting off for their own separate parties. The Twins organization rented the entire Fenimore Art Gallery for their post-show party.
As the Hall of Famers get out of their vehicles, some of them walk towards the crowd and sign autographs. For example, Cal Ripken Jr walked a few blocks on the parade route and signed autographs for fans along the route for about 30 minutes. Bert Blyleven also signed for fans for a long time. Mariano Rivera signed autographs for children only. Wade Boggs individually thanked the patrollers working on the parade, took pictures with them and then entered the museum.
My fan moment was at the Tunnicliff Inn on Friday. For years I have been working on a small fan project. I had an MLB All-Star program in 1985 and for ten years I’ve been slowly collecting autographs from players on that team who would eventually play for the Twins. The 1985 All-Star Game was played at the Metrodome. As the weekend approached, I only needed three. I had Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Paul Molitor, Jeff Reardon and Tom Brunanksy (the Twins’ only All-Star in 1985). I missed Dave Winfield, Gary Ward and Tommy Herr.
Winfield, who doesn’t often make autograph appearances, was signing at noon. His price for signing a flat item was only (only…) $75. That’s the most I’ve ever spent on a sports memorabilia and it’s the best $75 I’ve spent. After signing it, he flipped through it to see who was on the team that year and told some stories about the game that happened in his home country that season.
But for me, as media, the trip to Cooperstown was as much about connecting with the fans as it was about connecting and networking with other members of the media and colleagues: connecting with Dick Bremer from Bally Sports North, Schmit from KSTP , LaVelle Neal and Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune. , Randy Shaver from Kare 11…guys I grew up watching and reading about. Then, all of a sudden, I’m taking the shuttle from the media parking lot to the media center with LaVelle Neal, and I’m sitting next to Randy Shaver at a Tony Oliva press conference.