Baseball is the Great American Pastime. It’s been played in different forms and variations for almost two centuries, and it honors its greatest players by displaying their bronze plaques in a tiny village named Cooperstown residing in upstate New York. What’s even more compelling is that out of the 18,000 plus players that have played the game professionally, only 1% have played it with enough effort, love, and wherewithal to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

This past weekend the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted two new members, Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. Due to the love and tenacity of my lovely wife, I was able to attend the weekend’s festivities and crossed attending an induction off my bucket list. Thank you love.

Frank Thomas Original NY Met

Frank Thomas · Original NY Met

Record crowds attend induction weekend every year in Cooperstown, and this past weekend was no different. Yet with an estimated 50,000 fans in attendance, there were no signs of malice anywhere. You were met with pure kindness and respect for one another. You felt like you were there with thousands of your closest friends and could have a friendly chat with anyone you bumped into simply because you were just as crazy as they were about baseball. The way the world is nowadays, it was a welcome breath of fresh air – if even only for a few days.

Something you couldn’t miss while walking the main strip was the plethora of baseball players lining the sidewalks eager to talk to you and sign your wares. Though I wasn’t able to meet every ballplayer in person, just being able to pass the likes of Juan Marichal and Lou Pinella was enough to make the hairs on my arm stand up.

Saturday evening brought the Hall of Fame Parade to Main Street in Cooperstown. Living Hall of Famers who come back to attend the induction ceremony are driven up to the entrance of the museum and give thousands of fans a glimpse at history. Standing against the barricade, I saw some of the best to ever play the game; Whitey Ford, Brooks Robinson, Ricky Henderson, and Randy Johnson just to name a few. But what happened next is still so surreal to me.

Baseballism Case

Phil Niekro & Cal Ripken Jr.

Phil Niekro stepped down from the Ford F150 he was driven on and decided to come over by the fans standing behind the barricade and sign autographs. He asked the local police officer where the end was and he walked all the way down there to begin what became an autograph session. He started from one end of the barricade and worked all the way to the other end, speaking to fans and signing whatever they handed him. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, the phenomenal shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. decided to do the same.

Now I was floored.

Cal Ripken Jr. was all class. One of the best to ever play the game, the Iron Man, came down the line and signed for everyone. That is not an exaggeration, he signed for everyone. I watched as he had conversations with fans, answered funny questions, and even laughed at signing only the head portion of a bobblehead. He gave many people that day a memory that will last a lifetime. The next time I do decide to attend an induction I’ll remember to be more prepared for autographs, though a baseball iPhone case is pretty unique to have on your shelf amongst your collection.

Sunday was induction day. Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. would be immortalized into the Hall of Fame and emotions were running high. Listening to the record crowd of 50,000 cheer and show love and admiration for two of their favorite players was to be expected, but the emotions shown by the players themselves was not.

Peter Gammons put it best:

The passion, the humility, the respect, the family. As someone who loves baseball and reveres one of the greatest museums in America, all I can say is you were honored by the hall, but indeed your speeches honored the hall.

I never imagined I would be emotional during a Hall of Fame speech. Listening to Mike Piazza brought many tears to my eyes, especially when he spoke about his father.

Piazza’s speech was simply incredible. Honoring his family, the fans that love him to this day, and the first responders of 9/11. Everything that made Mike who he is today was well represented in his Hall of Fame speech and was one of the best I’ve ever been a witness to. To be able to captivate an audience on a day where it was hard to ignore the heat, proves that the words were so much more than characters on a sheet of paper.

Ken Griffey Jr. also gave the record crowd a memorable speech, thanking his family and friends, especially a close friend of his who traveled 6,000 miles to attend the ceremony. One of the personal highlights for me was listening to my wife react to a pre-speech video shown of Junior’s play on the field. Everything she knows about baseball is through me and of course 90% of it is Mets related, so being able to see her reaction to Ken Griffey Jr. reminded me of why I love this boy’s game so much.

Monday morning in Cooperstown brought more calm than the previous two days, but the streets were filled with Hall of Fame Museum members. No, not the players, but the fans that donate to the museum to keep the history of baseball alive and well. They were privileged enough to attend a roundtable with newly inducted members at Doubleday Field, a couple of blocks away from the museum and where it is said to have been the birthplace of baseball, but that’s a story for another day.

To describe the roundtable in one word, it would have to be relaxed. It’s a simple Q&A with the hall of famers, but you listen to entertaining stories about their careers and how they feel about certain areas of the game and what they went through that today’s players don’t.

For me to sit here and try to describe the weekend as a whole has been pretty much impossible. I’ve struggled to put down in words the emotions going through my body while in Cooperstown, but can finally say I am defeated. The reason being is you truly have to go and experience it all for yourself. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the laughs, the tears – it’s all there for you to ingest and enjoy in the way you feel is right for you.

How do you describe shaking Pete Rose’s hand and him sharing a few friendly words with him. Thanking Jesse Orosco for 1986 and him smiling back and saying, “You’re welcome.” Burt Blyleven telling me it’s cool I got Niekro’s autograph on my phone, but he only signs baseballs. Letting Tommy Lasorda know you appreciate everything he’s done for baseball or letting Howard Johnson know you tried to imitate his swing in your backyard 30 years ago.

How do you describe that?

You can’t, but it’s there waiting for you in Cooperstown. Take the time off, borrow an RV like my wife and I did, book a campground and head up there. Just go do it and enjoy everything that makes baseball the greatest game.