Cooperstown buzzing with enthusiasm
Weekend unites town, tourists around love of baseball history
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Friday morning in Cooperstown opened with the sound of lawn mowers and hedge-trimmers and the sight -- through the on-again, off-again mist -- of touch-ups to house paint. If you didn't already know, the last-second preparations by the village's residents made it clear: It's Induction Weekend at the Hall of Fame.
That mist turned to sun, to showers and back to sun in succession during the afternoon, but the weather's caprice didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the tens of thousands of fans who have made the trip to see Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice enshrined on Sunday.
"I was 14 when [Rice] came into the Major Leagues, so he was one of my idols," said Dave Sullivan, who made the trek southwest from North Quincy, Mass. "Rickey will be great, too, but Jim Rice, he was the man. He was the best guy in the '70s and '80s."
Sullivan was far from alone in making the trip from Massachusetts, as hordes of Red Sox shirts and hats could be seen outside the Hall of Fame and Museum. It is Sullivan's third trip to Cooperstown but first for the inductions, which Sandor Lengyel of Manchester, N.J., called a must-see.
"There's nothing like Hall of Fame Induction Weekend," Lengyel said. "I tell everybody who has come here not on Hall of Fame Weekend: 'You've got to come here Hall of Fame Weekend.'"
Lengyel made the roughly five-hour drive from central New Jersey for the 10th consecutive year, with his brother joining him for the first time.
Pete Wahlstrom and his nephew, Adam Boudreau, have traveled the 300 miles from Massachusetts to Cooperstown since 2000. Sporting a Ted Williams shirt, Wahlstrom is excited to hear speeches from two players who spent time in Boston. Like most people around town, however, he'll have his ears perked a little more when the notoriously candid Henderson takes to the podium.
"I want to hear Henderson's speech," Wahlstrom said while waiting out an afternoon shower in the Hall of Fame. "I hope he doesn't let us down."
Induction Weekend veterans like Lengyel and Wahlstrom know what to expect, but that doesn't mean they've lost any of their initial enthusiasm for the event.
"It's just another exciting weekend to enjoy the people, enjoy the town," Lengyel said. "Everyone's friendly here, the atmosphere's great."
"You don't know who you're going to bump into walking down Main Street," Wahlstrom said.
Fifty-one of the 60 living Hall of Famers are scheduled to be in town on Sunday, along with numerous other baseball stars. Ten former players, including Lee Smith and George Foster, held a Skills Clinic early Friday afternoon at Doubleday Field.
"I come back every year," said Jim "Mudcat" Grant, a former pitcher for the Indians and Twins who also had brief stints with the Pirates, A's, Cardinals, Dodgers and Expos. "It's a thrill."
Not all the players have Grant's experience.
"This is the first time I've gotten back," former Expos pitcher Steve Rogers said. "So I'm enjoying the excitement of Induction Weekend just like everybody else."
The "everybody else" roaming the streets of Cooperstown comprises fans of both genders, 30 teams and all ages. A cursory glance along Main Street reveals not only Red Sox and Yankees hats, but also ones supporting the Giants, Rays, Pirates and Expos. The Museum played host to visitors young enough to hear about stars such as Willie Mays for the first time and ones old enough to see have seen them play.
It's a weekend that unites a town and tourists around a love of baseball and its history. And it's finally here.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.