This past weekend people from near and far flocked to the idyllic upstate village of Cooperstown in a pilgrimage to the Mecca of all things baseball to see the game’s greatest players inducted into the Hall of Fame.
For some baseball aficionados making the trip is a yearly event, while for others, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For my friend Ed, a dyed in the wool Red Sox fan, this was his year. As soon as it was announced that Jim Rice, a childhood idol of his, was being inducted, he started planning the trip.
Since I live closer to Cooperstown than anyone else he knows, those preparations included a phone call to me to arrange accommodations. Of course, I told him, he and his friend Justin could certainly crash at Casa Stagnaro. It had been years since I had seen either of them and I couldn’t wait.
I was, however, fervently hoping I wouldn’t be expected to tag along. Not that I didn’t want to spend the time with them, but because events like that just aren’t really my thing.
Besides, while I love to go to baseball games, I’ve never been a true follower of the sport. And having been dragged to the Hall of Fame more times than I care to remember by visiting relatives over the years, it’s not high on my list of must-sees anymore. Because, frankly, I’ve seen it. After you’ve done it 5 times in one summer, there’s really no need to go back.
But when Sunday dawned, I did indeed drag my sorry behind out of my incredibly comfortable bed to accompany them to Cooperstown.
Once we arrived, I was a little overwhelmed, but found great comfort in the fact that Justin felt much the same way I did about baseball. The two of us were probably the only people in a twenty five-mile radius not fitted out in officially licensed major league apparel.
While Ed wandered through the numerous souvenir stores looking for something he couldn’t live with out for another second, we snickered at the ridiculous array of tchotchke available emblazoned (or bedazzled in some cases) with team logos. Every team was represented on t-shirts, mugs, key chains, hats and the like, but there was plenty of more outrageous merchandise as well. I mean, does anyone really need Chicago Cubs scented candles or a Red Sox stapler? Or, for cripes sake, a Mets garden gnome?
We may have poked a little fun, but the significance of the weekend’s events weren’t entirely lost on either of us. I mean, Ed may have had to repeat Bob Feller’s name twelve times before I could remember it, but once I understood who the man was, I could see why my friend was acting like a kid in a candy store about getting his autograph. It was a big deal.
I just didn’t realize how big of a deal until we arrived at Clark Sports Center, where thousands of people had already gathered to wait for the ceremony. I think what amazed me about it the most was how nice everyone was. There were Red Sox fans and Yankees fans sitting next to one another, clapping together as one baseball legend after another was introduced. Even I recognized the names of some of the greats present, like Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron and, thanks to Ed’s tutelage, Bob Feller.
Not even a bit of rain could dampen the excitement of the more than 20,000 people in the crowd as the Hall of Fame welcomed three latest additions to its prestigious roster: Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and the late Joe Gordon.
When it was all over, we gathered our things (which wasn’t much since we had forgotten all the important necessities like chairs and umbrellas back at my house) and joined the throng of fans headed back into town.
By the time we got back to the car, we’d already started planning for a return trip next year.