Esposito: Packing For Cooperstown

We’re about a week away from a great moment in Mets history, when Mike Piazza officially becomes a Hall of Famer, along with Ken Griffey, Jr., in a ceremony a week from Sunday on July 24.

Are you going? Would you like to go? Have you ever been? All packed yet?

For those who may be going to Cooperstown for the first time for this celebrated event, or for those who don’t go too often (When was your last time? 1992? When Tom Seaver was inducted?), here is a primer on what to expect and what to do.

If you haven’t already made your accommodations, good luck, as the whole area from Binghamton to Albany will be fairly well-booked, although there likely are a few spots open here and there, whether it be a hotel, motel, or bed & breakfast. They’re expecting a big crowd this year, as anytime a New York or Boston-area inductee is on the docket, attendance is overwhelming.

Have no fear, though, as you can even just go up for the day, as the Induction Ceremony is a free event, held adjacent to large grassy hillside, where literally thousands of fans camp out and bring the picnic baskets, blankets, and beach chairs for an entertaining afternoon.

I call it baseball’s version of Woodstock, minus the mud. Well, sometimes it has even rained during a ceremony, so maybe that isn’t always true.

But before you get to that spectacular Sunday, there are other things to see and do.

If you get there early by Friday, the 22nd, head over to Doubleday Field, site of the mythic cow pasture where Abner Doubleday supposedly invented the sport back in 1839. It’s not true, of course, and the Hall will be the first to admit it is more fable than fact, but it’s a great story.

The field is right there in the middle of this quaint old-fashioned community, where nary a brick has changed in over 75 years. What is fact is that this field has bore witness to the greatest players in the game’s history, participating in exhibitions on these historic grounds. It’s very true that players such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bob Feller, Mickey Mantle, and so on, have all played games there.

So on this field on that Friday morning, you will find Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, Goose Gossage, Craig Biggio, and John Smoltz hosting about five dozen fans in a spirited infield practice. For the donation of only $875.00, you can suit up in the uniform of your choice and play anywhere on the infield and turn a double play with Ozzie and his cohorts. With Smoltzie pitching, Ozzie in the six hole, Biggio at second, and I believe Goose will hold down first (and take turns with Smoltz), each fan gets a few chances at “replacing” one of these Hall of Famers, getting some fielding tips, and then turn two.

For these few obviously affluent fans, it’s the thrill of a lifetime. The bonus is the camaraderie on the field as each Hall of Famer does a good job at treating each fan as if they were a true teammate for those few minutes. The monies raised goes to the Hall of Fame’s education programs. So it actually is a very good cause.

The rest of the day can be spent in the actual Museum, or enjoying the many souvenir shops along Main Street.

Many of the Hall of Famers arrive early and are paid by some of those shops to sign autographs, for a fee. And more than just Hall of Famers come every year or by invitation to do the same. In recent years, this fan has met the likes of: Maury Wills, Frank Thomas (the “original” Frank Thomas, the original Met, not the Hall of Famer), Art Shamsky, Ron Hunt, Denny McClain, Dale Murphy, Willie Randolph, Jim Leyritz, Jim Lonborg, Bucky Dent, members of the Negro Leagues, and members of the AAGPBL (actual players from “The League of Their Own”), and many others right there on Main Street, along with many Hall of Famers. So you never know who you’re going to see.

Pete Rose used to come every year, and sign autographs at the Wax Museum in town. It was always a bizarre occurrence that here was Pete Rose, who some say should be in the Hall of Fame for his feats on the field, signing away less than 100 yards from the Hall, but still “locked out” from a plaque. But in recent years, he’s been ducking the weekend.

On Saturday, there is a ceremony on Doubleday Field at 4:30 officially inducting the latest members of the media to be honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing excellence, and the Ford Frick Award for baseball broadcasting. This year’s inductees will be Dan Shaughnessy with the Spink Award, and Graham McNamee with the Frick Award.

Most of the Hall of Famers in town also attend this ceremony – and this year there will be 52 returning members for the event. For a complete list, check:

After the ceremony, around 6:00, each Hall of Famer is loaded into the back of a pickup truck for a slow parade down Main Street. Fans line the street for great photo ops and the chance to cheer their favorites. If you’ve seen the Red Carpet Parade they hold prior to the All-Star Game each year, it’s similar to that.

There usually are zero opportunities for free autographs during the parade by the Hall of Famers, but some fans gather near the Hall’s entrance, where the members are unloaded, and there are many occasions where the Hall of Famers will drift over to the barricades and sign for a few fans at random. Find a good spot and maybe you’ll get lucky.

Perhaps a better opportunity to score a free signature might be Saturday morning, when most of the Hall of Famers participate in a golf tournament on a beautiful course which runs along nearby Lake Otsego. Get there early for a good spot, and when the members pass by certain transition areas between holes on their golf carts, some will stop and appease a handful of fans. Bats, balls, gloves, and just about anything are readily raised by fans in the hopes to catch a freebie.

Carlton Fisk notoriously will stop at various points along the course and sign…for a twenty spot. He raises money for his foundation, so if you see Pudge, hold up a twenty-dollar bill, and he will sign your bat, or ball, or card or picture, etc.

On Saturday night, a fun sports memorabilia auction is held at one of the stores in town. Here you might get a great deal on an autographed item or a piece of baseball history. Bids are usually quite reasonable, on cards, autographs, photos, posters, and the like. It’s held diagonally across from the Museum, across from the town’s General Store.

On Sunday morning, fans flock into town and mob the local post office, which is directly across from the Museum. Each year, the post office creates an exclusive postmark for just that day, and if you affix a $.47 cents stamp on anything, they’ll cancel it. Fans line up with ticket stubs, programs, yearbooks, photos, balls – bats even! – and whatever else they’d like to use to remember the day.

The ceremony starts at about 1:30, on the field next to the Clark Gymnasium, which sits on the edge of town. You could walk it on a nice day, but the town also provides shuttle service to and from. The shuttle buses originate from the parking lot at Doubleday Field. Get there early for a good seat on the bus, and a good spot on the field. Some fans stake their locations the day before by planting their chairs and blanket. For the most part, these claims are respected, and you’ll find your territory secured. Besides, the field is guarded at night as well.

It’s a wonderful ceremony, with all of the returnees on the stage as the “rookies” get their time at the podium. The MLB network will be broadcasting, and the Hall will be streaming it live on their site. Former Mets broadcaster Gary Thorne, now with the Orioles, is usually the MC and does a great job of introducing each Hall of Famer.

For those who stay on til Monday, you can participate in a “Legends of the Game Roundtable” event that Monday morning back at the induction site. For a $10 fee ($5 for kids), you can sit up close to the stage and listen in as Piazza and Griffey are interviewed and discuss their careers and their weekend reactions. This event begins at 10:30 AM.

It’s a wonderful weekend and hope you can enjoy the festivities. Okay, I’ll say it. Hope you have a Hall of a good time.


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