When the esteemed staff of “Below the Belt Sports” brought me aboard, they figured I would write “This Day in Sports” columns. Well, this is my fifth column, and I have still not written such a post. I promise though that such posts are forthcoming when there is relevant material to use. That said, today’s post will be my closest thing thus far to a “This Day in Sports” column.
Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction (on July 24, so not technically “This Day in Sports”). It was a delightful experience, and I encourage every baseball fan to make the trek to Cooperstown, New York, for at least one induction in his/her lifetime. I think it is a veritable “Bucket List” item for a hard-core baseball fan.
The great thing if you choose to make the induction trip is that you can make it as a big or little a deal as you want. Some people arrive at Clark Sports Center, the site of the induction, at the crack of dawn on Sunday so that they can stake out a spot very close to the stage. Other people arrive closer to the induction time of 1PM and are OK being in the periphery of the crowd. If you live in the North Jersey/NYC area, you don’t even have to make a long weekend of it. You can go up on Saturday and return on Sunday night. If you want to make a longer weekend of it, there is plenty to keep you occupied as well.
When I went to last year’s induction, I was coming from Albany, so I actually drove to Cooperstown on Sunday morning. I arrived an hour so before the 1PM ceremony and was fine with sitting in the periphery. Yes, this meant that I had to listen to the speakers while only seeing their faces on big screens, but I was nevertheless happy to be part of the event. I went last year because my favorite Met, Mike Piazza, was being inducted, and he was the first Met from my days as a fan to enter the Hall “in a Mets cap”. There were 50,000 people at the ceremony, and probably 20,000 of them were wearing Mets apparel. It was awesome to be amidst that many hard-core Mets fans. Even at Mets games, there aren’t always that many hard-core fans.
It was great to be present in Cooperstown for Mike Piazza’ speech. He showed so much gratitude to the fans during his speech as he did throughout his Mets career, even though I spent 1998 livid with Mets fans for booing him (as he hit .348 as a Met in that, his first Mets season). One of my greatest moments as a Mets fan was being at Shea Stadium when Piazza hit the 3-run homerun to cap the Mets’ famous 10-running 8th inning against the Braves on June 30, 2000. All the Mets fans at the induction remembered that homerun, his huge homeruns off Roger Clemens (and the unfortunate events that followed), his game-tying homerun off John Smoltz in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS, and of course his homerun in the first game in NYC after 9-11. Most importantly, Piazza has always been a class act and an easy guy to root for. Last July in a Cooperstown, it was a delight to share in a day of appreciation with him and with countless other Mets fans.
Additionally, at last year’s induction, I had the bonus that Piazza’s fellow inductee was Ken Griffey Jr., one of my favorite non-Mets players during my 28 years of baseball fandom. During the 1990s, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds were the best two all-around players. Yes, Barry Bonds likely made some choices at the end of the decade that Griffey did not, but that is a story for another day. Throughout the ‘90s, it was great watching Sportscenter (when the show still did only highlights and never interviewed water coolers) and seeing Griffey scale the Kingdome wall to rob homeruns before flashing his trademark smile. I loved watching Griffey. In fact, the only negative on his career was the catch he made to end the Twins’ season in Little Big League. That one really hurt. The movie came out when I was in 7th Grade, at which point I was well-aware that I was not talented enough to make the Major Leagues. Therefore, I knew my life would not be able mimic that of Henry Rowengarter’s in Rookie of the Year. No, I was going to become a big-league manager, which is why Little Big League always hit home for me. Well, as of today, my MLB managerial career has not yet happened, but Sandy, you know where to reach me if Terry Collins steps down this offseason….but I digress.
20,000 people at last year’s induction were wearing Griffey jerseys, and it was great to see so many people showing their affection for him as well. Interestingly, 30-40% of the Griffey jerseys were from Cincinnati, not Seattle. That surprised me, but props to Reds fans (and Mariners fans) for turning out for the event. On the other hand, not a single person was sporting a Piazza Dodgers jersey. That’s right, the team for which Piazza played his first 6+ seasons and hit .331 had no representatives in the crowd. There were as many Piazza Marlins jerseys on hand as Dodgers ones. OK, you get my point. We know that LA sports fans are generally pretty lame, and I guess that, if I lived in southern California, I would not be eager to fly cross-country and make my way to Cooperstown either. However, I was still shocked to see no Los Angeles attire.
While Los Angelenos (obscure Billy Joel reference) might not be eager to go to Cooperstown, you – the reader of this article – however, should be eager. Cooperstown looks like many other small towns in central New York (Yes, as someone who went to college in Central New York, I know the difference between “Central New York” and “Upstate New York”). The only difference is that there are lots and lots of baseball-related stores throughout town. Oh, and the Hall of Fame is there too. That is probably the biggest difference. On induction day, there are plenty of baseball greats – Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers alike – milling about town. For example, last year, Howard Johnson and Len Dykstra were outside one of the stores signing autographs.
If you are trying to convince a non-baseball lover to go up to Cooperstown, you can speak of the beauty of Otsego Lake. There are nice Cooperstown hotels on this picturesque lake. There are also other museums around town as well. Plus, it is a solid 1.5-mile walk from Cooperstown to the actual induction site, so you can get some exercise while walking through the beautiful countryside. The walk even takes you over the Susquehanna River less than 2 miles from its source (Otsego Lake), which I know is very exciting for anyone who reads maps like I do. (Warning: the Susquehanna is no wider than the Saddle River at this point)
OK, enough about maps and geography. I can already see the BTB staff readying the pink slip to put in my locker if I make one more geography reference. To summarize; if you love baseball, you should go to the induction at some point. Yankees fans, you have two great opportunities coming up in 2019 and 2020 to see Mo or Jeter be inducted, respectively. I urge you to make the trip. You will not be disappointed.