Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Weekend Of Fame

Over the past weekend, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza entered their rightful place inside the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. As the headliners of the show, Induction Weekend in Cooperstown was all about The Kid and the catcher from Pennsylvania. It would've been a great even no matter what, but being their in person took it over the top.

I've now been to Cooperstown twice in my lifetime. Induction Weekend was going to be something different altogether however. The first time I visited The Hall, there had to have been less than 100 people in Cooperstown altogether. A random weekday in mid-June, I made the trek through country roads to the quaint little upstate New York village. I took my time exploring some shops and other venues outside of the museum, but I was there to see the artifacts themselves. This weekend was different.

Upon getting into town on Saturday afternoon, the small town had grown immensely in population. With cars parked all over lawns everywhere, the city itself was overrun with baseball fans from all walks of life. It's hard to overstate how cool it is to see a place where your team allegiance is irrelevant, and instead the sport is celebrated. I made this trip with my dad, his first time to Cooperstown, and the memories started immediately.

In his low 50's, my dad's all time favorites include the likes of Ozzie Smith. He's met him before at the College World Series and seen him at other events. It was on Saturday in Cooperstown that took it to a new level though. Ozzie was outside of a storefront finishing up a signing, and being that close, watching my dad see one of his childhood favorites up close and personal was pretty cool. He ended up getting his jersey signed, and took a picture as well. I'd have to imagine that will be a story he hangs onto for quite some time.

Having gotten into town around 1 pm, the parade featuring the Hall of Famers in town wasn't set to begin until 6pm. The weather was in the upper 90s, and people all around didn't help to cool things at all. We made our way in and out of stores while enjoying the air conditioning while perusing so many different forms of baseball memorabilia. I was pretty set on buying a ball as a collector, but the inflated prices turned me off and I just couldn't justify it. Regardless of the tie to Cooperstown, knowing I could acquire any of those autographs on line at lesser prices, I decided to pass. Regardless, the day of window shopping turn in a gem when I stumbled across a ball signed by The Babe himself.

As the afternoon turned into early evening, it was time for the parade to start. Having decided to stand rather than plop down in a chair, we found a great spot to view the legends coming down the street in the back of their respective Ford trucks. It was pretty impressive to note the lack of aging some had seen, and sad to see how tough shape others looked. We both enjoyed seeing former Twins such as Bert Blyleven and Dave Winfield, but it was Rod Carew and the respect that was shown him that made me choke up a bit. Pedro Martinez was the most entertaining entrant (not a huge surprise) while both Griffey and Piazza drew big cheers at the end of the route.

Leaving town for the day, we stopped at a local CVS and grabbed a couple of lawn chairs. The setup for the Induction ceremonies were incredibly well done. We claimed a spot and went back to our hotel for the night.

Arriving on Sunday around 11:30, the field transformed into a viewing area was already plenty full. We had our spot relatively close to where the public was allowed to begin seating. Behind us, the crowd had filled in considerably. I spent about two hours waiting in line to go through the official merchandise tent while my dad waited in our seats taking it all in. Again in the upper 90s, it was going to be a long (albeit exciting) day.

Having just finished the line and checkout process, I rushed back to my seat as the ceremony was beginning. Orioles announcer Gary Thorne did a great job introducing all 48 of the Hall of Famers that were in town for the big moment. As Griffey and Piazza made their way to the stage though, I couldn't help but feel the goosebumps.

Both speeches were incredibly well delivered, but I have to note just how well Piazza did. He was incredibly articulate, and it was visible that he was a strong public speaker. A moving message, Piazza made more of an impact on me in a matter of that instance than he did over the entirety of his career. As he ended, I couldn't help but to be blown away by what I had witnessed.

Griffey brought forth different expectations. He's always been one of my favorites, and as he teared up about 20 seconds in, I knew I'd follow suit in short order. Griffey's speech was a little more disjointed than Piazza's before him, but again, was something I'll never forget. He capped it off (quite literally) with his signature backwards hat, and it brought the house down. As he had done so many times during his career The Kid became bigger than the moment.

Heading out of town one last time on Sunday afternoon, I left feeling a sense of completion. Induction Weekend for Ken Griffey Jr. was probably something I'd consider a bucket list item. It was the second largest crowd ever for The Hall ceremonies, and that brought forth a dual reality. I'd had a blast, but wouldn't want to experience Cooperstown in this way again.

Barring another must see enshrinement, my future trips to Cooperstown will be more focused around the museum, and less traffic in town. Having gone to Fenway for a day following the weekend, both my dad an I planned to make a trip out of a museum stop and a new stadium a yearly thing. We had now done the big induction, and follow up trips seemed best lent towards enjoying baseball in its purest sense.

All in all, Cooperstown had delivered once again. Griffey was the highlight for me, Ozzie for him. Both Piazza and Griffey had reached the pinnacle, and we were there to see it. The memories had been made and I know I wouldn't trade them for anything. The Kid had entered The Hall, and that makes everything right in the baseball world for me.

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