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Saturday, July 25, 2009
I think I’d like to take back my prediction that this year’s induction weekend will draw about 15,000 fans. Downtown Cooperstown was PACKED today, with Main and Pioneer streets featuring wall-to-wall foot traffic. (And hey, it didn't even rain on what turned out to be a warm, sun-soaked day.) Given the number of people in town the past two days, I’d say that Sunday’s induction crowd will easily exceed 20,000 and might even pass 25,000. That’s certainly good news for the Cooperstown tourist trade, which has suffered badly this spring and summer in direct response to the national economic depression.
Working as a volunteer for one of the Cooperstown retailers that hosted a slew of sidewalk autograph signings, I soon realized how difficult it was to keep people on the sidewalks and out of the middle of the street. Unbelievably, one fan asked me why he couldn’t walk in the middle of the Main Street. I patiently tried to explain to him that walking in the middle of Main Street could result in being hit with a car! (That would seem obvious, no?) Frankly, the village should have done what it has done in recent years and completely shut down Main Street to vehicular traffic. That would have eliminated many of the safety concerns, while allowing people to walk freely in the streets and sidewalks without the same level of congestion. It would have also given the town the feel of a block party, a nice atmosphere to have for something as festive as induction weekend…
If you ever visit Cooperstown during Hall of Fame Weekend, you’re bound to see anything, from Babe Ruth look-alikes to banjo-playing figures in full Oakland A’s regalia. I also noticed some fans wearing specially made Colt .45s jerseys, an interesting sight considering that the Houston franchise hasn’t been known by that nickname for 45 years. Not surprisingly, the dominant colors seen on Main Street featured the green and gold of the A’s (Rickey Henderson’s primary team) and the red and blue of the Red Sox (Jim Rice’s club). I noticed only a scant number of Mets jerseys and caps, and almost no Yankee memorabilia, a decidedly odd occurrence on induction weekend…
One of the most comical sights on Saturday was watching Luis Tiant, the former Red Sox’ ace, trying to make his way onto Main Street for a scheduled autograph signing. Relying on a faulty GPS system, Tiant and his family became severely lost and arrived in Cooperstown about an hour late for the signing. Since Tiant was behind the wheel, he had to find a place to park the car himself, practically an impossibility at 4 pm on the Saturday afternoon of induction weekend. Luckily, when a spot opened up on Main Street, a considerate fan stood in the space, allowing Tiant the opportunity to turn his car around and take the parking spot. Tiant then calmly walked across the street, receiving a smattering of applause from some anxious autograph seekers…
One of the myths of Hall of Fame Weekend is that the focus is simply on the Hall of Famers and the new induction class. That’s simply not the case. In addition to the 51 Hall of Famers that returned to Cooperstown this weekend and the new induction class featuring Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, there are a slew of other retired players who have descended on the village since Thursday. In order to give you a better idea of the wide range of retired players, here is a partial list of “who’s who” in Cooperstown this weekend:
*Paul Blair (“Motormouth” loves coming to Cooperstown)
*Ron Blomberg (once the subject of a Hall of Fame exhibit on the first designated hitter)
*Fred Cambria (former Pirate right-hander and onetime teammate of Clemente and Stargell)
*Dave Criscione (backup Orioles catcher from the 1980s)
*Jim “Mudcat” Grant
*Dave Henderson (a teammate of both Rickey Henderson and Rice)
*Denny McLain (he’s become a Cooperstown regular the last five years)
*Bob Scott (former Negro Leagues player)
*Art Shamsky (who has been embedded in marital controversy throughout the year)
*Bill “Moose” Skowron
*Lee Smith (whose affable personality doesn’t match his intimidating size)
*Dave Stewart (he still looks fit enough to pitch)
*Luis Tiant (problems with directions put aside)
At least two other players, Ellis Burks and Bill Lee, were scheduled to participate in autograph sessions this weekend but had to cancel their appearances at the last minute. Both Burks and Lee played with Rice at different times during his career in Boston.