Eleven months of the year Cooperstown is a quiet village nestled in the beautiful and serene hills of upstate New York. In July every year thousands of baseball fans arrive to watch as their heroes are inducted into the Hall of Fame. Residents expect the surge in visitors and prepare for it but they’ve never had a July Like this. The largest ever induction crowd arrived for the Cal Ripken JR. / Tony Gwynn ceremony. Around 83,000 fans made that trip but the trifecta inductions of Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux unlocked the floodgates releasing a torrent of Braves fans onto Cooperstown’s usually sedate main street. Estimates are that this year’s crowd could be double to previous record.
Cooperstown Is Braves Town
In the past fans have made their way to Cooperstown and just turned up for the event. Parking is always scarce but this year it’s nonexistent. Tour companies were given special routes into the village because traffic on the usual highways resembles spaghetti junction’s finest. Main street is blocked off to allow the huge crowds to move freely. Lines to get into the Hall at times extended 200 feet down the street and at their peak well over two blocks. Inside the Hall it was almost impossible to move unless you had VIP assistance and their were a plethora of VIPs around. I bumped into a smiling John Schuerholz on the stairs and saw GM Frank Wren and his small entourage moving in and out of the new exhibits and spending time at the site of the special locations for this year’s class.
Out of the Hall and onto Main Street again the crowd could well have been heading into The Ted. Braves jerseys. hats and tomahawks were the most common attire and while Cub, White Sox and Cardinals fans were there in force the Braves family out numbered them every where we went. Current Hall of Famers and those who should be in but haven’t yet been recognized – Dale Murphy, John Smoltz – had autograph tables set up along the sidewalks and in various shops. We ran into Tommy Lasorda in our restaurant at lunch and at another later in the day; I detected a trend in that. Darryl Strawberry was there as well and stopped to have a picture taken with some kids on his way out. Phil Niekro had a table and Ryan Klesko sat next to Marquis Grissom across the street, all had lines on Braves fans awaiting a chance for a signature and picture.
At the end of the day was the Parade of Legends where Hall of Fame members road down Main in the back of local family’s pickup trucks. the Chop broke out briefly before the parade got underway but started for real when when Hank Aaron appeared. It repeated for Niekro, Don Sutton, and reached a crescendo when Bobby, Glav and Mad Dog appeared at the end of the line. Loud cheers greeted Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Frank Thomas as well but the loudest and most sustained cheers came from our Braves Family.
That’s A Wrap
As we get ready to start the hour and a half drive to Cooperstown for the formal inductions it’s hard to imagine exactly what the scene will be. I’m sure however that the Braves Family will share the happiness of the White Sox, Cardinals, Cubs and Athletics fans and the large numbers of people who simply love the game and want to let the players who brought them joy over the years know how much they appreciate them.
It looks like rain but the show will go on. I’ll provide a followup tomorrow.