This past weekend, I had the honor and the privilege to visit the greatest place on earth, the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York. As baseball fans, I believe that we get a little too caught up with how our teams are doing in the present, whether your team has begun a long overdue rebuild, or your team is dominating the division. Sometimes, we just simply forget what the game is all about.
Baseball is about bringing people together, people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and beliefs can all come together as one in their fandom of a team or hatred for another. Whether you’re young or old, wide or thin, or tall or short, everyone can be united through baseball. Whether you received a D1 college scholarship as a shortstop or played right field your entire little league career, as a fan, everyone comes together as a part of something greater than themselves.
Our love of the game of baseball is something that is unexplainable. Every single year, one team reigns supreme while twenty-nine others suffered through a 162 game grind just to fall short of the pinnacle of the baseball world, a World Series title. Every single year, only one team’s fanbase leaves the season a winner and yet no matter how hard we try not to, no matter how much our team lets us down, we always find ourselves back for more the next year with the hope that this year is the year.
It is put best by star pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who said back in 2016, “Baseball has a way of ripping your heart out, stabbing it, putting it back in your chest, then healing itself just in time for Spring Training.”
Whether you’re a Yankees fan and root for the team with the most championships in American Sports history or are an Indians or Mets fan and experience disappointment almost every year, we always find ourselves back at the ballpark.
Baseball is the most beautiful sport in the world. No matter how much our teams seem to break our hearts, they are always back the next season with a clean slate. Baseball never truly lets us down because every April it is continuously back for another run. Even if a game is rained out, it is still made up to us. Baseball is what brings us together and consolidates us all as one, and that is what baseball is all about.
I got to experience what baseball is all about first hand in Cooperstown this weekend. As an Angels fan, I have seen my team go from having the best start to the season in franchise history to fourth in the American League West and sellers at the Trade Deadline, and in the heat of the season, I was reminded of what baseball is truly about in Cooperstown.
I have never seen a place so full of baseball fans dying to talk about the beautiful game as in Cooperstown. It felt as if every single person was wearing a baseball jersey and talking about the sport. Never have I seen such a large assortment of different baseball fans sharing their love and passion for the game. As a die-hard fan, I am constantly trying to find people that share the same love for the game as I do and in Cooperstown there were thousands. Everywhere I looked I saw fans of the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Anaheim Angels, and even the Montreal Expos, just waiting for the players they grew up rooting for be inducted into baseball immortality.
My co-writer Daryll, his wife Trish, his friends Michael and Jeff, my Dad, and I were able to walk through the hall of the Baseball Hall of Fame and witness and experience the beauty of our game’s past. Facts and artifacts from players such as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle filled every single wall and case.
As we walked through the halls of the Hall, we were drenched with sentimentality and nostalgia of the past of our beautiful game. Fans would gather around large video screens as they watched and cheered on great plays of the past that they have seen a thousand times, but this time it was different because previously it felt as if we had these moments to share with only ourselves, but now, we had a community to share these great moments of our game’s history with.
On the Hall of Fame’s website, it states that ‘The National Baseball Hall of Fame is a nonprofit committed to preserving the history of America’s pastime and celebrating the legendary players, managers, umpires, and executives who have made the game a fan favorite for more than a century,” but while walking through the Hall of Fame’s building and seeing the wall of plaques from Babe Ruth to Ted Williams to Ken Griffey Jr., I realized that the Hall of Fame is much more than this, it is a place where everyone from every different background and fandom is all part of the same team and where we can all come and celebrate the world’s greatest fraternity.
Visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame was amazing, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did not mention the Hall of Fame parade. The parade was a big-time blast from the past and 57 different Hall of Famers from Ralph Kiner to Hank Aaron to Wade Boggs to Sandy Koufax, to Ken Griffey Jr. all got in the back of trucks while having their stats and career achievements being rattled off while they received cheers and praise for their contribution to our game’s history.
From the great Johnny Bench doing the floss to Randy Johnson taking selfies with the fans, the parade was absolutely amazing with fans cheering and grown men shedding tears of joy after finally getting to see their childhood heroes in person and getting a little wave from them on top of it. The parade started with Ralph Kiner and Hank Aaron and ended with the Hall of Fame inductees of 2018 (Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome, Alan Trammell, and Jack Morris). The Hall of Fame Parade was if I had to describe it with one word, awesome.
All six of us then drove over to our hotel in Albany, New York and ate at a place called “The Recovery Room” where I had a delicious “Home Run Burger” with bacon (what else). Daryll and I challenged Jeff and Michael to a game of shuffleboard before our food was served, and while Daryll and I kicked off the game to 21 with an 11-0 lead, Jeff and Michael came back for an improbable 19-21 victory. While I hate losing more than anything as I am a firm believer in the quote “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” It was a perfect way to end a perfect day. Little did we know that the best was yet to come, as the Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies would be taking place the very next day.
We all got up, ate breakfast, and left our hotel in Albany at around 9 o’clock. We got to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and found our seats to the far left of the stage since all the seats in the middle were already taken. While we waited for the ceremony to start, we walked around and were even able to take pictures with former Major Leaguer Greg Vaughn and Padres’ sportscaster Ted Leitner. We also played some Heads Up which I am terrible at.
The Ceremony started at 1:30 with a moment of silence for our fallen Hall of Famers since the last induction ceremony and Lila Thome, the daughter of Jim Thome, singing the National Anthem. After this, all 51 Hall of Famers of the past in attendance were announced by MLB Network’s very own Brian Kenny and the great Hank Aaron received a standing ovation that lasted about a minute. No other Hall of Famer (with the exception of the new inductees) received a standing ovation. I guess we know what Cooperstown’s stance on who the real Home Run King is.
Chipper Jones lead off the event with the possibility of his wife, Taylor, going into labor at any minute. Jones thanked the Braves Organization, his family, and everyone that helped him get to where he is today while telling some good jokes and funny stories along the way.
Chipper delivered memorable lines such as…
“Smoltzy always pitched like his hair was on fire. Makes sense (looking at John Smoltz’ lack of hair) looking at him now.”
“First time I met Jim, 1993, Richmond, Virginia. Ryan Klesko walks off a homer, as he usually did. Charlie Manuel didn’t like that too much, and brought in the closer, first pitch behind Klesko, here we go, nice little donnybrook there at the diamond in Richmond, Virginia. So I go diving into the pile. Next thing I know, what can only be described as the hand of God grabs me around the throat, pins me up to the backstop netting. All I can hear is: Don’t move. So thinking God had me by around the neck, naturally, I obliged.
I did manage to glance up and see my mother and father in the third row, Mom’s eyes about this big. J.T. whispered in my ear. He said, You done? I said, Yes, sir, I’m done. We’ve been buddies ever since. I’m glad I’m here sharing this day with you, buddy.”
Chipper thanked Bobby Cox, saying “You believed in me before I truly believed I belonged in the big leagues,” Jones said. “Bobby, next to my parents, you had the biggest influence on my career than anybody. Thank you for drafting me, thank you for never hesitating to put the bat in my hands with the game on the line and thank you for never hesitating to believe in me.”
Jones also had some words for his wife, “She changed my life forever,” Jones said as Taylor Jones brushed away tears. “It took me 40 years and some major imperfections in me along the way to find my true profession. Now we’ve taken our two families and blended them together. It has given me what I’ve been searching for my entire life —true happiness.”
Lastly, Jones thanked Braves fans who had been through thick and thin with him saying, “You were the reason I never wanted to play anywhere else,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder to go into the Hall of Fame today with an Atlanta ‘A’ on my cap.”
After Chipper’s speech came to a close, it was time for the great Alan Trammell. Trammel opened his speech talking about when he got his call to the hall, “When people ask me where were you when you first received your phone call from the Hall of Fame, I tell them Jane called while I was standing in the aisle deplaning a flight from the winter meetings. You can’t make that up.”
“How can you describe your emotions in a time like that? I wanted to jump up and down and run and scream, but I didn’t think that was appropriate in an aisle of a plane.”
Trammell then gave us a rundown of the amazing and coincidental correlation between his and fellow middle infielder Lou Witaker.
“Lou and I were called up to the big leagues from Double-A on the same day,” Trammell said. “We both played our first big league ballgame at Fenway Park on the same day. We both got hits in our first MLB at-bats, off the same pitcher, Reggie Cleveland. And we both got our last hits of our careers off the same pitcher, Mike Fetters. Can you believe that? Truly amazing.
“For all those years, it was Lou and Tram. Lou, it was an honor and a pleasure to play alongside you for all those years. It is my hope that someday, you’ll be up here as well.”
Hopefully, if Lou does get inducted, his plaque will be placed to the right of Tram’s to keep the string of events going forever.
“I honestly didn’t think this day would ever come,” Trammell said.
After Tram walked off the podium, it was time for Vladimir Guererro to be immortalized. Instead of a long speech, Vlad kept it short and sweet and let the crowd (and Jose Mota) do all the talking. There was a large number of fans from the Dominican Republic who were very excited to see the first Dominican position player get immortalized. We were even able to speak with a man who grew up just a couple of houses away from the first Angels Hall of Famer.
“Buenas tardes,” Guerrero said, wishing a crowd estimated at 53,000 people, thought to be the second-largest in induction-day history, a good afternoon.
Vlad then proceeded to thank God, his mother, and father, Montreal, and Canada “for giving me the first opportunity to be a big league player.” Guerrero thanked Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia and all those in Anaheim “who have influenced my career.”
“I know I don’t speak a whole lot,” he said through Mota. “But let me tell you that I am so happy to be part of this group because some of them I saw and watched play and I witnessed it, but also I got to play against a lot of them and it means a lot to me.”
While Vladimir’s speech was one of the shortest in Hall of Fame history, it was a great moment for all of his fans and the people of the Dominican Republic. I stood up and clapped for Vlad decked out in my red Angels jersey, red sweatpants, and a red Angels Hall of Fame edition hat that I had bought the day before as he walked off to a standing ovation.
When Vlad was done, it was time for Hells Bells to ring as it was Trevor Hoffman’s turn to speak. While Hells Bells, the closer’s famous walkup song, did not play prior to his speech, (much to the disappointment of our group) Hoffman still gave us a solid speech.
Trevor opened with, ““Hello, Cooperstown! I hope you’re enjoying a little bit of San Diego weather today. Allow me to drop an ‘Oh Doctor’ on you!” Hoffman quickly elaborated, “You San Diego fans that made the long journey and those back at Petco Park, you get it – Jerry Coleman’s signature call.”
“It’s an honor being up here with the other great shortstops of the game,” he said. “Wink wink.”
Hoffman saluted his deceased father by saying this in his speech.
“Dad, I know you’re in heaven enjoying a cigar with a big grin on your face,” said Hoffman. “He was a simple man who achieved great things in his lifetime. My father Eddie Hoffman was a marine who fought in World War II.”
Hoffy also thanked his mother.
“Growing up she would also say, ‘If the job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right,’ he said. “Thank you Mom, you couldn’t have been more right.”
“‘Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out,'” Hoffman said, quoting legendary basketball coach John Wooden.
“2 Timothy 4:7 ‘I have fought the good fight,'” Hoffman said quoting the Bible. “I have finished the race and I have kept the faith, a verse my friend Mike Sweeney shared with me in 2010 upon retirement. We both left the game with no regrets.”
“Wow, 15 years in one spot, and that spot’s San Diego,” he said. “Jackpot.”
After Hoffman had finished his speech, it was time for the second and final player put in the Hall via the Veteran’s Committee, Jack Morris, who gladly yelled to kick off his speech, “Hello Cooperstown!
Morris began by thanking God, the commissioner, and everyone that helped him get to the Major Leagues, and gave a special thanks to former college coach Glen Tuckett.
“To my college coach, Glen Tuckett, thank you for being here today, Coach. You taught me a lot during those wonderful years in Utah. Coach, I also need to confess one thing: I went skiing way more than you ever realized.”
Morris also entertained the crowd with some stories such as the first time he faced Carl Yastrzemski in Fenway Park.
“People ask me the question all the time: Who is your toughest out? It happened in my first trip in Boston to Fenway Park. The PA announcer, Sherm Feller, had a unique way of introducing players. I will never forget what he said: “Batting third, left fielder, No. 8, Yastrzemski. Carl Yastrzemski, No. 8.” It was a memorable moment.
My first pitch: fastball, on the corner, down and away, perfect pitch — ball one. Second pitch, on the black, down and in, perfect pitch — ball two. The next pitch was a fastball, underneath his hands, another perfect pitch — ball three. I just shook my head and wondered if this was the way it was going to be when a rookie faces a great player for the first time.
The fourth pitch was a fastball down the middle. I needed to throw a strike. Whack! Line drive off the Green Monster in left. As Yaz was rounding first, heading to second, I heard footsteps. I turned around to see home plate umpire, Ron Luciano, coming towards me. He said, Jack Morris, that’s Carl Yastrzemski, he’s one step away from the Hall of Fame. Welcome to the big leagues.”
Morris also thanked Ron Gardenhire and Tom Kelly, while remaining fondly upon his years in the Major Leagues and especially 1984, 1991, 1992, and 1993. Morris then thanked his mom and dad, his kids, his grandkids, and his wife, Jennifer, saying “Baseball is a team sport played by individuals, and so is life. Winning and losing are facts of life, but it’s how you deal with both that defines you.”
After thinking he would never make it to Cooperstown for so long, it must have been so sweet to finally be inducted into baseball immortality.
Up last, was Jim Thome, a man who had hit 612 home runs in his career and was one of the most clutch players ever with a record 13 walk-off home runs, was up to bat for the last time of his career, and he knocked it out of the park.
“The Hall,” he said, “is also a place where players and fans come together to celebrate the game that has no borders, no boundaries, and will forever be defined by its timeless nature. Even though the cell phone may have replaced the transistor radio, and iPads are more common now than the sports page, baseball is still played the same way: between the lines.”
Jim Thome paid homage to all six teams he played for in his career.
“I wore six uniforms in my career, and every time I pulled one on I had the honor of representing a community each with its own identity. The faithfulness of the Cleveland loyalists who sold out 455 consecutive games; the unparalleled intensity of the Philly sports fan; the immense pride of the Chicago south side; the endless blue skies for day games in Minneapolis; the southern California sunshine and Dodgers Stadium and the cathedral that is Camden Yards in Babe Ruth’s hometown of Baltimore. Characteristics that make each city so unique.”
“I still can’t believe this has happened to me, a 13th-round Draft pick out of Central Illinois,” Thome said. “To every kid who is dreaming of standing here one day: Take it one moment at a time. Don’t sail too high or sink too low. Learn to be good at handling failure. Be the first one to the ballpark, be the last one to leave, work hard, don’t complain, be a great teammate, and above all, treat people with respect.”
Thome, after expressing his disbelief and gratitude for getting Inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, then went on to thank his family for everything they have done for him, saying the following:
“Mom, I can only hope you’re proud of the man I’ve become. You can take a lot of credit for it.
To Chuck and Randy, and my sisters Lori and Jenny, I love each of you so much, and I’m so grateful for your love and support. To my father-in-law, Jerry, thank you for all you do for us and for your friendship. You’re such a great example, and it means so much. And to Andrea’s mom, Sharon, I know you’re up there with Mom in heaven, so proud of our family.
Family is everything. There are no words to adequately describe the love I have for my children. Lila Grace, you took my breath away from the first moment you came into this world, and still, do. Your gentle and curious nature are the things you express so beautifully in your love of the arts and everything else you do. Watching you grow and being able to witness the joy you bring into this world is as great a gift as I will ever have. It’s not every day a dad gets a chance to share the stage with his kid on a day as special as this. You sang so beautifully.
Landon James, I never thought I could feel the way I do about anyone as I do about your sister, but then you came along, and overnight my heart doubled in size. Getting to share our love of sports, life and laughter feels better than any home run I’ve ever hit.
I’ve saved the best for last. My beautiful wife, Andrea. Obviously, this induction into the Hall of Fame is one of the greatest honors of my life. The best thing, though, that’s ever happened to me was the day that you agreed to marry me.”…”You are without a doubt the best teammate I could ever have, and with the world as my witness, I love you more today than ever.”
Thome had most of the crowd in tears by the time he finished is outstanding and incredibly well thought out and prepared speech and ended the entire ceremony on a high note by saying, “Baseball is beautiful, and I am forever in its service. Thank you.”
No speech made you like a guy more than Thome’s with Daryll’s friend Michael saying as we walked to our car, “That speech just makes you want to go up and give the guy a hug.”
I have waited my entire life to go Cooperstown, New York and it 100% did not disappoint and was even better than I would have possibly imagined. Now, I have never been to a World Series Game or an All-Star Game, but visiting Cooperstown was easily the highlight of my life as a baseball fan. The fact that I could share this experience with Doubleday Double Talk co-founder Daryll, his wife Trish, his friends Jeff and Michael, and my dad, made it all the better.
I loved my Weekend in Cooperstown and I simply can not wait until the next time I am given the opportunity to visit Cooperstown and be drenched in the pure waters of our beautiful game’s past in Cooperstown, New York, the place where the beautiful game of baseball is always good.
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