Heading to Cooperstown
Wake up it’s 6am! For some reason Scott and the old man decided that 6am was a great time to wake up, in turn waking me up.
After about 15mins laying in bed trying to wake up I realised that it was Friday night footy back home. I jumped on my AFL pass, no VPN needed (which I normally need my VPN to access when home) and we were watching North v Pies. Must admit though it is weird watching footy live at 630 in the morning.
After grabbing some breakfast at City Kitchen we headed back to our room to finishing packing as we head off to Albany. I had already packed most of my bag the night before so I used the spare time to finish my Day 2 blog ‘Let’s Go Yankees!‘
Originally we were going to get the subway to Penn Station, which was a 6min trip, but the thought of having to lug our bags up and down stairs of the subway just seemed too much of a struggle in the morning so we jumped in a cab instead.
When we arrived at Penn Station the place was packed, guess this is what it’s like normally, as opposed to when Jessica and I caught a train at 6am to Washington in the middle of winter and there was no one in sight. You could tell we were in the right place as there were Mariners hats everywhere. I was wearing my new Mariners cap which drew the attention of one guy in particular as we were looking for a place to sit down. We got to talking and it turns out he was from Seattle and actually works for the Mariners as part of the media team – him and his family were obviously also on the way to Cooperstown to see Griffey.
The train ride to Albany was nice and easy taking only 2.5 hours. What was the most interesting part of the trip to Albany was the taxi ride to our hotel. For about 20mins the taxi driver tried to shut the boot of the car. The latch was quiet clearly stuffed but they persisted and persisted. Eventually the boot closed though none of us were confident about it staying closed during the trip or if the boot would ever open again.
After we arrived at the hotel and got settled in it was time to head down to the conference rooms to collect all our weekend passes/tickets. We met our tour guide for the weekend ‘Carol’, who just thought it was amazing that Aussies were at the induction. We quickly became the talk of the town! ‘Hey did you know that there are some guys from Australia here’. Some people were making a big deal they came all the way from Seattle to the event…
At the tour introduction meeting they ran us through what to expect from the weekend and how everything would run and then we were sent next door to the conference room for a buffet dinner, where we had a chance to sit down and have a chat with some of the people we will be spending a lot of time with… especially on the bus to and from Cooperstown.
After dinner the old man ran into the CEO of the Sports Tour company and soon became best buds once he realised we were from Australia. He then mentioned that his eldest boy was going to Australia in August to play football (gridiron) over the summer. He called his son over and as he walked up to Scott and I, Scott said your a big boy! Sam, Scott and I had a great chat about what he can expect in Australia.
Each morning our bus left at 730-745am, which meant we had to be up around 6-630 to give ourselves enough time to grab breakfast and pack accordingly for the day’s events. The bus ride would take around 1.5hrs to get to Cooperstown and then around 1.5-2hrs to get back to the hotel in the afternoon/night after the day’s events. The bus rides were made more bearable by Carol playing baseball DVDS and when technology failed her she would put together baseball trivia games. While Scott and I never won the trivia quiz we were always in the top of the class, scoring 75% or higher – not bad for a couple of Aussies.
The bus trips were also made better by the stunning scenery, I don’t think I have ever seen so much green and so many barns… and yes they were red so they are a barn.
Hall of Fame Museum
We arrived at Cooperstown at about 9am on the Saturday. We were now standing in baseball’s Graceland – The Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. A place I could have only dreamt of visiting! From memory out of all the MLB player’s who has taken the field less than 1% have reached the Hall of Fame… only the best of the best make it into these halls and I was here in Cooperstown to witness my favourite baseball player of all time, officially become part of baseball history.
After jumping off the bus we were quickly moved inside through the VIP side entrance… that’s right we were special, no lining up for us – the lines of which to get into the Hall of Fame were atleast 200-300m long and constantly at this length throughout the day. Scott and I had discussed our game plan on the bus on the way to Cooperstown and we decided it would be best to hit up the Hall of Fame shop first before they sell out of everything. Turns out this was probably the smartest move ever, while the shop was crowded first thing in the morning (within 2 hours there were lines with up to an hours wait just to get into the shop), we were able to walk straight into the shop and buy most things that we wanted (I might have another 4 caps to add to my collection.) I was also able to grab one of the very last Griffey Hall of Fame edition jerseys, which became my official top for the rest of the Hall of Fame Weekend.
After spending a small fortune (but hey we did get 10% off as part of our travel deal), we headed up stairs to start our own tour of the Hall of Fame. Level 2 was already packed with lines going down the stairs, so we thought it might be best to start our tour at level 3 instead and try our luck later at level 2.
Level 1: The Hall
On our first day in Cooperstown we were able to check out the main attraction of the Hall of Fame, the hall itself. It was quite interesting that the hall wasn’t as full as the levels above so I was able to take my time to find all my favourite players and read their induction bios. It was also a great chance to read through players I had never even heard of to learn about their accomplishments.
As you walk around the hall it is great to hear people talking about their favourite players and reminiscing on their favourite memories with the friends/families – one old-timer said that Joe DiMaggio should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame simply for marrying Marilyn Monroe, which I had a good laugh at.
One the first day obviously Griffey’s plaque was not there as he had not been officially inducted yet, so on our 3rd day in Cooperstown after the Round Table event we headed back to the Hall of Fame so that we could get a photo of the plaque. This turned out to be quite the adventure, we had 2 hours to kill until our bus arrived to take us all back to the hotel and we had to stand in line for 1.5hrs to finally get to the plaque. So that was lucky. I could have come all this way and not actually seen Griffey’s plaque.
We had finally made it to level 2 on our second day in Cooperstown. Level 2 is a journey through time starting with items from some of the first baseball games ever played, to the very first baseball ever used in a paid attendance game and into memorabilia from some of today’s greats like Mike Trout, Ichiro, Miguel Cabrerra and more.
Level 2 is also where the exhibition for the greatest baseball player who ever lived is held – Babe Ruth. The exhibition takes you through the timeline of his life, from his childhood to Baseball and then to life after baseball. There are heaps of newspaper clippings, photos and items from his playing days and to be honest you could easily spend a couple of hours just going through everything in the Babe Ruth section.
There were a lot of other great exhibitions on the floor such as Ted Williams lifetime batting average breakdown of the strike zone, Lou Grehrig and Mickey Mantle items and much more.
Again to be honest there is just so much to take in and I think I would need to come back when the Hall of Fame isn’t full of 1000’s of people so that you can go at a slow pace and really take it all in.
Level 3 showcased some of the greatest individual accomplishments and there have definitely been a few. From 27 strike outs in a 9 inning game to Hank Aaron’s exhibition. There was an interactive and live leaderboard for all the key stats and as we stood in the Hall of Fame Ichiro was 4 hits off 3,000 – making him one of the greatest hitters ever once he surpasses the magical number. This is made even more special by the fact that he didn’t start his MLB career until he was 27 and having already collected 1,278 hits in Japan. Might have to come back for the Ichiro induction!
The way that the Hall of Fame has created each individual display is quite amazing, often having not only the items that were used to create history ie bats, cleats, gloves, jersey etc but they also have videos on loop so you can relive the moments and paper clippings of the historic events.
Just like with level 2 we had to move through the sea of people to view the displays and there is just so much to take in.
Hall of Fame Parade
Carol had suggested to everyone that there are no official designated standing areas for our tour groups, so it is highly advised that you find a place to take in the parade about 1.5-2hrs before it starts. This is because Cooperstown is a small town that has a population of approximately 3,000 – for this weekend it was estimated that there were around 50,000 people in town!
Luckily after we had checked out Doubleday Field and Scott had got his eye in on the 70mph Fastball batting cage we saw where the parade was starting. Following the fencing we came to the corner of Fowler and Chestnut where there was a community hall. The building had a few steps and veranda that was higher than everyone on the street – but best of all it was in shade. We quickly staked our claim to some space on the veranda and then proceeded to wait about 1hr 45min for the parade to start. We were perfectly place to see the start of the parade as the players turned on to the first main street.
We had no idea which Hall of Famers were going to be in the parade so it was a kinder surprise every time a new car came around the corner. The best players for me were hands down Cal Ripken Jr, Pedro Martinez (who by far knew how to work the crowd), Randy Johnson, Ozzie Smith, Dennis Eckersley and off course the man – Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey was in the car with his family and you could see when the car turned the corner he was completely stunned by the turn out and the fans reactions as they all began to chant Griffey… Griffey… Griffey. As I was trying to record video I was actually watching him drive by as oppose to watching through the camera and I saw him say WOW to his family as the crowd was going crazy!
The parade lasted for approximately an hour and then within minutes you wouldn’t have known that there were thousands of people covering the streets as Cooperstown became nearly empty. While it was exciting to see the players go by and wave and acknowledge the crowd I can’t help but think it would also have been made even better if there had been big screens along the parade that showed footage of the players as they continue to make their way around the parade – that way people could continue to see their favourite players for more than 15 seconds.
Hall of Fame Induction
50,000 people ascended on The Clark Sports Centre to watch as Ken Griffey Jr and Mike Piazza were immortalised. We were again part of the special people having reserved seats in the VIP section for the Induction, many others had camped out over night or placed chairs to save their spots on wide open spaces behind the seated section.
We had walked back from the Hall of Fame to the sports centre which took us approximately 30 minutes, however the hardest part was fighting our way through a sea of people to get to our section. We took our seats about 45mins before the Induction began, giving us plenty of time to take some photos, selfies and just take in the atmosphere and occasion. It was still actually hard to believe that yes I was actually here in Cooperstown about to see my boy Griffey be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The event kicked off with speeches from the MLB Commissioner and the Head of the Clark Sports Centre, but to be honest everyone was just waiting to see who would be inducted first.
I will admit, I have never been a massive fan of Mike Piazza, he was a great hitting catcher and I knew he was a good player, but just wasn’t a fan. After this weekend my perception of Mike Piazza has completely changed and I can say that I am now a fan.
Not only were his baseball achievements impressive once they were all laid out on the table – he is in fact the greatest hitting catcher of all time… all time! But it was his story to greatness, his speech and his personality that won me over.
Ken Griffey Jr
The main event! Griffey takes the stage and it is fair to say he was a mess, he could barely keep his emotions together as he began to speak with the crowd going wild chanting his name. As Jimmy Kimble said – real men only cry at funerals and when they get elected to the Hall of Fame.
Out of all the players inducted into the Hall of Fame, Ken Griffey Jr goes in as the highest voted player of all time – receiving 99.3% of the votes… 3 idiots should have their right to vote taken away for not putting him on their ballot. This isn’t to say because he had the most votes that he was the greatest baseball player ever, but he is damn close. If not for a stretch of injuries during the middle of his career there is no telling what stats Griffey could have accumulated, however he will have to settle for being 6th on the all-time home run list as well as being considered one of the best ever centerfielders.
Griffey’s speech didn’t dwell on career achievements, but was however a moment for him to look back and tell his journey and to thank the people who helped him get to this very moment.
Griffey then finished off his speech with the ultimate mic drop as he reached down under the podium and grabbed a hall of fame cap and then put it on backwards – the crowd then lots their minds and cheered as Griffey waved and walked back to his seated. There is actually a huge significance of the backwards hat, when Griffey first arrived on the scene in MLB and was wearing his hat backwards it actually upset a lot of the veteran players and managers as they thought he was mocking the game and not taking it seriously. But what Griffey did with the backwards hat and his happy/positive attitude was bring fun to the game. At the end of the day baseball is a game and games are meant to be fun!
Apart from taking some video footage of Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr introductions I decided that I wasn’t going to take a million photos or try and record the whole speech, as I wanted to simply sit back and take it all in. It was truly an amazing experience to watch my childhood hero and favourite baseball player of all-time make such a personal speech and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I look forward to the time when I can say back in 2016 I was there to see Griffey be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Hall of Fame: Legends of the Game Round Table
This was the cherry on top for the weekend. The legends of the game round table was the hottest ticket in town with only approximately 1,000 people having the chance to sit in the stands at Doubleday Field and watch as Peter Gammons interviewed Ken Griffey Jr and Mike Piazza. It was a completely stripped back event with a small stage and 3 chairs.
Griffey and Piazza told stories about their childhood, one funny story was when Griffey was playing Little League and pitching one of the oppositions mums was all over him, heckling him from the stands and Griffey said that he could not throw a strike to save himself. Griffey’s mum pulled him aside during the game and said go out there and hit the next batter, Griffey said that he didn’t want to anger his mum as she cooks my food so I don’t want to mess with that. So Griffey went out in the next inning and hit the first batter, Griffey’s mum then stood up and said to the other mum if you keep it up I’ll get him to hit the next batter too.
They also talked about how they got to the big leagues and the different paths they took, the first time they versed each other – Piazza mentioned the first time he versed Griffey was in a minor league all-star game. His team were actually excited to see Griffey as he was the talk of the minors, everyone knew he was the man and that he was something special. Mike said that in his first at bat he got a hanging change up which he roped and hit on a line in the gap, initially thinking a double easy. He said he started to bust out of the batters box only to watch Griffey just glide over with ease and just take the catch like it was nothing, Piazza then said that he thought to himself… this is going to be a hard league.
The guys also talked about the pressures of MLB and also interesting unknown stories from their careers.
The interview allowed you to see them as just normal guys and it even though we were sweating in the middle of the stands watching the interview as the sun was just killing us I could have easily stayed there for hours listening to their stories.
24 hours flying, 2.5hrs train ride and 1.5hr bus trip… worth it!
Next stop back to New York!
Hall of Fame Weekend Snaps