On Main Street, a pastime illuminated
Fans flock to Cooperstown for induction weekend nostalgia
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- They strolled under the soothing mid-morning sunlight from the north, the west, the southeast and all compass points in between, making a beeline for, then congregating on, Main Street.Imagine a convoy of car headlights snaking down in an Iowan dusk toward a diamond cleared out of a corn field, and you get the idea. Nostalgia always rules here, where time has stood still for a long time and memories collect with the dew on the morning grass. Your childhood is never far away. But, one weekend a year, thousands join the procession into the past. And this is the weekend, of the Hall of Fame's induction ceremony, of peoples' mind trips. They congest this little village's main street for three blocks, oohing and ahhing over sidewalk displays, flipping through boxes of baseball cards, trying on old flannel jerseys, buzzing and laughing and whistling. This is what it must be like when the toy factory's doors are shut at night and the toys come to life. ... "This is the best day of the year," says Paul Peters, from Clyde, N.Y. "This place is the best under any conditions, but you can't beat the Friday before Induction Day. I come for this every year. This is my Christmas." ... Peters' favorite store, then, must be the one a few dozen feet away: "Christmas Around the Corner." ... And the custom gift for Peters is behind the glass in "Safe at Home": "Merry Xmas -- Pete Rose." It sells for $125. ... All the businesses along Baseball Alley have names which smell like grass-stained horsehide and feel like soft broken-in leather: "Baseball Town Motel," "America's Game," "National Pastime," "Where It All Began Bat Co.," "Extra Innings," "Doubleday Cafe" and "Triple Play Cafe." ... Then there is the Store To Be Named Later. There is no identification on yet another memorabilia shop, but the hand-written sign taped to the door announces, "Grand Opening -- Later today." ... "Hey, Dad! I just got Willie Mays' autograph, and Yogi Berra's," says the young man into his cellphone, sitting on the curb. ... "I'm a friend of the owner," says Bob Oswald of Dutchess County, N.Y., peddling autographed baseballs off a picnic table set up in front of "Safe At Home." "I'm here every year. Generally there's always a good crowd when a Yankee is inducted, but especially now for Goose [Gossage]. He's a popular player and a great character. He's not afraid to stop and say hello to people." ... Common are groups of three or four men, back on the sandlots of their minds. Without the women. "My wife," says one, rolling his eyes, "wouldn't have lasted the drive here." This weekend is "City Slickers, Baseball-style."... The crowds along Main Street are so thick, foot traffic is stop and go. There's something that isn't an everyday occurrence in this hamlet of 2,100. ... "Oh, people don't mind," says a permanent Cooperstown resident, referring to others who live here. "They know it's good for the town's business. But they will go and shop for milk and stuff in the middle of the week, then stay away. The traffic gets real bad, and you can't find a place to park and everything." ... "We come here every year," says Bill Larsen, of Georgetown, Texas. "Actually, this is our second trip here this year. We came for the Hall of Fame Game last month. You know, the one that was hailed-out. "We're just big baseball fans. We came back this time with my son and grandson," he adds, grabbing wife Charlotte by the arm and pointing to Rob Larsen and his 9-year-old son, Andrew. ... "This is just amazing," says Rob Larsen, from Nassau Bay, Texas, waving his arm around. "The most enjoyable part was actually walking through the Hall: You remember games and people you saw play. And the best part is getting to see this with my son." ... Andrew is a little less wordy: "It's cool." Ah, kids ... Painted on the side of the mini van parked off Main Street: "Munson Mudhens" ... "Cooperstown or Bust, from Ohio." ... Ryan McGrath and John Crain, from Boston, hit Main Street in bright red "2009 -- Jim Rice in the Hall of Fame" T-shirts. On a weekend when a former Yankee is the main attraction, they don't exactly blend in.
"Yeah, we hear it going down the street, too," Ryan says. "But most people agree with us [about Rice, who missed election on the last ballot by 2.3 percent]." ...Rocky Cenneno lounges in the second of five lawn chairs set up about 150 feet to the left of the entrance to the Hall of Fame. He, Don Stark, Connor Macinta and Nick Down are all from New Jersey and are early squatters for the 500 Induction Day bats that will be handed out at seven o'clock in the morning. The first chair is an unoccupied shrine to Paul Gadke, who had always been the first in this line, but passed away in April following a stroke. A "Paul's Parking Only" sign on the seat is surrounded by flowers, framed photos and news clippings. "Met Paul right here, many years ago," says Rocky. "Sweetheart of a guy. I've got 17 of these Induction Day bats; they're inscribed with the date and the signatures of the fellows inducted into the Hall that day." ... Fans, cameras and autograph pads in hand, fill every available space along fences ringing the Leatherstocking Golf Course on Lake Road. They lie in wait for the Hall of Famers known to crowd that course this weekend, but none appear. ...
• 'Storybook career' leads Goose to Hall
• Williams delivers sentimental speech
• Bodley: Williams mellowed by cherished honor
• Kuhn recognized among game's greats
• Influential O'Malley inducted into Hall
• Dreyfuss' impact lands him in the Hall
• Storyteller Niehaus enters Hall of Fame
• Whiteside remembered with award
• Via award, O'Neil forever part of Hall
• Baseball notables cheer on inductees
• Hall of Fame plaques on display
• Miles away, Yanks cheer for Goose
• Official Hall of Fame blog
• Hall of Fame induction wrap Watch
• Induction ceremony Watch
• Gossage's induction speech Watch
• Williams' induction speech Watch
• Bench, Banks sing "Take Me Out" Watch
• O'Malley honored by Hall Watch
• Kuhn inducted into Hall Watch
• O'Neil immortalized Watch
• Whiteside remembered with Spink Watch
• Niehaus accepts Frick Watch
• Induction ceremony Photo gallery
"Came with a couple of my buddies from Clyde," says Paul Peters, who is from that New York City, but is wearing an Angels cap. "December 1981, Reggie Jackson signed with the Angels. I was a huge Reggie fan. From that day on, I've been an Angels fan, too." ..."He'd stand with his hands holding the bat really high," the man, standing in front of a large photo propped up in a display window, tells the patient wife at his side, who just stares blankly as he mimics the stance of a yesteryear hero. ... No wonder there are no baseball greats on the links. They are all on Baseball Alley, behind makeshift tables or shop counters, signing autographs. Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Mike Schmidt, Mays, Berra. The waiting lines extend down sidewalks, curve around corners. ... It is a little quieter around an isolated table on the sidewalk across from the Hall. Laid out neatly on it are baseball cards and game programs featuring the same smiling, unfamiliar face. The nameplate hung off the lip of the table reads, "Robert Scott -- New York Black Yankees." ... The sign in the window of "Safe At Home" lists the menu for Pete Rose's upcoming autograph-signing appearance. Included among the entries is, "'I'm Sorry ...' ball. $295 -- ball not included." The sun begins to set, but Main Street strangely remains aglow. It seems to prove that memories, indeed, can be incandescent.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.