When you step foot onto Main Street of Cooperstown, it’s hard not to be emotionally touched. You’re less than a mile from the sparkling Otsego Lake, with the legacy of the Baseball Hall of Fame standing tall in front of you. The buildings look like a freshly painted version of early 1900s Americana: baseball-themed stores are on every block, and “America’s Pastime” is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. Cooperstown is essentially ‘Baseball Disney World.’
Every year near the end of July, tens of thousands of fans crowd into what is usually a sleepy little town with a population hovering around 1,700 people. Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend is an unforgettable experience, with Hall of Fame legends lingering in town all weekend, Pete Rose inevitably showing up to sign autographs, and several days’ worth of festivities.
The Hall of Fame is always a magical place, but it really comes alive in late July when actual Hall of Famers are roaming through town, bringing their own exhibits to life. For a baseball fan, there is no feeling quite like strolling through the Hank Aaron exhibit in the Hall of Fame and then actually seeing Hank Aaron wave to the crowd in the Hall of Fame parade that same day.
I was lucky enough to be part of Induction Weekend for the first time in 2017, as a summer intern at the Baseball Hall of Fame. That year, the inductees were Ivan Rodriguez, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, John Schuerholz, and former commissioner Bud Selig. The excitement in the weeks leading up to Induction Weekend reminded me of my many years in student theater, gearing up with the cast for weeks only to perform one weekend’s worth of shows.
As one of the membership interns, I got to be on site at the Clark Sports Center for the entire induction ceremony. I also witnessed my first Hall of Fame parade down Main Street the day before the ceremony. Truck after truck of baseball legends cruised down the street at five miles per hour, and thousands of people lined the streets to cheer for their favorite players.
All weekend, and really the entire summer, I was struck by the incredible attachment that fans coming to Cooperstown had for baseball. Guests would enter the Hall of Fame dressed in head-to-toe team regalia, pointing out every sight to their kids and acting as giddy as kids themselves. Visitors came into the plaque gallery with hushed reverence, pausing an extra few seconds at Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth’s plaque to soak in the immense baseball history that lay beyond the metal engraving. I saw firsthand how many other people loved baseball as much as I did.
In 2019, I was fortunate enough to be invited back to Cooperstown, along with other intern alumni, as an Induction Weekend volunteer. It was a thrill to relive my intern days and bask in the aura of the Hall of Fame once again. That entire weekend felt like a dream, from seeing the MLB Network analysts in a restaurant the Friday night before Induction, to sitting right next to the MLB Network booth during the ceremony, to strolling through my favorite exhibit, “One For The Books,” for several hours while performing my duties as a “floater.” As soon as 2019 Induction Weekend was over, I could not wait to go back.
July 24-27, 2020, was supposed to be a glorious weekend in Cooperstown, filled with perhaps record crowds cheering for Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and Marvin Miller. This year, instead of bursting at the seams with fans for three days in late July, Cooperstown was eerily quiet. It may as well have been the “light season” of early spring or late fall. Instead of walking down Main Street and overhearing the excited chatter of fans who finally made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, visitors this year might have overheard the echoes of over 150 years of baseball history, desperately waiting to be shared with more adoring fans.
This year, for the first time since 1960, baseball fans were denied the chance to experience the magic of Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. My heart broke when I read the news back in April that Induction Weekend was officially canceled. I was not surprised by the decision, though it did leave me feeling very nostalgic for the fun that thousands would be missing out on in 2020.
But even without an official induction this year, baseball history marches on. Players have been and will continue to be inducted. Even in this year’s 60-game season, a few baseball records may soon fall. The museum staff may very well have to update the “One For The Books” records exhibit before visitors return in full force.
Even in the hardest times, baseball fans are romantic about the game. I have a feeling that when fans return to Cooperstown to cheer for future inductees, they’ll be more in awe of the game’s majestic history than ever, and positively jubilant about spending a weekend in the baseball capital of the world.
This has been a strange year for all of us, and baseball has undoubtedly been severely affected by the pandemic. But in times like these, I am reminded of a moving quote from my favorite movie of all time, Field of Dreams:
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
Cooperstown, we miss you, but we’ll be back soon. No pandemic can shutter a true fan’s love for the beautiful game of baseball.
Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum YouTube