Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Guide to Hall of Fame Weekend

Going to Cooperstown this weekend to see Craig Biggio inducted into the Hall of Fame? Here are a few things you should know before you get there ...

Keep in mind that Cooperstown, New York is a tiny little postage stamp of a village. It's only about 1.6 square miles in size and is, therefore, extremely walkable. But it also means that, with tens of thousands of additional souls descending on the town for one weekend, it is very crowded. The first and last thing you will need to know is that you should be patient and flexible and wear comfortable shoes.

Since there are very few hotel rooms available in Cooperstown, most visitors for Hall of Fame Weekend are staying elsewhere and coming from a distance. Specifically for those visitors, the Village of Cooperstown provides three free parking lots on the outskirts of town and a trolley system that will drop you off right in front of the Hall of Fame. An all-day pass on the trolley (which you can purchase from the driver) is only $2.00 per day. Or you can walk to the Hall of Fame from the Red lot or the Blue lot, but not the Yellow lot (which is further out than this map indicates and doesn't have sidewalks).

These free parking lots fill up quickly on Hall of Fame weekend. As an alternative, property owners throughout the village offer up their front yards for parking, but they are not exactly free. I saw numerous places last year that charged around $40 to park. If you're on a budget, come early!

There are actually quite a few places to eat right on and directly off the main drag in Cooperstown, but with all the additional people in for the weekend, plan on dining early or late unless you don't mind waiting on line. The very popular Cooperstown Diner has only 26 seats so plan ahead if you have your heart set on eating there! Also highly recommended is the Doubleday Cafe which is adjacent to Doubleday Field.

From this list, Alex and Ika's (which was excellent) has apparently closed, but I can also recommend the New York Pizzeria which is off the beaten path down Chestnut Street and the somewhat more pricey and even further out Bocca Osteria which is also on Chestnut (and is very, very good!). There are also a couple of grocery stores in town that offer deli food if you're trying to save some cash.

If you want to visit the actual Hall of Fame (and why wouldn't you?), again, you will find it less crowded if you plan ahead and get there either very early or very late. By mid-day, the line just to get in will be quite long and you'll be elbow to elbow once you get inside. If you want to skip the line, buy a membership. Members don't have to wait in the main line and can more or less waltz right by. The Hall also offers early entry for members.

As you walk along Main Street on Hall of Fame weekend, you will see many former ballplayers, both Hall of Famers and non-HOFers, set up in front of the different shops for autographs. Of course, the autographs aren't free, but you can still walk along the street and get within a few feet of Gaylord Perry or Darryl Strawberry or Dale Murphy, as I did last year.

If you are going to be in Cooperstown on Saturday, you will want to attend the annual Awards Presentation at Doubleday Field, starting at 4:30 (first-come, first-serve stadium seating). This year's inductees will be Detroit News baseball writer Tom Gage (J.G. Taylor Spink Award) and long-time baseball broadcaster Dick Enberg (Ford C. Frick Award). From the Hall of Fame website:
Additionally, the Hall will recognize the legacies of former All-Star Curt Flood, whose challenge to baseball’s reserve clause laid the foundation for free agency in the major leagues, and all the ballplayers who defended their country in World War II. United States Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will speak on behalf of all military branches as America marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Following the presentation, you will need to head on over to Main Street and find a spot to watch the Parade of Legends. The Hall is saying around four dozen Hall of Famers will be in attendance this year plus, of course, the four inductees. A lot of people bring lawn chairs and stake out a location first thing Saturday morning, but I maneuvered into a good spot right behind the lawn chairs and got some great photos of the Legends as the parade went by.

Ernie Banks getting ready
to flash the "Let's play two!" sign

Hank Aaron

Brooks Robinson

Tom Seaver

George Brett

Nolan Ryan

Tom Glavine

The parade starts with the oldest classes and ends with the current inductees and it gets pretty crowded. Be prepared to be on your feet for a couple of hours before all is said and done. Again, be patient and wear comfortable shoes.

Main Street

Which brings us to the induction ceremony on Sunday. The ceremony is scheduled for 1:30 Sunday afternoon at the field outside the Clark Sports Center. In the event of rain, the ceremony goes on inside the center and is only available to the invited guests of the inductees. So pray for no rain! (As of the time of posting, there is a 60% chance of rain ... boo!)

There is no shade, even in the reserved seating, so it's extremely important to wear a hat and suncreen, maybe even bring a towel to put over your neck or your knees if you're wearing shorts (umbrellas are not allowed). There are a limited number of reserved seats (about 1200 last year) for friends and family, for those buying a HOF travel package and for those members who ponied up for the $500 and $1000 memberships. Everyone else congregates in the field behind the reserved seating.

I had a reserved seat last year through a contact I met in Cooperstown so I don't have direct knowledge of how field seating works. It's my understanding that a lot of people will come early, set up their chairs and leave them without any problems. Even if you have reserved seats, you need to get there plenty early so that you aren't stuck on the last row!

The center is about a mile from the Hall of Fame. I'm not aware of any shuttle service to the site, but it is probably best to walk there anyway, if you are able, due to the large crowds. Water and portable bathrooms are available (you might want to bring hand sanitizer) at the site.

Even in the reserved seating area (unless you are a family member), you're not going to be able to get a close look at the inductees.

But there are big screens and an excellent sound system so you will be able to see and hear everything.

If memory serves, last year's induction lasted over three hours, but there were six inductees. I would imagine this year's ceremony will be somewhat shorter with only four inductees.

As far as other things to do (if you're all baseballed out), there are a few things to do in the area. I visited the Fenimore Art Museum last year (a yellow trolley stop). Anyone interested in Native American art, in particular, should really enjoy the museum. I also stopped by the Cooperstown Distillery and sampled their wares (very good gin, but Tito's Vodka is better!).

Again, the key to a successful HOF weekend (aside from no rain!) is to plan ahead and show patience. Eat when you can, go to the bathroom when you can, sit when you can and WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES!

I hope to see a ton of Astros fans at the induction. And I hope to hear a particularly loud and raucous chant of B-G-O!!!! Safe travels.

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