I start off by saying the weekend met and exceeded all my expectations. Packed into two days in town, it all went by so fast but memories will last a lifetime. I offer the below memories, thoughts, advice, and perspective as a personal diary of the fun along with a guide for other fans.
1. The more inductees the better
Having gone in a banner year for inductees, the dynamics of a diverse fan base added to the experience. Far and away, fans from Houston dominated the crowd. Having waiting 50 years of franchise history to have a player that was inducted, they (or shall I say "we") went all in. Dominican Republic nationals also showed up en mass (mainly on Sunday) to support the second Dominican player inducted in the Hall's history (Juan Marichal the first). Larger classes would also tend to attract more of the enshrined Hall of Famers to attend. You can bet as many as possible make plans to return, but the larger the hype, the better chance of seeing more of the living greats. This weekend drew over 50 greats from Whitey Ford (class of 1974) to Frank Thomas (class of 2014). With a number of good players on upcoming ballots, there should be strong classes for the next five years (think Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jim Thome).
|Astros fans lined the streets for Craig Biggio
|Dominican Republic fans support their inductee Pedro Martinez
2. Plan key activities, but allow free time to take it all in
The weekend includes activities on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. If you try to do only events, you'll miss some of the fun of the spontaneity of the weekend. While the smallish shops around town are completely overwhelmed, many bring their wares to the streets allowing fans to simply walk up and down and check it out. There are a number of small bars and pubs to pop in and grab a pint. On this particular weekend, Tony Gwynn's widow brought in some of his brews he had been working shortly before his depth. For this weekend only, .394 beer was stocked and we partook. In this bar we also saw former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone just relaxing and talking with fans. Up and down the street you'll see former players (Lou Pinella, Larry Dierker, Art Howe) and other celebrities quietly mingling with fans. I would have liked to have had more time to walk the streets.
|Sampling Tony Gwynn's .394 Pale Ale at Cooley's in Cooperstown proper
As for the events, plan and see the Parade of Legends on Saturday. Period. Make it a non-negotiable. You may be lucky enough to see one or two Hall of Famers around town but this parade has almost all of the weekend participants right in front of you waving to the crowd and sometimes interacting with fans.
Pro tip - bring folding chairs and set them up along the fence early. Protocol seems to be that chairs placed reserve a spot without a person being present. By 10 am that morning chairs are already lining up. We placed ours at about 2:30 pm and were just on the second row with a great view.
|Fans reserve their spot hours before Parade
The parade is right after the Awards Ceremony (Frick and Spink) which may be worth skipping (we did). If you go to that event, you may struggle to get a good view for the parade.
|Getting this close to legends is a must-do for Hall of Fame Weekend
|The Big Unit takes in the moments on his camera
Craig Biggio gets ovation from Astros fans
I also heard good feedback from someone who went to the Monday Roundtable with new inductees (Hall Membership is required). I did not take it in, but the next day at Doubleday Field the recent inductees interacted with fans in a more casual atmosphere taking questions from the media (some submitted by fans).
3. Don't count on seeing the Museum in depth
With so many fans in town, the logistics just aren't in your favor. If you have a decent size group, I highly recommend getting an annual Hall of Fame membership. It allows you to draw four complimentary tickets and most importantly, gets you in the short line to get in. The regular line winds down the street by noon on Saturday. The membership also might come with reserved seating for the ceremony (check out the details or determine you level).
|The Hall of Fame Museum is a beehive of fans on Saturday
|Great exhibits to all inductees are prominent
|Seeing the Hall of Fame Gallery is mandatory
|Four of my childhood favorites side-by-side
You can see all of the museum you want, no doubt. But you'll have to wait for folks to clear out of the way and photos in front of exhibits take a while. You may want to consider seeing some exhibits in depth and passing over others just to get through. You definitely want to see the museum even at this level. The weekend would not be complete without it.
4. Decide on transportation logistics and execute
With Craig Biggio so close to getting in, I booked my airfare before the class was announced. This paid off as the good flights quickly filled up (at a higher price) shortly after. There were 85 Albany-bound through passengers for our Houston flight with one stop, and 69 through passengers coming back. B-G-O chants were going at some points. The poor folks getting on at the "stop" in Tampa thought they had good seat selection with (SWA) "A" group but by the time they got on, there were only center seats due to the through count.
You'll have to stay in a nearby town very likely, Albany worked well for us. It was about 75-85 minutes away, not too bad a drive. Airport access, hotel selection, and restaurant options were plentiful. Get your rental car early, prices are high due to demand.
Once you get to Cooperstown, you will park and walk the remainder of the day. There are two options here. The first is to find their colored designated parking lots on the edge of town and pay $2 - $5 per person for an all-day trolley. We did not use this option, but most thought it was run well. I will say after the parade, the line for the trolley back to the lots was long and slow. Instead, we budgeted (or fell into) just paying high prices for parking on private property. On Saturday, it was $40 on a large estate within 5 minute walk from the Hall. On Sunday it was $30 in a field just adjacent to Clark (7 minute walk). Parking prices at other nearby locales were similar. To us it was worth the time savings to maximize our trip to spend the money. In both cases, we rolled into town, paid, and within minutes were taking in the sights. Others may choose differently. I would do the pay to park again, it's just part of the vacation budget.
5. Wear as much baseball stuff as you can
Just as you see kids with balloons, Mickey Mouse ears, and eyes of wonder at Disney World, you see fans decked out in every team imaginable for Hall of Fame Weekend. Not only in town, but in Albany, at airports, driving on the road, in the hotels, etc. Of course teams that had inductees were the most, for instance several fans wearing Montreal Expos attire were also seen (Randy and Pedro). Or someone with a White Sox jersey and a sign for Carlton Fisk and Frank Thomas (both acknowledged the fan during the parade). It's a time to celebrate your team, bring your colors and represent!
|An eclectic mix of fans line the streets for the Parade of Legends
|A kid waving a popular sign drawing cheers from the Astros crowd
6. Induction Day
I would recommend dedicating Sunday only to the induction ceremony (not worth trying to squeeze in the museum or in town attractions). Get there early and relax. There will be a lot of waiting if you get there early enough to get your place. Bring chairs, blankets, playing cards, glove, ball, etc. Bring coolers with lunch (the food sales lines were very very long). Bring lots of hydrating fluids. It's not a giant tailgate party but several folks were partaking in beer. And bring sunscreen and an umbrella for shade or rain. Nestled in the hills there isn't much breeze.
Pro tip number 2 - The same Parade spot reserve protocol applies to the induction ceremony (held at the Clark Sports Center about 1 mile south of town). Fans start placing blankets and chairs out Friday, maybe before. There is plenty of room to walk up on Induction Day and find a place, but the prime real estate will be long gone.
With four speeches it dragged on at times (fans aren't necessarily hanging on every word). I can imagine kids in particular getting restless during the 2 - 3 hour ceremony.
|Craig Biggio addresses the crowd of 45,000+
|Randy Johnson reflects on his career during induction speech
7. Autographs are tough to come by (free ones at least)
I debated bringing some of my childhood baseball cards for potential autographs but decided against it in the end. Probably the right choice. There are several schedules signings up and down Main and Pioneer Streets but these are pay to play. I know Rickey Henderson (rumored $300), Tommy Lasorda and Tony LaRussa were part of signing events. Craig Biggio and the other inductees signed at the Roundtable event on Monday (for a fee). If you want autographs, the safe way is to bring money and find out when and where (word is up and down the streets and in local media). The only Hall of Fame player I saw signing free autographs after the parade was Cal Ripken Jr. (for 10 - 15 minutes). Several autograph hounds (mostly kids) were waiting at the airport (near rental car area before, near ticketing counters after). This may be a way to go, but it looked like a long day of sitting and waiting.
If you read this and are planning to attend a Hall Weekend and have any questions, comment here or tweet me at @lhd_on_sports and I'll be glad to answer!