Gwynn, Ripken gearing up for induction
Class of 2007 excited, ready for Sunday's ceremony
Hall of Fame Weekend is coming up this Saturday and Sunday and the old town of Cooperstown, N.Y., nestled on the banks of Otsego Lake, population 2,000, may never be the same.Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. are the featured inductees this year, leading to a stampede of fans and media that should be uncommon even for this special annual event, which again is slated for the last weekend in July, with the Induction Ceremonies to be held Sunday.
It was the first year of eligibility for both players, coming five years after the close of their stellar careers.Hordes are expected to drive north from the Baltimore area, where Ripken was born and played in 2,632 consecutive games for the hometown Orioles, the club for which he played for his entire career. Gwynn, who had 3,141 hits and won eight National League batting titles -- all for the Padres -- is expected to have his own large contingent traveling east from San Diego, where he also went to college, only 90 miles from his hometown of Long Beach. "As Sunday approaches, you can't help but to be nervous," Gwynn said Friday during a conference call with the media, adding that his speech is written. "You can't help but want to do a good job. I'm just hoping emotionally I can keep it together long enough to get my message across. I'm excited about it, but at the same time, nervous about it." Sunday's 1:30 p.m. ET ceremony will be streamed live without interruption at Baseballhall.org and BaseballChannel.TV. There could be more than 50,000 fans in attendance, placing this induction in a league of its own along with the 1999 induction of Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount -- the only one thus far to crack the 50,000 mark. In comparison, an estimated 11,000 were in town last year when former reliever Bruce Sutter was the only player elected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America [BBWAA]. A record 53 of the 61 living Hall of Famers will be on hand for the ceremony. Legends run the gamut from Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Bob Feller to more recent inductees Ryne Sandberg, Dennis Eckersley and Gary Carter. Ripken said that pressure has built in the months since he was elected. "You look at the stages," Ripken said during his Thursday conference call. "Back when I got the call, I felt a great deal of excitement, but it seemed pretty far away. Now that we're at the homestretch, there's a feeling of absolute terror, wondering if you're ready or not." Jeff Idelson, the Hall's vice president of communication and education, noted that there are 200 buses already scheduled to arrive in town, mostly from Maryland. Last year there were only seven. Gwynn said there are four chartered flights slated to wing east from San Diego for the ceremony: Three sponsored by the Padres and one by the alumni of his alma mater, San Diego State, where Gwynn is the head baseball coach. "There's going to be a big contingent there from San Diego," Gwynn said. "In a sea of [Orioles] black and orange, there will be some Padres brown and gold and Padres blue and orange in there. We're excited about it and I think the fans are excited about it. Yes, it's been a very interesting year as we come down the stretch." Around 800 credentials are expected to be issued and members of the media have been told that there are virtually no available hotel rooms in a wide swath of upstate New York from Albany west to Syracuse. The media hotel for members of the BBWAA is in Albany, the state's capital, some 90 minutes east of this tiny hamlet where, legend has it, Abner Doubleday invented what has long been anointed the national pastime. Just to give newcomers a sense of the drive, the last 22 miles off the interstate are along winding, scenic State Route 28, a two-lane road that passes through small towns and by green farm pastures inhabited by spotted cows adroitly ignoring the traffic. Once across the railroad tracks, the journey ends at a traffic light on Main and Chestnut Streets. From there it's a right turn up Main or a three-block stroll to the red-bricked museum. Like Gwynn, Ripken said he's ready for whatever Sunday brings. "It has reached another level of attention," Ripken said. "It raises the stimuli. It's all good, constantly good. Ferguson Jenkins said it's not dissimilar to Opening Day. You come out of Spring Training not sure if you're 100 percent or ready to go, but you can't wait to get into the regular season. Ryne Sandberg, who is kind of a low-key guy, said it's like playing second base. You take ground ball after ground ball in practice, and then when the game starts, it's all second nature."
|"It's been unbelievable. From announcement day, which I figured wasn't that big a deal only to find out that was a huge deal, it's been very interesting."|
-- Hall inductee|
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.