More than 48,000 people gathered under the scorching sun at The Clark Sports Center for the 75th National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Sunday, including one woman who carpooled to the event with more than 40 other people.
Sandy Druzba, of Rotterdam, organized a bus trip to the inductions with the company she works for, Wade Tours, so that individuals from the Albany area could easily travel to and from the event, she said. Druzba listened intently near the side of the stage Sunday as inductee Frank Thomas gave an emotional speech, which moved her, she said.
“This has been my favorite speech so far,” Druzba said. “You can tell he's really very appreciative, and that touches me. But I think they saved the best (Joe Torre) for last.”
Jodi and Joe Frye, of Madison, Wis., traveled more than 16 hours in their vehicle to experience their first induction ceremony together and celebrate Jodi's approaching August birthday, they said. Jodi Frye was particularly excited to see all the famous inductees during Saturday's Parade of the Legends, she said.
Greg Maddux's speech was the couple's favorite at the induction because he seemed "very down-to-earth," "genuine" and “like a humble guy,” they said.
“It's so beautiful here. It's been great,” Jodi Frye, 49, said of their trip to Cooperstown. “It won't be our last.”
Eric Hess, of Ithaca, and his friends Matt Phillips and Katherine Kowalski, of Brooklyn, said induction weekend has become a tradition for them.
“It's like a holiday for us,” Phillips, 31, said. “I'm a Yankee's fan so I'm excited to hear Joe (Torre) speak.”
Hess, 32, said this was his second time at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He appreciated Greg Maddux's speech because the inductee chronologically thanked his catchers and coaches and told the perfect amount of jokes, Hess said.
No matter what team you root for, the inductions are a way for all baseball fans to come together, Hess said.
“I'm a Met's fan, but it's really more about the game itself,” Hess said. “You spend a good portion of your summer watching these guys on t.v. and they become part of it. Coming here is a way to kind of thank them and respect the fact that they are so talented.”
John Lackinger, 58, came from Illinois to see “the first home-grown Chicago native (Maddux) to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” he said. This was his first time attending an induction ceremony.
The induction was also a first for John Hoppin, who, along with his wife, Vicki, is traveling cross-country in a motor home to visit as many ballparks as possible over the next four years, he said. The couple are gathering fan stories and pictures, which they will use to write a book about baseball and the fan experience.
Hoppin, of San Jose, Calif., said speeches by Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa were the best because they emphasized the meaning of the word "team."
“You hear players talk about being a team and being on a team, but when managers talk about it, being the ones in charge of the team, it's different.”
Although New York State Trooper Eric Buchinsky was technically at work at the induction Sunday, he was also able to enjoy the speeches, he said. Buchinsky, of the K9 unit at State Police Headquarters in Livingston, is a big baseball fan. But his favorite speech of the induction was not by a ball player.
“So far, the best speech has been by Jane Forbes Clark,” Buchinsky said. “It was very informative. And if it wasn't for her, we wouldn't have the inductions.”
Another safety official working to keep crowds safe Sunday was David Lincoln Jr., of SUNY Oneonta's emergency squad. Lincoln said he did not see any major health problems Sunday, despite the relentless sun.
“We've mainly been directing people to where they can get water and handing out band aids here and there,” Lincoln said. “Nothing serious.”
Jenn and Bob DeStefano, residents of New Jersey, and their three children stood in quiet concentration Sunday, with their eyes on the massive screen that showed the inductees when they gave their speeches. Jenn and Bob grew up in Chicago, Jenn DeStefano said, so they were excited to hear the speeches of ex-Braves who were inducted.
Marisa DeStefano, 8, sat on her mother's hip and watched the speeches while her brothers Mike, 10, and Marco, 5, sat on a nearby fence, craning their necks to see past the crowd ahead of them. Marisa is not a big baseball fan, but she does like her new baseball-shaped earrings, which she bought in Cooperstown over the weekend, she said.
Mike's favorite part of the induction weekend was the Parade of Legends on Saturday, he said, with a grin.
“It was so cool,” Mike said. “Frank Thomas pointed at me.”