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Cooperstown abuzz with excitement07/24/2004 1:25 PM ET
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
MAIN STREET, COOPERSTOWN -- It is soon after the morning sun breaks through clouds, the dew is still on the lawns, but the Street of Dreams is buzzing. On sidewalks normally deserted, people under an array of baseball caps stroll among shops and vendors. Fathers walk with arms draped around sons' shoulders, mothers and daughters trailing close behind. In the proverbial one-light town, that one light now causes gridlock. The hubbub has "Induction Weekend" stamped all over it, but apparently Cooperstown is just being its usual magnet to folks for whom baseball is a culture, not just a game. "It is a typical weekend, but not a typical induction weekend," says Chris Gaddis, looking over his inventory of custom sports plaques leaning against the side of a building. "When Nolan Ryan went in, turning the corner onto Main Street was like getting off the subway at Times Square." This weekend, Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley -- a longtime Boston Red Sox but more closely identified with Oakland -- are going in. "You don't get the huge crowds unless it's someone from the Yankees, or another East Coast team," says Doug Walker, a pioneer baseball merchant here. "Yaz in 1989 ... that started the whole phenomenon of induction weekends." So excitement and overcrowding must be relative concepts. Because the little center of this little town sure crackles with anticipation. Cars angle-parked curbside display a rainbow of plates: Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Vermont, Ontario, Maryland, on and on. Walking behind the vehicles, Cooperstown Chief of Police Mike Crippen portrays the annual influx about as rowdy as a Cub Scout wiener roast. "It's families ... no alcohol," Crippen says. "Our biggest problem is traffic. And everyone eating at the same time -- so it might be different if we ran a restaurant."
Here's an inside tip for folks who empty their gas tanks cruising for a legit parking spot: "We probably write fewer tickets this weekend than usual," the chief says.No wonder: His parking enforcement officer is down at Doubleday Field, managing the lot for the afternoon's Class-A game. Ed Strohmeyer and Pete Richards turn the corner onto Main Street and pause, wide-eyed. Strohmeyer, from River Vale, NJ, and Richards, from Salem, Mass., have both made annual Induction Weekend pilgrimages since 1993 but had just met -- because they happen to be staying at the same small bed & breakfast. The fact both wear Red Sox caps may have had something with drawing them together. Richards proudly produces a volume of the coffee-table book, "Players of Cooperstown." He flips through its pages, bearing autographs of the subjects. "Got 'em all, except Sandy Koufax. But he doesn't sign," Richards says, frowning. "The dead ones, I buy their autographs on index cards, then paste them in." Strohmeyer's mission is more time-sensitive. "I buy these cachets of the players. I'll go to the post office tomorrow, put some baseball-themed stamps on them and have them cancelled there," he says. "They become very valuable, but I do it for myself." He would no more try to profit off this than off a Nomar Garciaparra autographed ball. Strohmeyer recalls approaching Garciaparra in Pawtucket to ask him to sign a couple of balls. Nomar bobbed and weaved. "Hey, see that? That's mine," Strohmeyer told him, pointing to a car with New Jersey plates "TedYaz." Said Nomar, "Okay, gimme the balls." "Say," Strohmeyer says, "did you know this is the only post office that stays open on Sunday, by special grant?" Cooperstown Postmaster Connie Tedesco is scurrying about the post office -- located directly across Main Street from the Hall of Fame -- arranging various baseball displays and encouraging visitors to return on "cancellation Sunday." "We get volunteer postal workers from all over the state to come in and help us," says Tedesco, who defines a "cachet" as an "illustrated envelope to commemorate a sporting event." She introduces Barbara Lucas, "our cancellation specialist." It's an art that requires a steady hand; you don't want to smear the stamp on priceless pieces of memorabilia that come in many shapes. "Once, someone had me cancel his head," Lucas says. "I've done bags of peanuts, baseballs, gloves ..." (If you will not be in the neighborhood, the post office offers cancellation by mail until Aug. 24. You can send the stamped items to be cancelled, with a self-addressed envelope, to Induction Day Station, 40 Main St., Cooperstown, NY 13326-0998.) Back outside, the crowds have swelled. They snake around storefronts, from "Mickey's Place" to "Cooperstown Gear" to "Where It All Began Bat Co." It wasn't always like this. When Doug Walker opened the doors to "National Pastime" in 1983, his memorabilia shop was unique. "I was surrounded by hardware stores and pharmacies," says Walker, who has sold the shop and now operates a nearby bed & breakfast. "Now, it's baseball, wall-to-wall." In one display window, the Red Sox-Yankees conflict is waged across the front of customized tee-shirts. Reads one: "I got season tickets to the Yankees for my wife (it was the best trade I ever made)." Reads another: "Money will buy you 26 rings, but it can't buy you love." Beyond the traffic circle bisecting Main Street, a lengthy line stretches from the Tunnicliff Inn Restaurant, where the food is good but not that good. Turns out, it's the line to pre-buy autographs of Hall of Famers who will be stopping by all afternoon. To sort out the quite unmanageable throng, a worker suddenly hollers, "Cash on my right, credit cards on my left!" The cash line is dramatically shorter. "Hey," someone calls out, "anyone know where the ATM machine is?" Do not underestimate the ingenuity of a baseball fan -- or his impatience. A mom and her four teen boys stroll down a side street toward Main Street. She stops to admire a quaint, old church and decides she needs a photo of her sons in front of it. They pose, making faces and squirming, and before she can click the shutter, one of them wails, "But Mom, this is Cooperstown."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.