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Cooperstown becomes land of Oz
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07/28/2002 09:04 am ET 
Cooperstown becomes land of Oz
Smith headlines today's induction ceremonies
By Matthew Leach /

Ozzie Smith was listed on 92 percent of the Hall of Fame ballots cast earlier this year by the Baseball Writers Association of America. (Ron Frehm/AP)
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- With thousands of his closest friends and biggest fans before him, and 47 of the people he admires most sitting behind him, Ozzie Smith knows he'll be a little nervous when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Broadcaster Harry Kalas will be honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner, and Joe Falls will be recognized with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, but this year's Hall of Fame class is, for all practical purposes, a class of one. And despite all his time in the spotlight, that makes "The Wizard" a bit anxious.

Smith said he expects the feeling to be "like being naked.

"It's one of those things, I think, you don't know until you're actually standing there and looking into the faces of the people that you're going to know what the emotion is."

A crowd of approximately 15,000 is expected for the induction ceremony, set for 1:30 p.m. ET at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown. That's 15,000 people hanging on the every word of a man who made his living playing baseball, not giving speeches.

"There's been a lot of rewrites, there's been a lot of paper thrown away," Smith said. "I think that you always probably go back to the first thing you did, the first thing you wrote. That's what comes up first. Eventually you work your way back to that. You go over all the many people that helped you get to this point. Because there's no way one person can make it this far without the help of a lot of people. There were a lot of people that were there, that helped me along the way. You just try not to forget anybody who was instrumental in my sitting right here at this podium right now."

But as much pressure as Smith feels from the fans, there's just as much from his fellow Hall of Famers. Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Warren Spahn, and on and on. He's now met all of them, but that doesn't take away the sense of wonder. Smith still isn't sure he's ready to be mentioned in that class.

"I don't know if you ever get comfortable with that," he said. "I just feel blessed to have had the longevity and the ability to play as long as I did to make it to this point in my career. I had no idea when I started playing baseball that I would one day be considered in the same breath or the same sentence with all of the great players that are enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y. I'm speechless. It's unbelievable what I've accomplished in my career."

This small village is crawling with baseball fans this weekend. They tour the Hall of Fame itself, viewing the exhibits and the plaques. They visit Doubleday Field. They check out all the shops selling baseball memorabilia. Sometimes they even rub shoulders with the game's greats.

Of all these baseball pilgrims, a significant number of them this year have come from Cardinal nation. They took off to see the Wizard.

"It's a celebration for all baseball fans," Smith said, "but especially Cardinal fans because they've been a part of this ride down this yellow brick road of mine. We've had some wonderful times together and I would really be disappointed if I didn't see a lot of Cardinals shirts. These are some of the greatest fans in the world, so it was expected that they would come out and be a part of this celebration. I'm the person up on the stage tomorrow, but I'm accepting on behalf of all the great St. Louis Cardinal fans that have been a part of the success that we've had through the years. It's a great feeling."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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