07/26/2003 1:48 PM ET
For fans, Hall a little bit of heaven
COOPERSTOWN -- Heaven for the baseball masses. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is nothing more, nothing less.
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
It exists tangibly, a red brick building off Main Street, USA. But in effect, it's not an edifice but a state of mind.
People who walk through its doors surrender the present for the past, cares and concerns for warm memories, frowns for smiles.
Parents still lecture. Kids listen, with slack jaws.
And everyone talks in hushed tones, from the moment they enter the cherry-wooded main gallery hall, as they tour the many dim exhibit rooms, until they go back outside and sunshine snaps them back to 2003.
"See Tom Seaver there?" a scholarly-looking gentleman asks, tugging on his son's arm as he points excitedly to the pitcher's plaque across the hall. "I batted against him once. Hit the ball into the second-base hole."
This begs for an explanation. John B. Duff, President Emeritus of Chicago's Columbia College, does not look like a jock, ex- or otherwise.
"I was commissioner of public libraries in Chicago from 1986 to 1992," he related. "We had a big baseball exhibit and, since I was one of the program's founders, they came up to me and asked, 'How would you like to bat against Tom Seaver?'"
The right-hander was winding down his Hall of Fame career with the White Sox.
"So I faced him in some ballpark. It wasn't Comiskey. There wasn't even anyone behind him in the infield," Duff continues. He is in his mid-60s, but his eyes still sparkle in the retelling. "I hit a ball toward second and said, 'That's a hit!'
"And Seaver says to me, 'With you running, that's a double play.'"
A perfectly innocuous comment, heard thousands of times on diamonds everywhere. But Duff heard it directed at him by a Hall of Famer and, therefore, it remains a highlight of a doubtless accomplished life.
By mid-morning, the line to enter the Hall snakes from the box office down Main Street. The Hall's staff all wear wide grins. This kind of queue isn't an everyday sight here but, then, this is Induction Weekend.
"You can feel the excitement, and the anticipation of seeing the real-live Hall of Famers come in," says Howie Wrench, on a break from taking tickets at the entrance.
As Wrench effervescently ushers visitors through the turnstiles, he repeatedly hears one comment:
"'I'm so excited to finally be here. I've been trying to come for years.' That's what they all say," Wrench says. "This is a Mecca to them, as it is for a lot of the players."
It's an elbow-to-elbow day in the Hall. A slice-of-Americana crowd, for whom being dressed fashionably means backwards baseball caps and long-sleeved tees, not Polo.
They mill around the showcases, fill every seat every 20 minutes in the Grandstand Theatre, bunch in front of the plaques in the main gallery.
There, Bernie Selvey, his long hair tied into a ponytail, furiously snaps pictures of the plaques of Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn.
"This is my third time here. I came for the inductions in 1990 and 1995," he says. "I'll probably make it a yearly routine now. I'd like to come back here when there are less people."
Selvey, a 28-year-old from Allentown, Pennsylvania, motions toward Schmidt's plaque. "My pop was the biggest Schmidt fan, the biggest Phillies fan. He almost cried when he heard that Schmidt and Ashburn were going into the Hall in the same year."
Selvey says his 51-year-old father, Bob Kocsis, may have since lost the baseball bug. Nope. He just passed it on to his son.
The two ends of the main gallery have been transformed into purgatories for the newest Hall of Famers. At one, glassed exhibits showcase the career highlights of Gary Carter and Eddie Murray.
At the other, blank marble tablets already mark the spots where their new plaques will be hung, Carter's above Murray's.
Near this spot, Mike Minutola is busy snapping photos of Sparky Anderson's plaque. Then he does a curious thing, asking wife Barbara for the video camera and shooting footage of the same plaque, as if expecting Sparky to suddenly move.
"I was a catcher," says the silver-haired Minutola, from a small town in New Jersey, pointing to the Cincinnati cap on his head. "So I had to be a Johnny Bench fan, and that meant I became a Reds fan.
"I'm waiting for Pete Rose ... when he gets in, that's when I'll be back."
Actually, the Hall of Fame is something more. It is a bridge, across which generations cross to connect with each other.
A father points to a list of stolen base leaders, all-time and active, and animatedly tells his son, "He has 500 more stolen bases than the next guy ever. He has 900 more than the next active guy."
Fathers everywhere lift sons and daughters on their shoulders in front of plaques, so mothers can snap the once-in-a-lifetime pictures,
When the lights come back on in the Grandstand Theatre following the poignant paean to baseball, fathers rise with lumps in their throats and children with a fuzzy sense of having experienced something that they will only understand later.
The place has an allure hard to explain, but easy to give into.
"I missed the feeling this place gave me, so first chance I got, I made sure to return," says Derek Mayfield. "I'd never visited here, but as soon as I got a dream opportunity to work here, I was hooked."
Mayfield, 24, served as a Hall of Fame intern all last summer. He now works for the Frisco Roughriders, the Texas Rangers' Double-A affiliate, but is back in his Hall of Fame uniform this weekend working as a volunteer.
"Why? This is pure baseball," he explains, "not the commercially-packaged baseball. Every time I entered those doors, day after day, it brought a smile to my face.
"Nothing compares to it. I missed that feeling. I wanted to have that feeling again."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.