Weekend in Cooperstown is baseball heaven
There is, arguably, no better place on this earth to be than Cooperstown, N.Y., during a certain few days in the middle of July.
Sure, it might get a little hot outside, but what's a little sweat when afforded the opportunity to witness the capstone of a career, the opportunity to watch a legend earn the ultimate validation of his profession in the form of a 14.5-pound, 15.5-by-10.75-inch bronze plaque?
That is exactly what happened on July 22, when Ron Santo (posthumously) and Barry Larkin saw inclusion amongst the 295 other baseball greats whose likenesses adorn the hallowed halls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Both Larkin and Vicki Santo, the widow of Ron Santo, touched on the significance of such an honor in acceptance speeches given as part of a two-hour outdoor ceremony at Cooperstown's Clark Sports Center.
With 44 fellow Hall of Famers behind him, Larkin admitted that, "You know, as a player I would always look in the mirror and question myself. 'Am I doing enough? Is there more? Can I be doing something different, something better? Can I try harder? Is this the right thing to do?' Yeah, I asked myself [these questions], not only because I took pride in representing myself and my family, but also the Reds organization and the people of Cincinnati.
"No longer do I have to ask them. The answers are forever written on my plaque in Cooperstown."
During her speech on behalf of her late husband, Vicki Santo said, "I look at his plaque here in Cooperstown and I think you will all agree it just feels right as a perfect ending to his remarkable journey.
"This is not a sad day. This is a great day. Celebrate for Ron, celebrate with us and celebrate with him, because I'm certain of few things, but I am certain that Ronnie is celebrating with us right now."
Celebrating was something there was no shortage of in Cooperstown, starting with the induction of J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Bob Elliott and Ford C. Frick Award recipient Tim McCarver. Then there was the Parade of Legends, involving Hall of Famers clambering into the beds of Ford F-150 pickup trucks and waving to adoring fans gathered en masse along Main Street. Not quite Miss America, but still. There was a dinner reception for Barry Larkin, following the parade, that was put on by the Reds. Many Reds dignitaries made the trip from Cincinnati, including the ownership group -- the Castellini and Williams families. Reds Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez showed up to support Larkin, as did Larkin's Reds teammates Eric Davis and Dave Parker.
Something else there was a surplus of in Cooperstown? "Magic," as the village's mayor, Jeff Katz, termed it. Cooperstown, a quiet little hamlet of 1,800, transformed itself in 2012, as it does each July, for one sacred weekend.
As the weekend's emcee, Gary Thorne, a legend in his own right, put it: "As a baseball fan, as well as being an announcer, the opportunity to come to the Hall of Fame is the ultimate. It's there with doing the World Series or an All-Star Game. To come here and to have the best of the living of the game -- and be able to meet them, see them, interact with them, spend the weekend, it's kind of heaven for those of us who love baseball.
Correction, Mr. Thorne: it's not "kind of" baseball heaven. July 20-22 in Cooperstown, N.Y., is baseball heaven. Period.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the Fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.