© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

07/27/08 12:19 AM ET

Hall of Famers saturate red carpet

Parade on eve of induction full of surprises, stars, and showers

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The red carpet got soaked. But not even a frightening warning from two sources could dampen the enthusiasm of more than a thousand fans who gathered Saturday night for the annual arrival of Hall of Fame partygoers to baseball's shrine.

The fans' dogged patience was rewarded near the end of the 45-minute program when Cal Ripken Jr., in a spontaneous re-enactment of his legendary tour of Camden Yards on the night he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record, made his way around fans ringing the entrance to the Hall of Fame.

"Planned? Oh, no," Ripken said after he'd finished signing autographs and shaking hands for 20 minutes. "When you've been a player, then been out of the game for a while, you don't often hear your name called.

"When you do, it's kind of nice. I'm a little too old to lap a ballpark. But this was easy."

Ripken then entered through the Hall's doors, joining the four dozen peer immortals already enjoying a casual soiree on the eve of the Hall's annual Induction Day.

The two living inductees, pitcher Goose Gossage and manager Dick Williams, arrived on the first of several trolleys transporting the Hall of Famers from the nearby Otesaga Hotel.

After being briefly interviewed on the Museum's steps by George Grande, the announcer who annually emcees the induction ceremony, Gossage and Williams waved their greetings to fans and were quickly replaced by the next trolley of arrivals.

The red carpet parade of Hall of Famers is one of the Museum's newest traditions, giving fans an opportunity to see their heroes in an entirely different light.

"This is my favorite activity of the entire weekend," said Jim Wiles, who for years has entertained Hall visitors as the fabled Casey of Mudville. "These fans get to see the legends in their finest suits."

Ripken wasn't the only one to give fans a close-up look at his threads. Among others, George Brett and Wade Boggs, holding hands with wife Debbie, also worked the crowd.

The others, however, made cameos compared to the patient Ripken, who obviously has not lost his connection with fans of America's Pastime.

While he was on one side of the mob, hearing cries of "Mr. Wonderful!" fans on the opposite side pleaded, "Cal ... please!" and "We want Cal! We want Cal!"

And they got him. They held up bats, T-shirts, sheets of paper for him to sign, and he continued obliging ... until they were probably running out of petite fours and tonic water in the Hall of Fame Gallery, where the reception was being held.

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It was a satisfying conclusion to a two-hour street festival, for which fans and their lawn chairs had begun lining Main Street hours earlier.

At about a quarter to eight, more than an hour before the Hall of Famers were scheduled to arrive, a Cooperstown trolley laden with "regular" people rolled down the street and received a good-natured ovation from the crowd as the passengers waved back.

Five minutes later, the Museum staff appeared with a roll of red carpet which they unfurled down the steps to great applause -- perhaps the first time at such events that the carpet itself received such a reception.

Wiles and Grande kept the crowd amused and occupied. The sportscaster doing his thing, Grande recited scoring updates from Major League games in progress and challenged fans with trivia questions while shaking their hands. Casey doing his thing, Wiles led the crowd in a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (expanded edition).

Shortly before the procession was scheduled to begin, scattered raindrops fell. Lightning crackled in the distance. Then Grande reappeared with the stern announcement, "The National Weather Service and the police department have issued severe thunderstorm warnings. We will delay everything for 30 minutes so you can hurry for shelter, then come back."

Nobody moved. Including the clouds. The rain stayed away. The Hall of Famers did not. The party went on.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.