Mike Piazza got inducted into Cooperstown last weekend, and when I heard Mike Piazza finally made the cut, I knew I had to be there. I grew up cheering for Mike’s Mets and have many fond memories of that team. Piazza had many fabulous career highlights, but the September 21, 2001, game will forever be etched into my memory. That home run after the atrocities of September 11 was so extraordinary in the very fact it was an ordinary occurrence. Even though home runs seem to be hit on a nightly basis, that one allowed New York to cheer and to think about something other than the horrors of ten days earlier.
In his induction speech, Piazza said he missed making the fans cheer. But we never stopped cheering for him. He has forever left his mark on this organization and its fan base, so I made the trek up to Cooperstown so he could hear those cheers once again and give back to him what he gave to us.
I booked a trip with a travel company so I packed a lot into one weekend. On Friday night I went to hear former major league umpire Al Clark give a talk. He had great stories about many former ballplayers and gave his opinions on some of the issues facing the game today, like challenges. He believed that challenges ultimately will be good for the game because umpires all take their pride out to the field with them. Umpires don’t want to find out they got the call wrong, so he believes they’ll work harder to get calls right.
Saturday was an all-day trip into Cooperstown. For anyone thinking of visiting the museum, my advice is go some weekend other than the Hall of Fame weekend. The museum is well done with wonderful exhibits, but there were just too many people to see them and get the full effect of them. For this weekend they had Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. memorabilia on display, and they had an exhibit dedicated to baseball after 9/11.
The Hall of Fame Museum is at one end of Main Street, and Doubleday Field is at the other end of Main with about three blocks separating the two. On Saturday, the sidewalks were packed but you never knew who you were going to run into. Many former players were set up along Main signing autographs and posing for pictures. This year many former Mets were there, including Howard Johnson, Lenny Dykstra, Jesse Orosco, and Frank Thomas of the 1962 Mets. Some other players that were out and about were Juan Marichal, Goose Goosage, and Lou Piniella.
In the late afternoon on Saturday, the Ford C. Frick and J.G Taylor Spink awards were presented at Doubleday Field, with many members of the Hall of Fame in attendance. The Ford C. Frick award acknowledges excellence in baseball broadcasting, and this year’s recipient was Graham McNamee. The J.G. Taylor Spink award acknowledges print journalism and it went to Dan Shaughnessy, who is known for his work with the Boston Globe.
This year, to mark the 15th anniversary of September 11, FDNY Battalion Chief Vin Mavaro gave a moving speech at the awards ceremony where he talked about finding a baseball intact at Ground Zero, which he ended up donating to the Hall of Fame Museum.
After the ceremony at Doubleday Field was over, the Hall of Fame members all climbed into trucks for a parade down Main Street. This was absolutely incredible. Main Street was lined with cheering people, young and old, and we all got the opportunity to watch as some of the greatest players in baseball history went by, including the two newest members in Piazza and Griffey Jr. The players themselves seemed to be enjoying themselves and waving to the crowd. Ozzie Smith pretended to backflip off the truck, Reggie Jackson got “Reggie, Reggie” chants going, Pedro was being Pedro and hamming it up, Randy Johnson took a picture of someone taking a picture, and Wade Boggs acknowledged and thanked some police officers who were standing guard.
It was an amazing day with the main event still yet to come on Sunday, which would be the induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center for Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. Fans of both players were out in full force for the ceremony which had the second-highest number of attendees. Mets flags were flying and Big Sign Man, who gained notoriety at Shea, was also there with his noticeable big signs. A plane carrying a “Congratulations Mike” banner circled the field during the ceremony, and another symbol of hope, a rainbow, made an appearance in the sky.
During Piazza’s speech, multiple “Mike Pi-azza” and “Let’s go Mets” chants broke out as well as lengthy cheers and applause. Piazza was emotional right from the start especially when talking about his father. He also mentioned John Franco, Al Leiter, and Edgardo Alfonzo by name as teammates he remembered with his days with the Mets. Finally, he mentioned his special bond with the fans, especially following September 11.
In my opinion it seemed like a well written speech that was well thought out and he worked hard on. He used quotes from historical figures to highlight and support aspects of his speech and to leave a greater impact on those listening.
Ken Griffey Jr. got emotional, as well, throughout his speech, but he really had to gather himself when he talked about his family. He got a few more laughs than Mike, especially since he had some great anecdotes of players he knew from growing up around the game. He ended his speech by putting on his signature backwards hat.
The paths of the two newest members of the Hall of Fame were quite different, considering one was a first-round pick and the other was a last-round pick, but now they will forever be immortalized side-by-side among the greatest players to play the game.