Cooperstown -The Land of OzBy Lou Parrotta
The streets of Cooperstown were chock full of St. Louis Cardinals fans today as arguably the greatest defensive shortstop in the history of the game, Ozzie Smith, was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. There was a sea of red at the Clark Sports Athletic Center to cheer on the man affectionately known as "the Wizard." Smith took is rightful place among the other immortals previously inducted into the greatest sports hall of fame on earth.
On a glorious afternoon in which the threatening rain held off and the sunshine peeked out from behind the clouds, Cooperstown, a tiny hamlet in Otsego County, was aglow with all of the wonderful events and activities happening during the Hall of Fame Weekend festivities. The day began with the Capital Region Salvation Army's tenth annual Open Air Service. The honored testifier of the day was the same man who helped the Salvation Army indoctrinate this non-denominational service ten years earlier, New York Yankee great Bobby Richardson. Also offering wonderful, inspiring words were three of the most beautiful women in the world - DiAnn Kiner, Jackie Brock, and Lori Fingers. While they may not seem familiar to people, their husbands' names certainly might - Ralph Kiner, Lou Brock, and Rollie Fingers. Each of these women gave testimonies of how their faith was strengthened and also offered wonderful words of their Hall of Fame husbands.
Despite the beauty of the Open Air Service, the day belonged to "The Wizard." The crowds went wild with every mention of his name and each time his picture was splashed across the giant screen that was simulcasting the event for ESPN Classic. The people were there to watch their defensive hero become the next immortal shortstop in the Hall of Fame. Now, some of his contemporaries may have been more powerful or may have had higher batting averages, but Smith was the consummate player. After being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals from the San Diego Padres, he literally became a highlight reel all by himself. He was the staple that held the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s and 1990s together, and his induction into baseball's shrine was well-deserved.
The village of Cooperstown was abuzz with autograph seekers and memorabilia hounds. Everyone tried to get a picture with or an autograph of their favorite Hall of Famer. No one seemed to mind the escalating costs of the price of signatures, which this year ranged from $12.00 for former Negro Leaguer Buck O'Neil to $95.00 for the great Willie Mays. People were just clamoring to get a glimpse of one hero or another and create some form of a memory.
The festivities are soon-to-be-over as the Hall of Fame game will take place tomorrow between
the Chicago White Sox and the Colorado Rockies. Then, the 20,000 or so fans, mostly decked
out in their St. Louis red, will begin the journey home and back to their everyday lives.
They will be forced to live without the fantasy of seeing one baseball legend after another
for three straight days. They will anxiously wait next year, when former Baltimore Oriole
Eddie Murray will head a new class of eligible inductees, and the beauty of Hall of Fame
Weekend. Of course, if the looming labor stoppage occurs, who knows what will happen to
this time-honored tradition?
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