Golf tourney away from Cooperstown crowds attracts big names
Down the road, in the heart of Cooperstown, fans packed Main Street like never before while celebrating Hall of Fame Weekend.
But on the shores of Otsego Lake on Saturday morning, Leatherstocking Golf Course became a quiet haven for Baseball Hall of Famers - except for the resonant "pings" following monster tee shots, and the laughter of the men swinging those clubs.
The annual Hall of Fame Golf Tournament attracted some of the biggest names in the game's history, including Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra. The Hall's newest members, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, also played - taking time to relax before today's Induction Ceremony.
Save for a few prickly responses to questions about Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's career home run record, the Hall of Famers had nothing but glowing reports about the Hall and its Class of 2007.
"You catch up on times you had with teammates, it's always fun," said Frank Robinson, who played in the golf outing after missing the last few years due to his managerial duties with the Expos and Nationals. "I wouldn't miss this, especially with Cal here. He was a manager's player. I wish I had 25 like him."
Robinson managed the Orioles and Ripken from 1988 to 1991, and both men seemed to enjoy the adulation of dozens of Baltimore fans standing along the course on Lake Street. Ripken, at ease all day, stopped to give those fans autographs after finishing the fifth hole.
Gwynn, meanwhile, was more reserved, but still found time to flash his trademark grin and chat with members of baseball's most exclusive fraternity.
"Tony Gwynn's the nicest guy you want to meet, sweet and humble," said former Red Sox and White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk between puffs on a huge cigar. "He said to me the other day: 'I wonder why I'm here.'
"I said: 'Tony! I wonder why I'm here."
A record crowd that could approach 70,000 wanted to be here for both Ripken and Gwynn, and fans have already begun lining up to watch Sunday's Induction Ceremony at the Clark Sports Center. Thousands of lawn chairs are in place in front of the stage, saving space while their owners experience Cooperstown.
And while Orioles jerseys outnumbers Padres shirts by at least 5 to 1 on Saturday, it was the Ripken/Gwynn combination that resulted in what will become the Hall's most successful weekend ever.
"The two guys elected this year, they did everything the right way," said Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton. "That's why it's a pleasure to be here."
Contact Utica Observer-Dispatch reporter Craig Muder is firstname.lastname@example.org.