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July 27, 2013

Fans flock to Cooperstown to meet baseball legends

By Meghan McCaffrey Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Baseball fans flocked to Main Street in Cooperstown on Friday in hopes of meeting baseball legends and getting autographs. For others, it is the excitement of being in Cooperstown with so many fellow baseball fans that brings them back every year.

Andrew Gonska Jr., of Massachusetts, said he no longer comes to induction weekend for autographs.

“In the beginning we came to Cooperstown for autographs,” Gonska Jr. said. “Now we come here for everything Cooperstown has to offer, the restaurants, museums and the brewery.”

“We’re coming to see the changes in Cooperstown,” added his father, Andrew Gonska Sr.

The Gonskas said they started coming together in 1996, but the elder Gonska recalled the first time he ever came to Cooperstown.

“It was in 1969, we were on our way to Woodstock,” he said. “We heard on the radio that it was really backed up so I looked at my buddy and said ‘What do you want to do?’ So we came here.”

For his son, the allure of Cooperstown was once to get autographs. The first time he came to Cooperstown he got Whitey Ford’s autograph, and he’s been building his personal collection ever since, he said.

“For a while, I was really eager to build my collection,” he said. “I like to get my autographs by actually meeting people and talking with them. That’s why I like to meet the older Hall of Famers before they pass on.”

“The older guys are really down-to-earth,” he continued. “They didn’t make crazy salaries back then.”

He added that too many people make too big a deal out of autographs, especially those who get them just to sell them.

“Mine are for my personal collection,” he said.

“I would’ve loved to get Pete Rose’s autograph, but I’m not gonna pay for it,” Karen Rist said of Garrison, N.Y.

“Baseball has become such a commercial industry,” Rist continued. “It’s just become about the almighty dollar.”

Rist said she is content to just walk along Main Street and see the baseball players without getting their autographs.

Karen came to Cooperstown with her mother, Carol Rist. Carol said she had always liked baseball but didn’t watch the games until she retired.

“When I retired and the Yankees where on top of the league at the time, I got so into it,” Carol said. “I love baseball.”

Gil Yule, a retired teacher from New Hampshire, has come to the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend for a total of 45 years.

“The first time I came in here was in 1955; I was in tenth grade,” Yule said. “I saw Ty Cobb on the steps of the Hall of Fame and I asked for his autograph.”

Since then Yule has collected 2000 Hall of Fame autographs, though he has multiple autographs from some players. He said he has the most signatures from Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial and Cal Ripken Jr.

Yule said he has memorabilia all over his walls in his house, and he even has framed baseball jerseys hanging from his ceiling.

Yule recalled how fans used to be able to meet players in the lobby of the Otesaga Hotel and get autographs there.

“I have great memories from that,” he said.

Yule said he loves coming to Cooperstown for many reasons.

“The small-town atmosphere, fans, friends and shop owners I’ve gotten to know very well over the years,” he said.

Andrew Gonska Sr. said he loves coming to Cooperstown.

“It’s just something special, one of those things you can’t describe,” he said. “You just have to be here for Induction Weekend.”