Big Chuck: Hall of Fame weekends are always special

"Big Chuck" D'Imperio

Another historic Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony is now in the books. Maybe a record for a crowd size, maybe a record for the heat and maybe even a record for the fun and excitement that so defines this wonderful Cooperstown experience.

My own involvement with the induction day events is long and varied. Over the past few years, that involvement has been limited to a fan and bystander capacity, enjoying all that happens when the whole sports world focuses on a village in upstate New York with a population of less than 2,000. For several years before that, my capacity was as a broadcaster. A number of us from the radio station went to Cooperstown to broadcast the day’s events live to our own local audience and, in the earliest days, to a national audience as well. These were fun years because we had the “golden ticket” for the day, a press pass!

This small, unspectacular laminated piece of cardboard, hanging around our necks on a long cloth lanyard, opened many doors for my colleagues and me and has given us many memories to revisit as we get older. I think my favorite one is when these golden tickets got us into the Hall of Famer’s Saturday brunch at The Otesaga Resort Hotel. Pretty rarified air in there!

One year we all sat at a round table right in the middle of the dining room floor. Hall of Famers were sitting, standing, chatting and reminiscing all around us. Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Willie Mays and all of the other baseball cards of my youth were right there brushing up next to my chair or maybe dropping a cherry tomato on the very floor under my seat. A cherry tomato! Under my seat! Somehow, it made me feel important.

One year, 1997, Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda was being inducted. He was sitting at the head table in the ballroom sharing a hearty belly laugh and offering back slaps and hugs to anybody who entered his sphere. The joy that man exuded was palpable throughout the room. With him was actor Tony Danza. Apparently, they are close friends, and Danza sat at the table right next to where the WDOS radio crew was seated. When I got in line for the buffet, basketball coaching legend Rollie Massimino was in front of me and pitcher Rollie Fingers was behind me. Later at the Induction Ceremony at the Clark gymnasium, Lasorda introduced Danza to the crowd as “the greatest living actor in America today.” Great stuff.

Despite being in such proximity to so many great legends during my days of the golden ticket, my Hall of Fame Induction days go back even decades before all that.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my parents owned a small grocery store in Sidney. We sold Genesee beer at that store. Lots of it. And my dad’s friend, Diz LaMonica, who owned the beer distributorship in Oneonta, would always make sure we had a fistful of Hall of Fame Day tickets for all the kids and any friends we wanted to bring.

This was the era when the induction was held in Cooper Park, right outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Our gang would inch up to watch the ceremony as close as we could. Back then the crowd was in the many hundreds. Today, of course, the crowd is in the many tens of thousands.

After the ceremony, we’d run down to Doubleday Field for the Hall of Fame Game. Back then, the crowd would gather in the big Doubleday parking lot and just before the game, two large Greyhound buses would slowly part the crowd and creep up to the gate. On the buses were the two teams playing each other that day.

The bus windows would be open, and the players would be hanging out waving and smiling and signing everything and anything that was handed to them. My sister Susie still has her prized signed baseball glove autographed by her favorite player, Gil Hodges.

Later in the day, us kids would wander Cooperstown seeking out any stray Hall of Famer we could target for an autograph or picture. The mood was light, fun and very exciting. After, we’d gather for some spaghetti and meatballs at the Glimmerglass Restaurant on Main Street and then pile into our station wagon for a long and very quiet ride back to Sidney.

Hall of Fame weekend memories are the best!

I’ll catch you in two ...

"Big Chuck" D'Imperio's morning radio show can be heard weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Otsego County, WDLA-AM 1270 in Delaware County and WCHN-AM 970 in Chenango County.  All of his columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns.