Column: There’s no place like Cooperstown for baseball fans

Gary Kaschak

Hours after Mariano Rivera delivered the final words of his induction speech, the field that held tens of thousands of sun-soaked fans began returning to normal.

The long lines of yellow school buses had just come to an end, the final hot and weary customers relieved their wait was over. And as that final bus turned the corner and disappeared from view, the sudden silence offered a moment of reflection.

I felt privileged to be given an assignment to talk with people at random. To find out where they were from, why they were here, what connections they may have to a player, an organization, a team. And as I read my notes and quotes from the dozens of people interviewed, it was apparent that every single person I spoke with had compelling baseball stories to tell.

Take Phillies fan Mike Jakimowicz on his first trip to Cooperstown. Here with his best friend, Joe Maleno, honoring his mother’s dying wish that someday he’d make it to Cooperstown. With a smile from ear to ear he told me about the 20 autographs he’d collected, how Ricky Henderson signed exactly what he’d asked on his ball, “All time stolen base King” in gold print. “Perfect for a King,” Jakimowicz said.

Or take Corey Twigg, a youth baseball coach here with his family supporting childhood friend Mike Mussina. Despite being absent from a weekend tournament his team had entered and following their scores on a baseball app, he said, “Its simply the right thing to do.”

George Spader was with his son Ryan, guests of Edgar Martinez. “Ryan Helped Edgar and Tim Raines with their Twitter accounts.” “And,” he said proudly, “He’s written two baseball books.”

Tom Holdaas was with his wife Shirley and son Ryan. Like thousands of others who traveled from Seattle for Edgar Martinez, they shared their thoughts on Cooperstown.

“It’s simply a beautiful, quaint little town,” Tom said. “I had no idea New York State was so beautiful. It’s breathtaking”

Ryan said, “If you love baseball, this is the place to be. It’s refreshing that everyone here can walk around wearing their teams logo and not be hassled. There’s no better place to be.”

Similar thoughts came from Kevin Kosmo. Wearing a Roger Maris golf tournament shirt, the Fargo native said, “We just love the village here. What baseball fan wouldn’t?”

Tom Tunison was with his family from Bath, NY. His third induction and first since 1999, Tunison, a member of the Thurman Munson Hall of Fame Committee, was honored on Saturday and given a signed Thurman Munson ball from Munson’s childhood friend, Doug Miller. “With everything he’s done for Thurman, it was the least I could do,” Miller said.

“But this weekend was about the players,” Tunison said. “This was the first time I sat and listened to every speaker. I loved their stories and anecdotes, what they said about love for family. It really hit home for me.” He paused then said, “Cooperstown is the closest thing to heaven on earth for a baseball fan.”

As I packed my bags and headed home to South Jersey, I wished I could have talked to every person in Cooperstown. To hear their stories, to share a common thread that connects all baseball fans to each other, knowing that so many great stories have gone untold. And as I turned and took one final gaze down Main Street, I thought of the words Jayson Stark spoke while being honored for the Spink Award, that “Cooperstown is the real Magic Kingdom.”

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