Nostalgia and excitement fill the air in Cooperstown as Hall of Fame induction returns
Editor's note: In an earlier version of the story, Bud Fowler's burial site was incorrectly listed. This article has been updated with the correct information.
COOPERSTOWN – For 51 of 52 weekends a year, Cooperstown is a small, quiet village on the shore of Otsego Lake where half the population is older than 45.
However, one weekend a year, fathers and sons sporting baseball jerseys and curbside vendors selling everything from shot glasses to autographed bats descend on this village.
That celebration is for the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction, and for the first time in three years, it returned in 2022 to the fourth Sunday in July.
An estimated 35,000 people braved the unbearable heat and humidity to attend Sunday’s induction at the Clark Sports Center, just south of downtown.
This year’s class was highlighted by Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, who played for the Minnesota Twins in the 1960s and 70s, and Bud Fowler, baseball’s first Black player who grew up in Cooperstown and is buried in Frankfort.
But the biggest star was David Ortiz. Ortiz thanked Cooperstown in his speech, saying the village treated his family the right way.
The Red Sox legend appeared to attract the biggest crowd to Cooperstown.
Many fans drove four hours from Boston to see Big Papi get inducted. The streets were filled with Massachusetts and New Hampshire license plates, and to many, it felt like a game at Fenway Park, especially when Ortiz gave his speech.
Frank Alberti, Chief Officer of Seventh Inning Stretch, a shop on Main Street, said the large abundance of Red Sox fans wasn’t a surprise.
“Anytime you have a Yankee, or a Red Sox [player] go in, people drive up to support their player and their team,” he said. “Mariano [Rivera] was the big name in 2019, and Ortiz was the big name this year, and they drew about the same crowd.”
Craig Muder, Director of Communication for the Hall of Fame said the reception for Ortiz made this weekend unique.
Ortiz is just the fourth Dominican-born player to earn a spot in Cooperstown and remains wildly popular with Dominican baseball fans.
During the ceremony, many attendees held up Dominican flags and chanted “Papi!”
Ortiz spoke in Spanish for part of his speech.
The boisterous cheering wasn’t exclusive for Ortiz though. Fans also celebrated inductees Oliva and Minnie Minoso, who are both Cuban. Minoso was the first Afro-Latino to play in the major leagues.
Muder said crowd size at the induction grew from about 15,000 in 2014 to 35,000 in 2015, and this year returned to the mark.
Alberti agreed and added that business was much better than last September’s rescheduled induction, when only 20,000 patrons showed up.
“We’re not fully back yet. The past few years, even before COVID, felt a little different, but we are on our way,” he said.
Like past years, Saturday drew the largest crowd. In the morning, hordes of people waited off Route 80 near the Leatherstocking Golf Course, where the Hall of Fame golf tournament occurred.
Despite temperatures reaching into the mid-90s, crowds packed Main Street, which was closed to traffic through Sunday evening.
People began setting up in the early afternoon for Saturday’s main event, the parade that runs down Chestnut Street and Main Street.
Many stood outside the museum, where the parade ends, and most Hall of Famers stayed and signed autographs before entering the private reception.
On Sunday, Alberti said it remained steady throughout the morning before quieting down as masses headed to the induction site. Emcee Brian Kenny of the MLB Network said the ceremony was streamlined to prepare for rain later that day. No rain fell during the event, but it did come down shortly after.
Many people took refuge in the museum, where Ortiz and the rest of the 2022 classes’ plaques were unveiled. A line remained in the gallery until the museum closed at 9 p.m.
By the time the museum closed, Main Street was once again open to traffic. Some groups remained and dined at local restaurants, but for the most part, Cooperstown had returned to tranquil form.
The town set off fireworks over Otsego Lake as the sun set to celebrate the end of another successful Hall of Fame weekend.
Noah Ram is a sports reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Noah Ram at firstname.lastname@example.org.