Behind the Scenes – Frank Thomas and Covering the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend

Wow!! That’s really the simplest way for me to summarize my incredible weekend spent in the rolling hills of upstate New York, covering Frank Thomas’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame for the Chicago White Sox this past weekend!

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductees (from left to right) Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Joe Torre pose for a photo with their Hall of Fame Plaques following the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: 2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductees (from left to right) Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Joe Torre pose for a photo with their Hall of Fame Plaques following the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

As some of you already know, I have had the opportunity to cover Frank from his first major league game, August 2 , 1990 at County Stadium in Milwaukee and culminating this past weekend with his induction into the exclusive club of baseball’s most immortal players, the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

I thought it would be fun to share my weekend with fellow baseball fans, some perhaps who joined me in Cooperstown, others most likely following the news of the inductions via MLB Network or their local sports pages.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Frank Thomas gives his acceptance speech during the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: 2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Frank Thomas gives his acceptance speech during the 2014 Hall of Fame Iinduction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

To view over 100 of my favorite images from the Hall of Fame weekend, check out the slide show and gallery below:

The White Sox went full out with regard to covering “everything Frank, everything Cooperstown”… The “crew” consisted of me (still photographer), our Social Media Coordinator Colleen Maxwell,  in-house Videographers Jeff Szynal and Rocco Fusco as well as out-of-house videographers Kevin Maci and Mike (my bad… last names are always a bit tough for me to remember)!

To aid in making sure our access was, if need be, immediate, we were all housed in private residences just blocks from the Hall of Fame.  This was quite beneficial, for it allowed us to cover events and be within walking distance to get back to our base to edit, change, go back out and shoot quickly, etc.  Trying to get around Cooperstown by car on induction weekend is not the preferred way of travel!  Main Street and many side streets are closed throughout the weekend, so, kudos to the White Sox for having the foresight to set us up downtown.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: White Sox fans join tens of thousands of other baseball fans downtown during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: White Sox fans join tens of thousands of other baseball fans downtown during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

My arrival at Albany’s International Airport on Friday provided a surprise while kicking off the weekend’s activity.  As I exited the plane, I heard a “Hey,  Ves”, and to my surprise, waiting to board the return flight to Chicago was none other than A.J. Pierzynski.  What the?? Turns out he and his family, along with former 2005 White Sox teammate Aaron Rowand and family rented a motor home to take a 5 day, Americana inspired “vacation” trek from Florida up to Cooperstown.  A.J.’s vacation was cut short when the Cardinals came calling for a catcher, so off he went to join the Red Birds in Chicago, leaving everyone back in Cooperstown.  Vacation… OVER!  I will admit, I was pleased to hear A.J. went 3 for 4 in his Cardinal debut… Nice going, buddy!

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: Former White Sox players Aaron Rowand and A.J. Pierzynski and their families made the trek to Cooperstown in a motor coach during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014.  Pierzynski had to leave early to join the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: Former White Sox players Aaron Rowand and A.J. Pierzynski and their families made the trek to Cooperstown in a motor coach during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. Pierzynski had to leave early to join the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. (Ron Vesely)

My photo duties started early Saturday morning at the Leatherstocking Golf Course to cover the annual Hall of Fame golf classic.  We figured (correctly) that Frank wouldn’t play, but Carlton Fisk, Tony LaRussa, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux did, among a handful of other Hall of Famers.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: Hall of Famer Catlton Fisk participates in the annual "Hall of Fame Golf Classic" at the Leatherstocking Golf Club in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk participates in the annual “Hall of Fame Golf Classic” at the Leatherstocking Golf Club in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Next it was off to venture downtown to get a feel of what downtown Cooperstown is like during induction weekend.  Baseball fans, primarily wearing White Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Cardinals and A’s colors were everywhere.  Downtown Cooperstown was THE center of the baseball universe on this weekend.  Hall of Famers were signing autographs all over town, street vendors were selling delicious fare to satisfy the hunger that seemed to come out of nowhere, and of course, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was PACKED with fans too.  Nearly 7000 fans visited the Museum on Saturday alone!

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: White Sox fans join tens of thousands of other baseball fans downtown during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: White Sox fans join tens of thousands of other baseball fans downtown during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Later Saturday afternoon, it was time for the “Parade of Legends”, a four block parade down Main Street featuring the fifty Hall of Famers in town for the inductions, as well as the 2014 inductees.  Fans began reserving their spots along the parade route early Saturday morning, and by 6pm the sidewalks along Main Street were unnavigable.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: White Sox fans join tens of thousands of other baseball fans downtown during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: White Sox fans join tens of thousands of other baseball fans downtown during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Photo positions were limited… ala the Masters, photo and video crews were not allowed “inside the ropes”, making getting footage and images a challenge.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: Hall of Famer Johnny Bench entertained the crowd, posing for and taking photos of the fans during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: Hall of Famer Johnny Bench entertained the crowd, posing for and taking photos of the fans during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

I positioned myself in a photo box on the steps of the Museum at the end of the parade next to the red carpet.  We had one of our video crews with me, the others tried to get different angles along the parade route.  Talking to my cohorts later, it turns out it was quite a challenge for them in securing a spot where they wouldn’t be “ushered away”.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: Hall of Famer Johnny Bench entertained the crowd, posing for and taking photos of the fans during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: Hall of Famer Johnny Bench entertained the crowd, posing for and taking photos of the fans during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

One of my favorite moments was watching Johnny Bench having fun with the fans.  He was taking photos of the fans, assuming a body builders pose for all to shoot, genuinely (at least to me) seeming to me to be enjoying himself and having a good time.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26:  Fans call out for autographs as Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley abliges  during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: Fans call out for autographs as Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley abliges during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Greg Maddux had fun with the VIP section toward the end of the parade, and many players, such as Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor, Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs and others caved into the fans chants to stop by and sign autographs and pose for photos.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk is greeted by HOF President Jeff Idelson and HOF Chairman Jane Forbes Clark during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk and wife Linda are greeted by HOF President Jeff Idelson and HOF Chairman Jane Forbes Clark during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

When Frank arrived, he located his young son Frank III in the crowd and walked over to grab him so that Frank, wife Megan and Frankie could enjoy the private and very special Hall of Fame members only reception following the parade.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26:  2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas, wife Megan and son Frankie III pose for a photo during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas, wife Megan and son Frankie III pose for a photo during the annual Parade of Legends down Main Street in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Speaking of receptions, the White Sox hosted an invitation-only reception for Frank and Tony LaRussa at Templeton Hall Saturday evening.  Frank arrived around 7:30 and greeted those in attendance with a heartwarming thank you to all.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26:  2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas greets invited guests during a private reception held at Templeton Hall in Cooperstown, New York on July 26 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas greets invited guests during a private reception held at Templeton Hall in Cooperstown, New York on July 26 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Pure class, pure Frank, and a precursor to what was to follow the next day.  My favorite moment was when Frank reunited with his first big league manager, Jeff Torborg.  It was very emotional for both, and for me too… Jeff is one of THE BEST people in the world… Jermaine Dye was in the house, as were a few former teammates, such as Greg Norton.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26:  2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas reunites with former White Sox manager Jeff Torborg as Jeff's wife Suzie looks on during a private reception held at Templeton Hall in Cooperstown, New York on July 26 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas reunites with former White Sox manager Jeff Torborg as Jeff’s wife Suzie looks on during a private reception held at Templeton Hall in Cooperstown, New York on July 26 2014. (Ron Vesely)

I made my way through the party attempting to capture some casual moments before finally calling it a night and getting together wih my former MLB Photos partner, Paul “Leatherhead Sports” Cunningham for a late night beverage downtown.  Paul was born and raised in Cooperstown and his family still resides there, so every July Paulie comes back to town to assist helping the family make a little side cash parking cars for the induction ceremonies.  It was fun catching up with my old friend!

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 26: White Sox fans join tens of thousands of other baseball fans downtown during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 26: White Sox fans join tens of thousands of other baseball fans downtown during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, New York on July 26, 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Sunday was Induction Day, but my day started out with a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for a personal, one-on-one behind the scenes tour, guided by my new found friend, Tom Schieber, the Museum’s Senior Curator.  Wow! How lucky was I to have the world class treatment bestowed upon me on Induction Day!  Tom’s tour, albeit short for obvious reasons, was outstanding.  My thanks to all my friends at the Hall of Fame for their hospitality… Jeff Idelson, John Horne, Jenny Ambrose, Tom, Donny Lowe, Brad Horn, Milo Stewart and everyone else.. thank you!!  I’ll be back!! I definitely need much more time to fully digest the most wonderful baseball destination in the world!

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  A general view of the estimated 48,000 fans in attendance during the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: A general view of the estimated 48,000 fans in attendance during the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

By 11:30, it was time to head to the Clark Sports Complex for the ceremonies.  After the early morning thunderstorms moved out, a bit of heat and humidity greeted us as I joined perhaps 32 other still photographers in the photo pit directly in front of the stage.

I had a second row, isle seat which worked for me until my main subjects took the stage, when I traded places with the Chris, the Yankees photographer in attendance in the front row.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  Baseball Hall of Famers Dave Winfield (L) and Barry Larkin take "selfless" prior to the 2014 induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: Baseball Hall of Famers Dave Winfield (L) and Barry Larkin take “selfless” prior to the 2014 induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Each inductee’s speech was unique, entertaining and enlightening, as much as I could tell while concentrating on my task at hand, covering the event.  As in covering any sporting event, you have to be careful not to get caught up in the emotion of the moment, less you miss a picture.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  Baseball Hall of Famers Tom Seaver (L) and Sandy Koufax chat prior to the 2014 induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: Baseball Hall of Famers Tom Seaver (L) and Sandy Koufax chat prior to the 2014 induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Maddux… his reference to clubhouse shenanigans and “flatulence” made me chuckle and brought a sense of normalcy to the moment.  Bobby Cox, a pure pro.  Tom Glavine, his salute to his family upbringing was uplifting, Joe Torre’s reference to the many seated behind him for preventing him from entering the Hall as a player brought a smile as well.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Tony LaRussa gives his acceptance speech during the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: 2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Tony LaRussa gives his acceptance speech during the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

But Frank stole the show.  His emotional, nearly 18 minute salute of thanks to his parents, family, teammates and close friends was one I’m sure will not soon be forgotten, especially to those who were there on that humid Sunday afternoon.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Frank Thomas gives his acceptance speech during the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: 2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Frank Thomas gives his acceptance speech during the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

He spoke from the heart, and it showed.  I felt a sense of pride too, knowing that I have made the journey to Cooperstown with him, growing with him through the years and watching his Hall of Fame career develop, thrive and close in such spectacular fashion.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Frank Thomas cries during his acceptance speech during the 2014 HOF induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: 2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Frank Thomas wipes away tears during his emotional acceptance speech during the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Way to go, Big Man!  Following you throughout your career has been, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my professional career!

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Frank Thomas poses for a photo with his HOF plaque with Hall of Fame President Jeff Idleson (L), Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark and Baseball Commisioneer Bud Selig (R) during the 2014 induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 27: 2014 Baseball Hall of Famer inductee Frank Thomas poses for a photo with his HOF plaque with Hall of Fame President Jeff Idleson (L), Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark and Baseball Commisioneer Bud Selig (R) during the 2014 induction ceremonies held at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 27 2014. (Ron Vesely)

After a wonderful (and well deserved, I must say) team dinner on Sunday night, we prepared to fly home on Monday afternoon.   But first, our crew made one last visit to the Hall of Fame Museum to check out Frank’s plaque, on the wall and displayed wonderfully, next to Tony LaRussa’s, in the Hall’s gallery.

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 28:  A general view of fans lined up to view the freshly installed HOF plaques featuring the 2014 Hall of Fame inductees on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York on July 28 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 28: A general view of fans lined up to view the freshly installed HOF plaques featuring the 2014 Hall of Fame inductees on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York on July 28 2014. (Ron Vesely)

Wow!  Frank Thomas… Hall of Famer…

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 28:  Photographer Ron Vesely poses next to the plaque of 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas, on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York on July 28 2014. (Ron Vesely)

COOPERSTOWN, NY – JULY 28: White Sox team photographer Ron Vesely poses next to the plaque of 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas, on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York on July 28 2014. (Ron Vesely)

It IS for real!

 

 

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