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!
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.
Here’s a slideshow of my favorite images from the weekend:
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Photo positions were limited… ala the Masters, photo and video crews were not allowed “inside the ropes”, making getting footage and images a challenge.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Way to go, Big Man! Following you throughout your career has been, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my professional career!
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.
Wow! Frank Thomas… Hall of Famer…
It IS for real!