COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) – On the day before the biggest moment of their baseball lives, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were still trying to fathom it all.
“I think it’s a bit nerve-wracking, but it’s a beautiful thing,” Ripken said Saturday as he contemplated his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. “It’s a celebration of baseball. It’s a wonderful time. But I guess there’s just a little anxiety. It’s running a little bit higher than usual. I feel that, and I also feel a sense of fatigue that I’ve never felt before. I’ll sleep for three weeks after this is all over.”
Gwynn was feeling a little calmer.
“I was nervous for six and a half months, and then getting here and meeting the guys, a calmness has come over me,” Gwynn added. “I’d like to keep it until tomorrow afternoon. It is unbelievable. This place is truly unbelievable.”
According to Brad Horn, director of communications for the Hall of Fame, at least 200 buses were scheduled to arrive in town, mostly from Maryland. And Gwynn said four chartered flights were slated to make the trip east from San Diego for the ceremony.
It didn’t seem to be a coincidence that an expected record crowd of more than 50,000 – (a year ago only an estimated 11,000 were in town when former reliever Bruce Sutter was the only player selected) already had begun to descend on this one-stoplight village. The throng turned Main Street into a sea of memorabilia and briefly forcing the Hall of Fame to close because of fire safety issues. Ripken and Gwynn are members of a dying breed, having played their entire careers with one team, and they have been tremendous ambassadors for a game that’s had its reputation stained by steroids.
“I think the fact that there are so many people (coming) is a reflection on what kind of people the fans think Cal and I are,” said Gwynn, who accumulated 3,141 hits, eight NL batting titles and a career .338 average in 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres. “The feedback I’m getting is that we did things the right way.”
Said Ripken: “I don’t know if we can always figure out the reason why, but I’m thankful that it’s happening.”
Ripken played in a record 2,632 consecutive games in a spectacular 21-year career with the Baltimore Orioles and is one of only seven players in major-league history with more than 400 home runs and 3,000 hits.
Also to be present Sunday will be a record 53 of the 63 living Hall of Famers – from Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Bob Feller to more recent inductees Ryne Sandberg, Dennis Eckersley and Gary Carter.
Among those who will not be here is baseball’s home-run king, Hank Aaron.
Aaron has been an infrequent visitor to the Hall of Fame since his induction in 1982, and has shied from the media during Barry Bonds’ quest for 755 home runs. Bonds faces a good chance of being indicted for lying to a grand jury about whether he knowingly used steroids.
Aaron has said he won’t be there when Bonds eclipses his 33-year-old record, and Bonds hit a soaring drive for No. 754 on Friday night.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wasn’t there to see that homer, sending MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy in his place. The commissioner was preparing to come here for Sunday’s induction ceremony but had not arrived in Cooperstown by late Saturday afternoon. Selig is scheduled to be in Los Angeles starting Tuesday.
Among the memorabilia on display a few doors down from the Hall of Fame was a T-shirt with this emblazoned in big letters: “755 without steroids” preceded by an asterisk.