Guaranteed to have the time of your life

There comes a time in every baseball fan's life when you begin to realize that your capacity to sit in an open field in upstate New York for four to five hours on a late July day is probably not going to grow. And, for Mets fans, there is the added realization that there may not be many more opportunities to see someone go into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Met.

So, with that in mind, when I saw that the 7 Line Army (the group of hardcore Mets fans who occupy the right center outfield section of Citi Field and occasionally travel to other ballparks) was planning an overnight camping trip to see Mike Piazza enter the Hall of Fame, I was intrigued. Intrigued, but not completely sold.

I have deftly avoided camping my entire life, and I wasn't sure that 39 was the right age to jump into that, especially on the grounds of the Ommegang Brewery with, I was assuming, people who probably enjoyed drinking beer a lot. And I'm not a huge fan of the idea of sleeping in mud and/or being pelted with rain while I slept, so the weather variable was an issue.

So I waited a long time to commit, but when it seemed like the forecast was good I finally decided I was in and made the trip to Sears to buy my first tent and a new sleeping bag. And then I went home to reserve my seat on the bus. Which is when I discovered that the trip was sold out.


That put a crimp in things. But after the initial disappointment, I decided it just wasn't meant to be. Though I might never see a Met get inducted into the Hall of Fame, I could always go back some other year (and one with a much smaller crowd than was expected for Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr.) and still cross "going to a Hall of Fame induction" off the bucket list.

Except I couldn't quite give up on the idea. I've been going to Cooperstown since I was a kid. I think the first time was when I was maybe 8 or 9, with my family, and I've probably been there more than a dozen times since, both with family members and with friends from college on what was once a yearly trip to the Hall before life and adulthood got in the way. And I'd always wanted to see an induction ceremony. Seeing a Met inducted would be great, too. And, well, it's been a rough year so far. So this year, more than any other, felt like the year I had to go to the induction ceremony.

So I checked on the 7 Line forum to see if there was any one who had a last-minute cancellation and maybe had an extra ticket. You gotta believe, right? There wasn't anything when I first checked, but when I checked at lunchtime on Friday, there was indeed a message posted an hour earlier saying that a friend had a last-minute emergency and couldn't attend. So I quickly fired off an email, and an hour later, the trip was on again.

Now I just had to figure out how to do work I had planned to do over the weekend in the next 10 hours so I could get to the Citi Field parking lot at 5:30 Saturday morning.

Somehow I did it and left my apartment a little after 3 a.m. to begin the multitrain journey to Citi Field. I arrived early, because I'm a champion. A very tired champion. And I still have a little of this kid on his first trip to Cooperstown in me.

After settling up with my last-minute ticket connection, I boarded one of the 13 buses chartered for the trip and burned up the last bit of adrenaline keeping me alert. We sat on the bus for a bit as we waited for all the seats to be filled (one of which was occupied by a guy who came wearing a Yankees A-Rod jersey...I can't even), but we eventually pulled out of the parking lot around 6:45. And, then, at about 6:55, we pulled onto the Grand Central Parkway. That would've been great if we were, as the sign leading up to the ramp said, a passenger car. We were not. We were a bus. With a height that would be problematic when we reached an overpass with a height a few feet lower. Which we did about a minute later. And that's when our bus, and the bus behind us, proceeded to go in reverse on the Grand Central Parkway.

Strong start to the trip.

We made our way out of that alive (and also survived making a thoroughly illegal U-turn in order to put us back in the right direction), and the rest of the trip passed by largely trouble-free. There were some touch-and-go moments when the guy who had commandeered use of the in-bus audio ran out of Mets-related music and eventually decided to play "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" and scenes from "Rocky IV" (the latter because our driver was Russian), but, all in all, it was a smooth ride through the Catskills via the route we always took when I was younger.

We arrived a little after 11 and I soon commenced trying to figure out how to erect a tent. With plenty of help from the guys next to me, who kindly refrained from calling me a moron when they saw what I was doing, I got set up and then walked around a bit, as we had a few hours before the shuttle buses heading downtown arrived.

Main Street in Cooperstown was closed off to cars by the time we got downtown and, not surprisingly, the sidewalks were pretty crowded. The line for the Hall of Fame went down the block, so I figured I'd skip it this time around. But then I remembered the kid behind me on the shuttle bus saying that if you bought a membership, you could skip the line. I'd been a member several times, so I figured why not go all in again. I wound up being the last person they let in via the membership route, but it was so crowded that I just did a quick run-through, mainly to see the Piazza display (which featured, to the delight of many of my fellow tent dwellers, the 7 Line Army).

Waiting for the plaque

And, of course, I needed to take my updated picture in Hank Aaron's locker. I'm sure I looked like a lunatic in my single-minded mission, but, hey, mission accomplished.

There were a bunch of players signing autographs in town, including Lenny Dykstra, Howard Johnson, George Foster, Denny McLain, Jesse Orosco, and, of course, Pete Rose. I refrained from making any autograph purchases (though if Lenny had his book, I would've bought it) and headed off to the 4:30 mass at St. Mary's in Cooperstown, where, no joke, the closing hymn was "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (and on Monday, I read that Piazza went to the same church for 7:30 mass Sunday morning).

After mass, I headed back down to Main Street for the Hall of Fame Parade, where the Hall of Famers ride on the back of pickup trucks and wave to the fans on the sidewalk. It sounds a little uninteresting, but I found myself enjoying it much more than I expected I would. For a while, I was standing right near some of the '69 Miracle Mets, who were signing autographs outside one of the store, and watching them watch the parade like they were fans themselves and not peers of the guys coming down the street. Seeing Cleon Jones get up on his chair and yell, "Hey, old man!" as Billy Williams drove by was one of the highlights of the weekend.

Johnny Bench

Dave Winfield

Frank Thomas

Randy Johnson

Ken Griffey Jr. and his son, Trey

Mike Piazza closing out the parade.

After the parade ended and I loaded up on baked goods (and a bottle of Mello Yello!) at Schneider's Bakery and water at CVS, I headed back to where we hoped the shuttle bus would be (there were some last-minute changes with the shuttles) and was delighted when they did indeed show up. I headed back to Ommegang to watch the Mets game in the restaurant (and charge phones), during which we all endured a brief bout of taunting from Phillies fans (the restaurant was, sadly, still open to the non-tent-dwelling public). When it appeared it clearly wasn't the Mets' night, I headed outside to watch the end of 80s cover band Flux Capacitor's set. And the end was a good part to catch, because the lead singer of the band wound up diving off a speaker and crowd surfing (or, more aptly, being tossed in the air by the crowd), soon followed by 7 Line Army captain Darren and one other 7 Line Army member. And then there was a big group photo and lots of flag waving. Good times, nearly derailed when a guy started yelling at someone wearing a Barry Bonds jersey and many angry words were exchanged. But the good times prevailed.

Well, except for the guys whose tent was jumped on by some random dude not once, but twice (I'm guessing it was different dudes, but it's hard to know for sure). The first time was sometime in the afternoon, as I came back to my tent and discovered these guys' tent bent into a pretzel shape. The second time was sometime around 11 p.m. and occurred while the guys were standing right by their now jerry-rigged tent and talking (and I was in my tent, thinking about sleeping). Something about their tent really angered people. They eventually got hold of the tent jumper (not that difficult), and the perps wound up being locals who, I guess, just wanted to head up to the campground and break a tent. To their credit, the guys whose tent was destroyed were awfully calm about it. It's a very Mets fan type of reaction. Yeah, everything's falling apart. That's what things do. Let's just move on. Yankee fans probably would've raped people and shot them.

After legitimately catching a few hours of sleep, Sunday morning came around. I was pleased to discover that I had no discernible odor emanating from me, because though there was a shower trailer, I had no intention of availing myself of that experience. So, after packing up the tent and sleeping bag, I headed for the line for the buses that would take us to the induction ceremony. That wound up being yet another fun bus experience, as we wound up taking a 20-minute detour for reasons I'm still not sure of, which was followed by missing the turn for bus parking and burning another 15 minutes. But we made it there and everyone scattered to find a spot on the lawn. There weren't a lot of good spots to be had, but taking advantage of my solo status, I squeezed in between some chairs and wound up with a halfway decent spot (though since I didn't bring a chair, I watched a lot of the ceremony in a catcher's squat, which I like to think I did subconsciously as a tribute to Piazza rather than as a result of poor planning).

View looking back

View looking to the stage

I wound up walking down to Main Street to avoid sitting in the blazing sun for three hours waiting for the ceremony to start, but I arrived back to my tiny patch of grass about a half-hour before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. The people who had put down their chairs were still not in them, so I briefly allowed myself to dream that they found a better spot and just decided to abandon their chairs. Alas, everybody came back about five minutes before the ceremony started, and I suspect they weren't all that thrilled to discover that I had taken up the tiny bit of space that was available. Oh well. That's what you get for your "put down my chairs and leave for four hours to hide somewhere in shade" strategy.

For my part, I was not thrilled when about 15 minutes before the ceremony started, the Mariners fans a little ways up decided to erect a giant beach umbrella to entirely block the little view that I had of the stage. I mean, if you're going to put up a giant umbrella, it seems like there should be more advance warning to the people behind you than 15 minutes. It's not like I can move somewhere else at that point. But I held out hope that once the ceremony started, they'd be respectful and put the umbrella down. I like to believe in people's ultimate sense of fairness. It's a fun belief to have. Of course, it's a crazy belief, and, not only did the beach umbrella remain, but a few more umbrellas went up among the late arrivers, including the people on each side of me who showed up five minutes before the ceremony. Super fun for the people behind them, I supposed.

Then, maybe 10 minutes or so into the ceremony, a gentlemen with the Hall of Fame came over and kindly asked the woman on my left to consider putting down her umbrella out of respect to the people behind her. And that's when the woman next to me threw a tantrum. It seemed like she did not want to be there anyway, and was dragged by her boyfriend/husband/whoever was sitting next to her. So, that, combined with the heat and now this perfectly reasonable umbrella request, resulted in the fuse being lit and the explosion taking place. She refused, pointing out the people with umbrellas in front of her (who, the HOF guy explained, were about to be told the same thing she had been told) and then eventually devolving into "What about the people in front of me who are taller than me? Tell them to move their heads! I can't see over them!" And there was lots more after that, but I tried to ignore as best I could. She (and most everybody else, except the guy to my right, who just lowered his umbrella) eventually complied and then proceeded in her fit for a while before eventually calming down. Until she started talking during Piazza's speech ("Why is he crying?"), at which point I almost had to say something. But I felt like she was waiting for someone to punch, and I was not interested in that person being me.

All that said, I had a great time at the ceremony, and, most importantly, hydrated successfully. I thought both speeches were fantastic, and I was glad I was there to hear them (and see them while in a squat) in person. And the bus ride back to Citi Field, though not entirely uneventful (our driver, when faced with a decision, seemed to consistently choose the one that resulted in us being in the bus longer) at least did not involve any moments when I felt like I might be killed. And, really, that's all you can hope for for any bus trip.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is the only major sport hall of fame I care about at all, and certainly the only one whose induction ceremony was something I wanted to see. Baseball was the first sport I cared about, the first one that really grabbed hold of me when I was a kid (and the Mets were terrible). I was never very good at playing it (I was 0-for-my-little-league-career), but that never tempered my love for the game. It also was the sport closest to my mom's heart. My dad grew up a Giants fan and cast his lot with the Mets, but surely not as fervently as he had with the Giants as a kid. My Brooklyn-born mom, however, who grew up a Dodgers fan, became a devoted Mets backer, even when things got so tense she couldn't bear to watch (during Game 6 of the NLCS in 1986, she drove around the neighborhood and came back several times to check if they'd won, and in the decisive game of the NLDS last year, she forbid me from listening on the radio because she couldn't handle it). So, sitting in my tent at Ommegang and on the grass at the Clark Sports Center, I had her with me. Well, both of my parents are with me everywhere, but wherever there's a Mets celebration (as few and far between as they might be), my mom will always be there. She would've wanted me there in Cooperstown last weekend. I wish I could've called her the next day to tell her all about it.

So that's what this was.

Let's go Mets.
Mom at the Hall of Fame ca. 1985.