Less than two months after earning baseball’s greatest honor, Jim Kaat returned to Cooperstown in support of some new Central New York friends.
Kaat, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame July 24 as part of the Class of 2022, served as the celebrity host for the Pathfinder Village/Baseball Hall of Fame Golf Invitational September 19 at the Leatherstocking Golf Course in Cooperstown.
As the master of ceremonies, Kaat — who won 283 games and 16 Gold Glove Awards during his record-setting 25-year big league career — was featured as the guest speaker at that evening’s fundraiser dinner.
Special to The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta [A byline note: With this as my final piece for publication in The Freeman’s Journal /Hometown Oneonta, I hope readers will indulge a first-person tour through this past weekend’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. I hadn’t attended an induction since 1983 when I covered the event for The Freeman’s Journal. So much has changed since then but one thing has remained constant — the unifying power of baseball. Here’s my take.]
It’s not every day that Cooperstown finds itself festooned with flags from the Dominican Republic, but on the weekend when the National Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed the island nation’s own David “Big Papi” Ortiz into its exclusive ranks, there was no mistaking the party atmosphere pervading the village.
“We’re all ‘Big Papi’ this weekend, my friend!” one gentleman told me when I asked his name. That’s all I needed to know.
He and his family and friends — some dressed in Boston Red Sox garb like thousands of others lining Main, Chestnut, and Lake streets for the July 23 parade featuring some four dozen Hall of Famers — traveled to Cooperstown from the Dominican Republic to cheer on their hero. They staked their position on the corner of Main and Chestnut; the moment Mr. Ortiz’s ride — the last in the hour-long parade — came into view — their jubilant cheers said it all about the weekend.
And what a weekend it was. Dominican pride was well on display the next afternoon, July 24, when more than 30,000 fans poured onto the Clark Sports Center field to watch as Mr. Ortiz — along with Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso, and Buck O’Neil joined the 333 baseball immortals already enshrined. Fans had begun setting their tents, chairs, and blankets to reserve their spaces as early as the prior Thursday; as the 1:30 p.m.
While Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association dance delicately or otherwise around the current lockout situation, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum presses ahead with news and announcements to keep the faithful alert throughout the winter.
This week, the Hall announced the election of six all-time greats through the Eras Committee process, inducting players from the ‘Golden Days’ (1950-69) and the ‘Early Baseball Era’ panels.
Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, and Tony Oliva enter the Hall from the Golden Days; Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil from the Early Era.