Sandberg visits Cooperstown

Sandberg visits Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN -- For a Hall of Fame player, the road to baseball immortality begins during youth, when he picks up a bat, a ball and a glove for the first time. The journey to baseball's Mecca then reaches its ceremonial finish on a Sunday afternoon in July, when a retired legend addresses thousands of onlookers in completing his induction.

Yet there is at least one preliminary trek that is often made to Cooperstown in the months preceding Hall of Fame Weekend. It is a trip that has become part of the induction process since the mid-1990s -- an opportunity to learn about the museum, unearth baseball history in the Hall's Library, and become more familiar with the hectic schedule of Hall of Fame Weekend.

For one of the two members of the Hall's class of 2005, that preliminary trip to Cooperstown took place on Tuesday. Longtime Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg visited Cooperstown on Tuesday morning, a full three months before his July 31 induction. Sandberg met the Hall's staff and took a 90-minute tour of the museum complex, visiting two of its three main floors, the library and its storage collection.

"Everything is just amazing," said Sandberg, who was accompanied by his wife, Margaret. "The whole town -- Cooperstown -- is unique. And then to have the Hall of Fame here is just a perfect setting -- one of a kind."

The 10-time All-Star was struck by the museum's centerpiece, where he will eventually be immortalized. "The gallery, with the plaques," Sandberg said with emotional emphasis. "The history there -- that was a big thrill."

While visiting the Hall's library, Sandberg looked through his own biographical file, which contains an array of newspaper clippings. Respectful of baseball history, Sandberg also examined the file of another player -- the man who influenced an important decision by his parents.

"I was named after Ryne Duren," Sandberg said, referring to the former New York Yankees reliever. "My parents went to a game, I believe it was in Minneapolis, and [Duren] pitched. They noticed the name and then they saw headlines the next day, 'Ryne shuts the door On the Twins.' They took that name, and came up with 'Ryne Dee,' which I grew up with. Then in 1979, I was in the Phillies' Minor League camp, and [Duren] came in and spoke to everybody. I met him for the first time."

After the viewing of Duren's file, Sandberg's Hall of Fame tour concluded in the Bullpen Theater, where a 15-minute video tribute was shown. The video featured remarks from many of Sandberg's teammates and managers, including Greg Maddux, Gary Matthews, Rick Sutcliffe, Gene Michael and Don Zimmer.

Like fellow 2005 electee Wade Boggs, Sandberg himself is well represented within the walls of Cooperstown. Over the years, the nine-time Gold Glover has donated several artifacts to the museum. The Hall's collection includes the following Sandberg items: his 1988 Cubs cap and spikes; a baseball from his record-setting 123-game errorless streak; and the bat he used in becoming the most prolific home run hitter among second basemen.

Sandberg fondly recalls the first time he was asked to donate an item. "It was huge. I couldn't wait to give something," said Sandberg. "I was honored, to be a part of history like that. When I was first asked, I said, 'Wow, the Hall of Fame wants something.' "

For Sandberg, Tuesday's visit was not his first trip to Cooperstown. In 1988, Sandberg played in the Hall of Fame Game at historic Doubleday Field. "We basically bussed in and played the game at the field out here, did not get to tour the museum, and then left afterwards," Sandberg recalled. Although the visit was quick, it was still memorable for Sandberg, given his performance at Doubleday Field. "My first at-bat, I hit a home run to right-center field, which was a big thrill."

As with all incoming Hall of Famers, Sandberg's orientation visit gives him a chance to become acclimated to Cooperstown and the upcoming demands of Hall of Fame Weekend. While Sandberg has begun working on his speech, he concedes that his induction will carry some emotional surprises. "There's no practicing this," Sandberg admitted. "I'm a big guy about being prepared and practicing, and being ready, but there's none of that with this. This just kind of hits, and it's very cool."

In 1997, Sandberg retired permanently from the game, beginning an eight-year wait that will soon result in his acceptance into baseball's most exclusive club. With his preliminary visit to the Hall of Fame now complete, his next experience in Cooperstown -- during Hall of Fame Weekend -- should be a little bit easier and a little less overwhelming. Even though, as Sandberg readily admits, it really can't be practiced.

Notes: On the same day that Sandberg toured the Hall of Fame and museum, another Hall of Famer was on the premises in Cooperstown. Ozzie Smith hosted a one-day electronic field trip about baseball's roots in the 19th century. The broadcast was seen by an estimated 15 million students.

Bruce Markusen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.