COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It hits you when you first approach the beautiful village set hard against a Glimmerglass lake -- when you see the first hordes of No. 8 Orioles jerseys, when you come upon that unfurled blue-and-orange banner along Highway 80 that reads: "San Diego Welcomes Tony Gwynn, HOF 2007."
You are reminded that this is all about how they played the game. This is all for a guy like Cal Ripken, to remember the way he showed up to play baseball day after week after month after season, and you can get a little emotional thinking about how he approached an entire one-team career with such dedication. This is all for a guy like Gwynn, to remember the way he hit the batting cage at 7 a.m. every day during Spring Training, and you can get a little emotional thinking about how he approached an entire one-team career in which every pitch mattered as much as the next.
So this is what the 2007 Hall of Fame Induction Weekend looks like. There are already people everywhere, and they have come to pay homage to two men who played the game the way they wish everyone would play it. The induction is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday at the Clark Sports Center, and with a 40 percent chance of precipitation forecast, Hall of Fame officials announced Friday that a severe-weather contingency plan is in place that could mean a start a couple of hours later or even on Monday morning, with a private ceremony as a very last resort. Many people already were soaked here on Friday afternoon, but they didn't seem to mind.
"Tens of thousands of fans have made a special effort to be in Cooperstown for the inductions of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. into the National Baseball Hall of Fame," Hall president Dale Petroskey said. "We know these fans have waited many years to see their heroes inducted, and even though we cannot control the weather, we will do everything possible to hold the public ceremony."
It might go down as the biggest crowd for any induction in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It certainly will compare to big years like 1989 (Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski) and 1999 (Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount). By all accounts from shop owners, Hall officials and returning fans, Friday's infiltration of fans here makes recent years pale in comparison.
"At 7 o'clock this morning, both sides of Main Street were full, which is very unusual," said Mark Dyer of Rome, N.Y., up here to drive a shuttle during the festivities. Then he showed a visitor to the vast field at Clark Sports Center, where fans were already staking out spots for Sunday's scheduled induction ceremony. "This is going to be like Woodstock. That whole field will be covered in chairs. Tonight and [Saturday], they really start piling in. You can see the difference already."
"For the first time in a while, you can see the effects of Induction Weekend days before the event," said Cory Ballou, manager of the Take 2 souvenir store next door to the museum on Main Street. "It's exceptionally busy. We're expecting it to be moreso."
People have been waiting for this a long time. There was a time when it was thought that even Mark McGwire would be part of this particularly special Hall class, but he was snubbed by baseball writers in his first year of eligibility. It didn't matter much. They are coming from everywhere for the Cal and Tony Show, which is not to be confused with the dog and pony show. This is big. Incredibly big.
Just ask Mindy Goldman of White Marsh, Md. She is here for the first time, and was beside herself with giddy anticipation as she prepared to enter the museum.
"I'm 30 and a Cal Ripken fan my whole life," Goldman said, revealing a No. 8 tattoo on her right biceps and an Oriole tag on her right calf as illustrations. "I remember being 4 and becoming an Orioles fan. It's what I know. I was there for Streak Week [in 1995] and for his last game as an Oriole. It's the memories. This is just an unbelievable feeling. I can't believe I'm here!"
Just ask Terry Becker of San Diego. As his birthday present in May, his daughter reserved a bed-and-breakfast for him in nearby Amsterdam. It was her idea for him to be here, which seemed appropriate, given that he is a Premium Suite Host for the Padres at PETCO Park and a follower of San Diego baseball going all the way back to the late 1940s, when they had a Triple-A Pacific Coast League team.
"She knew I was a Padres fan, and I did some work for San Diego State, so I had known Tony from there as well," Becker said. "It meant a lot to be here. I have good memories of Tony's career. My favorite might be the same one he has. It was him hitting a home run in a  World Series game at Yankee Stadium."
Throngs filled the area outside the legendary 25 Main Street pantheon, and they walked past a face on the sidewalk that was probably familiar to many. It was the great Fergie Jenkins, who was inducted in 1991. He is the subject of Chapter 13 of the book, "Before the Glory," which was being promoted at a table.
|"I'm 30 and a Cal Ripken fan my whole life. It's what I know. I was there for Streak Week [in 1995] and for his last game as an Oriole. It's the memories. This is just an unbelievable feeling. I can't believe I'm here!"|
|-- Mindy Goldman|
It's how they played the game. Ripken was an Oriole. Gwynn was a Padre. Period. There are fans here wearing the colors simply of baseball -- Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals, the gamut. But mostly you see a lot of orange, a lot of No. 8 jerseys in tribute of the man who broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played -- and kept on going right until it reached 2,632. You see a lot of Padre love for a man who won eight National League batting titles -- one more than Stan the Man Musial.
"What you see now is Saturday," Ted Spencer, the Hall's vice president and chief curator, said on Friday. "I don't even want to know what Saturday is going to be like. The Hall of Fame Gallery [plaque room] looked like [New York's] Penn Station at 4 o'clock.
"This is my 26th induction, and I'd say that only one rivals it in anticipation, and that was '89 with Bench and Yaz. It's a personal opinion. The reason we can't really compare it is because the museum was a lot smaller in those days. The induction site was about 25 percent of the present capacity. And '95 was big, with [Mike] Schmidt and Richie Ashburn. I look at the density of the crowd, from days when I would set up chairs and hang bunting. I remember in '95, there were 14, 15 or 16 rows of chairs. Crowd density is pretty close here."
Baltimore obviously is a lot closer to upstate New York than is San Diego, so it is not surprising that there will be mostly Ripken legions here. But Padres fans were well-represented so far. Baseball fans were Gwynn fans. Baseball fans are Hall of Famer fans, by and large. If you're inducted, it means you made a lot of friends.
It means you played the game right.
That is the feeling that hits you when you first drive into Cooperstown, and you remember why everyone is here in the first place. Underneath all the hype, all the memorabilia craze, all the interviews, there is the memory. It is that of Ripken going out to his position day after day almost forever. It is that of Gwynn putting contact on the ball day after day and all those extra BP sessions.
They're about to officially become Hall of Famers. And in an exhibit titled, "Scribes & Mikemen of the Game," behind glass is that old Underwood typewriter that accepted some of the greatest prose in baseball history on a regular basis. Some things never change. We're still talking about baseball and how they played the game.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.