2011 Hall of Fame class gearing up for big day

2011 Hall of Fame class gearing up for big day

2011 Hall of Fame class gearing up for big day
With little more than a week to go before the annual induction ceremonies at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this year's three inductees are making final preparations for their big day on July 24.

Second baseman Roberto Alomar, pitcher Bert Blyleven and general manager Pat Gillick form the Class of 2011, and each is dealing with the upcoming event in his own way.

Blyleven said on Friday during a series of conference calls that he'd yet to finish his acceptance speech and was "nervous" about the impending moment, which he called the biggest in his career.

"As a baseball player, being part of World Series championships is No. 1," said Blyleven, who played on the World Series-winning 1979 Pirates and '87 Twins. "As a player, those are things you hold on to for the rest of your life. But going into the Hall of Fame is higher than winning a World Series, believe it or not. In my opinion, it's the ultimate."

Gillick, in Seattle on Friday for a 10-year reunion of his 2001 Mariners team that tied the Major League record with 116 victories in a season, said he had finished his speech and was simply counting down the days to when he greets old friends again at the ceremony.

"To see some of those people that were involved in my early life when I got into professional baseball, them taking the time to come back -- I'm really touched deeply by that," he said.

Alomar, who works now as a consultant to the Blue Jays and played for seven teams, said he expected that his nerves are "going to take over" as he delivers his acceptance speech, which he will open in Spanish, his native language.

"I'm looking forward to that day," he said. "It'll feel like my first day in San Diego against Nolan Ryan, when the nerves took over. But after the first hit I felt good. I think nerves are going to be there. Your heart is going to be pumping. Your knees are going to be shaking. But at the same time, I'm looking forward to it. As Lou Gehrig said, 'I'm going to be the happiest man on the face of the Earth.'"

These inductions will have a distinct international flavor. Blyleven is the first Dutch-born player going into the Hall and Alomar is the third native of Puerto Rico, behind Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda. Alomar and Gillick, who was born and raised in California, are the first members of the Toronto Blue Jays organization to gain entrance to the Hall. The ceremony will be aired live on MLB Network and streamed simultaneously on MLB.com.

Gillick was general manager of the Blue Jays from the club's inception in 1977 through the championship years of '92-93. Alomar, who will be the first player to go in wearing a Blue Jays cap, was obtained by Gillick from the Padres in the Dec. 5, 1990, blockbuster trade that included Joe Carter and sent Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to San Diego.

"It's pretty special," said Gillick, who also signed Alomar as a free agent in late 1995 after he took over the helm of the Orioles. "I'll tell you, in the last 25 years I haven't seen anybody who can do anything at second base like Robbie Alomar did. There are routine plays, phenomenal plays and instinctive plays that he made that I haven't seen anybody in 25 years make. He's a pretty spectacular offensive and defensive player and I don't think we ever would have gone to the World Series in '92 [without him]."

Earlier this year, Alomar and Blyleven were elected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. It was Alomar's second year of eligibility and the 14th for Blyleven. Players have 15 years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot. Gillick was the only candidate elected by a 16-member post-expansion Veterans Committee late this past year. He most recently was the architect of the 2008 World Series-winning Phillies, and now continues to be an active consultant to his successor, Ruben Amaro Jr.

Blyleven, a long-time broadcaster for the Twins who pitched for five teams, said he had no explanation why it took so many years for the writers to elect him. He will go in wearing a Twins cap, and the club announced that it will retire his uniform No. 28 on Saturday. But he's most proud of being the first inductee from The Netherlands.

"I was only two years old when I left Holland," he said. "But I was born in Holland. My mom and dad grew up there during the [second World] War. That's my heritage and I'm very proud to be the first Dutch-born player to go into the Hall of Fame. I take that with a lot pride, because I represent my parents."

Alomar is the youngest member of a distinguished baseball playing family. His father, Sandy Alomar Sr., was a Major League infielder and coach. His older brother, Sandy Jr., was an All-Star catcher and is now a coach for the Indians, the team for which both siblings once played together. All of them are expected to be in Cooperstown for the induction weekend.

Alomar said that his dad was his hero as he grew up.

"He's the one I always followed," he said, adding that he's also proud to be entering the Hall 38 years after the great Clemente. The Pirates star right fielder died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve of 1972, while ferrying supplies from Puerto Rico to earthquake-torn Nicaragua.

"Just to be beside him and to have his name, Roberto, is something I will never forget," Alomar said. "For me, it is an honor to be representing my people. I came from a small town -- Salinas, Puerto Rico. It took a lot of hard work. Being Latino and being the third Puerto Rican in the Hall of Fame, I can humbly say that I'm so proud to be Puerto Rican."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.