Hundreds of baseball fans of all stripes and allegiances crowded the sidewalks of Main Street on Saturday, walking up and down and frequenting many of the memorabilia shops in town. Some came for autographs from their favorite players, and some came just to soak in the atmosphere.
Colonel Mark Rado, a Long Island native now stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky, said he annually makes the trip to Cooperstown with his brother-in-law Tom Kellermann. Rado drove all the way from Kentucky, stopping to pick up family on Long Island and then driving up to Cooperstown.
It's a tradition, he said, that they've been carrying on since 1994, when Rado came up to see the late broadcaster Phil Rizzuto get inducted, and he's only missed one induction since.
"The fans keep us coming back," Rado said. "Especially a year like this, where there's not a Cal Ripken Jr. There's not a Barry Larkin or a Wade Boggs going in. The people that are here this year are fans of the game as opposed to fans of a certain team or player. That's what we are. Fans of the game."
Rado was speaking early in the day, but Main Street would see an even bigger influx of fans a few hours later for the "Parade of Legends." Pedestrians lined the streets 10 deep for a look at some of the game's immortal players, and broadcaster Gary Thorne introduced them one by one.
First came the day's honorees, Paul Hagen of MLB.com and Shirley Cheek, widow of the late Tom Cheek. Hagen had won the Spink Award for contributions to baseball writing, and Cheek was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. Shirley Cheek and Hagen sat atop a pickup truck, waving to the crowd on both sides of the street.
Next came Tommy John and Dr. Frank Jobe -- creator of the ubiquitous surgery that carries John's name -- in a Mustang, followed by Thomas Tull, the founder of Legendary Pictures, which produced the Jackie Robinsion biopic "42." Tull and Jobe had been honored at Doubleday Field following the presentation of the Spink and Frick awards.
And then came the players, ordered by year of induction. Whitey Ford, great ace of so many Yankees pennant-winning teams, came first, followed by former slugger and broadcaster Ralph Kiner. Moments later, two of the greatest living ballplayers -- Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson -- followed them.
Aaron received a truly thunderous response as his pickup truck meandered down Main Street, and Robinson pumped his first and pointed to a group of children chanting his name. Truck after truck delivered epic players to the steps of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Ernie and Tim Grassey of Boston, a father-and-son combination, took in the parade with delight, snapping pictures and clapping for each of the players in turn. Tim Grassey, wearing a Nolan Ryan T-shirt, said that he first showed up in Cooperstown to see his favorite player's induction.
"We've been coming since 1999," he said. "We wanted to come and were hoping to see both Nolan Ryan and Carlton Fisk that year, but his favorite player isn't as good as my favorite player."
Ryan was inducted along with George Brett and Robin Yount, while Fisk entered the Hall a year later.
Ernie Grassey, Tim's father, smiled at that sentiment and delivered some punchlines of his own. Cooperstown never gets old, he said, not even if you've done it 14 years in a row.
"It's a good father-son weekend. You can be a total baseball nerd here and be among friends. You need to buy souvenirs that you don't need but can't live without," said Grassey, "We do all that. We take pictures, buy cards, shirts. All the stuff that becomes too major a part of our wardrobe."
The Grasseys were speaking as truck after truck with famous players rolled by, and they continued snapping pictures even as they talked about the town's timeless allure.
"This is pretty cool," said the elder Grassey. "They get the best 50 pickup trucks in town. They get barca loungers or sofas on them, and it's an honor. They fight to get their truck chosen. And you get a chance to be this close without spending $100 on an autograph. And a picture, to me, is great."
Thorne, standing by the flagpole on Main Street, offered brief comments on each of the players in his inimitable voice and style. When former pitcher and former Congressman and Senator Jim Bunning rolled by, Thorne intoned, "From the ballpark to the halls of Congress and the Hall of Fame."
It all made for great theater, even in a year with no living players inducted. Rado, who estimated that he drove about 15 hours from Kentucky, said he wasn't bothered by the relatively subdued atmosphere. He's seen busier inductions, he said, but he enjoyed having some elbow room, too.
"It's dedication to here. It's all about Cooperstown," said Rado of his yearly pilgrimmage to the Hall of Fame. "It's all about the Hall of Fame, just being here and being a fan of the game."