I met legends and saw grown men cry.
I stood in line for hours to get an autograph on a thin piece of cardboard, then walked around a building looking at dirty old relics from yesteryear.
I sat on the ground in the sun in 90 degree weather, just to hear one man talk for 30 minutes about how he reached his ultimate vindication.
It was Cooperstown during Hall of Fame induction weekend, and it was incredible.
I was one of thousands there to celebrate the career of lifelong Red Barry Larkin and the “No. 1 Cub fan” Ron Santo.
It was probably the first time I’ve seen Cubs and Reds fans act so amicable towards each other.
But we weren’t there to start fights or to claim who was better. We were all there to celebrate baseball, and the legends who made the game great.
It was not a pleasant trip — over 12 hours in a car to get back to the lovely city of Portsmouth where my parents are from. And we didn’t get back until 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
But was it worth it! Here are some of the experiences I’ll remember for a lifetime.
‰Watching Wheelersburg native Gene Bennett reminisce with Reds fans about Larkin. Bennett has been in the Reds organization for a long time, and in fact was the man who signed Larkin to the Reds.
One of the best moments was watching him light up when a younger fan tried on his Scouting Hall-of-Fame ring.
‰Watching a grown man cry openly after seeing Ron Santo’s family. I’ve learned that Santo is the true Mr. Cub after watching this man, who looked to be in his late 40s, break down after seeing Santo’s wife.
I shared this experience with a friend of mine, who is a huge Cubs fan as well. He responded simply by saying, “Those aren’t tears, they’re Cubs logos falling from tear ducts.”
‰Just walking to streets of Cooperstown, which is a place all about baseball. Its shopping is baseball-oriented. Its restaurants are baseball-themed. Even its bakeries specialize in baseball-shaped cookies.
It was just amazing to see all that was available for a true baseball fan, from vintage equipment to anything you think of autographed by anyone you can think of. It’s just an amazing experience.
‰Getting autographs. This was an expensive part of the trip, because the only way to meet and interact with these legends was to pay a fee.
But it was worth it to watch Johnny Bench sign my jersey that I wear to ball games (it will never be worn again now). It was worth it to watch Ozzie Smith crack up when I told him, “Thank you for retiring to give Larkin some All-Star games.”
It was more than worth it to shake hands with Tony Gwynn, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Wade Boggs and Frank Robinson. There may have been a fee, but the fee was more than worth it.
‰Seeing Charlie Sheen in a Reds cap celebrating the career of Barry Larkin. As a huge fan of the movie “Major League,” it was pretty neat seeing the man who portrayed “Wild Thing,” celebrating your favorite player.
‰Being one of the first fans to see the Hall-of-Fame plaque of Barry Louis Larkin. This was a little aggravating as it took a while for the plaque to go up — the induction ceremony ended at 3:30 p.m. and the plaque didn’t go up until 7.
But there was something special about being one of the first fans to view it in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, where it will be hanging until the end of time.
‰Talking with the all-time hit king Pete Rose. The first thing that came out of my mouth was that my father and I were from Portsmouth.
The first thing out of Rose’s mouth was the names Al Oliver and Gene Tenace, our local major league baseball players. From then it was like Pete and my dad were the best of friends.
My dad even sat down for the first, and only, picture he took all weekend. Rose may have a bad reputation, but will always show class and affection for those who love to just call him Pete.
‰Meeting Barry Larkin. This was probably the whole highlight for me: getting my Barry Larkin 1987 rookie card signed by the latest addition to the Hall of Fame.
And just like the first time we met at Union Station all those years ago, he took the time to talk to me, along with everyone who stood in line to just get a glimpse of him.
More than 200 people stood in line on Monday afternoon, and Larkin met with all of them, and the smile never left his face. The last words I said to him were “Thank you for everything Barry.” And honestly I meant it. He gave me all those years of enjoyment, and added just one more shining moment to his career as my favorite player.
So once again, thank you Barry.
‰Thank you Dad. When it was announced Larkin would be entering the Hall of Fame, I got a phone call from my dad an hour later. He said, “I got us rooms for Cooperstown.”
Every line, every bite to eat, every step and every legend I met, my dad was with me every step of the way. And when I didn’t have enough money to meet the next legend, my dad was there to help me out.
In fact, my older brother was supposed to join us on this trek, but at the last minute had to cancel because of work obligations. To say he was upset would be an understatement.
But it didn’t matter to my dad, as he made sure there was two of every autograph, two of every commemorative jersey and two of every program.
And while Larkin was always my favorite player, it was my dad that proved to be the real hall-of-famer this weekend.
So once again, thank you Dad.
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658.
I met legends and saw grown men cry.
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