EDITOR'S NOTE: WCPO is looking back on Ken Griffey Jr.'s life growing up in Cincinnati, stunning success and Hall of Fame career. See all of our coverage at WCPO.com/griffey
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- From the farthest distance in deep center field at Clark Sports Center, Ken Griffey looked smaller than a speck – he didn’t look like anything; all one could see was the white canopy beneath which he stood -- but that didn’t matter to 14-year-old Perry Ransom.
Ransom came here to listen, and to feel.
“I wanted to be here,” said Ransom. “I wanted to hear what my idol sounds like; I know what he looks like. I’m too young to remember having seen him play, but I’ve watched that swing over and over and over again (online). Even though I’m right-handed, that’s the swing I’d love to have.”
Tire-tracks of the whitest of clouds crisscrossed the bluest of blue skies in these foothills of the Adirondacks. A splash of orange, yellow and blue-green cloud appeared out of nowhere just over Ransom’s right shoulder. And don’t ask me how this happened, but 24 sea gulls – Griffey’s jersey number in his first stint with Seattle, before he changed to “30” (his father’s number with the Reds) once he got to Cincinnati, and then “3” (to honor his three kids) – rimmed the infield of the practice green here in what amounted to right-field foul territory at the Clark Sports Center.
And how about you, Pops, Perry Ransom Sr.? Why are you here all the way from Canton, Connecticut?
“I’m here because of these two guys,” said Sr., pointing to his son, wearing a Reds “Griffey – 30,” and their friend Nick Tedone, wearing a Reds’ cap. “And how about his crowd? What’s this say about the game? I’ll tell ya’ what it says: It’s alive.”
The four soccer goals in the distant reaches of the Clark Sports Center were empty. Nine-year-old Trenton Smith, of Miles City, Montana – who had to be at home on this Big Sky day -- played pitch-and-catch with his buddies in a Griffey jersey. One of his buddies wore a “Cespedes—52” shirt. A large blend of mostly Mets fans relaxed in the shade of oak and pine trees as far away from the main stage as one could get. Seattle-ites in Mariners’ navy blue, northwest green and metallic silver -- not accustomed to such sunny days – took advantage of it.
The Seattle fans are a pretty laid-back group. They got a good laugh from what I thought was one of Griffey’s better lines. He said this in referring to his mother, Birdie, in a way every mother – especially one with grandkids – can relate:
“She’s the only woman I know that lives in one house, but runs five others.”
No son can get away with a line like that unless he has a wonderful relationship with his mother. That speaks as highly of Griffey as anything else. The sensitive “Griff” is the one Mariners fans fell in love with, a love that seldom waned. I canvassed the entire crowd and can say for sure the Griffey jerseys solidly outweighed Piazzas, mainly because the Griffey jerseys came in bunches, four and five in a group, entire families outfitted in them.
The Mets fans are more call-and-response. When Piazza asked Mets fans, “How can I thank you?” I was standing next to a 30-something in a Piazza jersey who hollered back, “You’re welcome!” When Piazza said he was made better by a rough start with the Mets, whose fans gave him no slack, the fan yelled, “Damn right!”
The crowd was packed pretty tight. The landscape is a wonder to behold at 9:30 a.m. -- four hours before jump – as line after line of colorful but empty camp- and lounge-chairs, scores of rows deep set out the night before, run from the VIP section almost to the tree line. The steady influx of fans begins about 11:30; by 12:30 it’s the car-line outside Dyersville, Iowa, in the movie, “Field of Dreams;” by 1 p.m., if you’re coming, you’re either here or just finishing up the bag check outside.
A Hall dignitary told me that the Hall has to wait on State Police estimates before making the 2016 count official. But right now, it’s slotted “Top Five,” and maybe “Top Three.” He took the sunny side, guess-timating it at third all-time.
The biggest induction draws are these:
2007: 82,000 (Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn)
1999: 50,000 (Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Orlando Cepeda)
2016*: 50,000 (Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza)
2015: 45,000 (Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio)
1995: 40,000 (Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn)
The coming years have some excellent names on the ballot:
2017: Pudge Rodriguez
2018: Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome
2019: Mariano Rivera
2020: Derek Jeter
Those are some great names, especially Rivera and Jeter. There are some numbers’ projectors who believe Rivera and Jeter both could receive 100 percent of the vote, eclipsing Griffey (99.32), who eclipsed Tom Seaver (98.84).
And in what could be the greatest one-man show on earth, what about “The Captain” in 2020 taking a run at the Ripken-Gwynn record turnout of 82,000?