COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — There’s something magical about this little village in the middle of upstate New York, even in the dead of winter. Even with snow on the ground and fog in the air on a late January day, the journey to Cooperstown somehow brings with it a reminder that spring is around the corner.
No matter the temperature, no matter the weather, this is a place where the very essence of baseball lives. It’s a place where Ruth, Williams, Robinson, Killebrew, Sandberg and other baseball immortals are honored and where your baseball memories, as well as the ones from your parents and grandparents never grow old.
Today, three men got their first looks at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the place that will be their baseball home for the generations to come.
Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton and Joe Mauer will join former manager Jim Leyland (who was not present on Thursday) to comprise the Class of 2024. The glow from their first moments inside the hallowed halls were enough to remind all of us in attendance of the power and the beauty of the game of baseball.
“This is the first time I’ve been back in this room since my rookie year in 2004,” Mauer said as he beamed with the joy of a Little Leaguer. “It was a different feeling, but I can’t wait to take the time to really explore.”
You can read all about the statistics and numbers that helped make these men Hall of Famers here. But Thursday wasn’t about the analytics side of baseball or any of the arguments about who belonged here or why. It was about the human side, a chance for three new members to soak in the moment with their families and smile, knowing they had indeed crossed the threshold of greatness.
“It’s such a huge honor,” Helton said. “I think it’s really going to sink in when I get to meet and see some older guys that I really looked up to and tried to play like.”
Among the more special moments on Thursday were the trio signing their spot where their plaques will hang this summer and taking a few minutes to be fans themselves, stopping by to read up on the legends who came before them.
For the Hall’s four newest members, today was the next step toward an induction ceremony in July when the weather in Cooperstown will feel more like baseball than football. It was a day for the Class of 2024 to be together, share stories and enter the Hall as not just visitors, but members of an exclusive club that was once just a dream.
“I think when I saw the caller ID say “Cooperstown,” I knew it was real,” Beltre said. “This is a surreal moment (sitting in the Hall of Fame). It’s been so crazy for the last 40 hours. I’m grateful to be here. I’m happy to be here. It’s an honor for us right now, to really set a new standard.”
Beltre laughed a little later when he was asked at what point in his career he thought he could make it as a Major League player.
“It took me a long time, probably longer than these guys,” Beltre said, nodding toward Helton and Mauer, who were seated to his left. “I knew I had talent, but it took me a while to be more consistent. It took me until my fourth year to begin to say, ‘You know what? I belong here. I can compete with these guys.'”
Helton later added that he thought he might get sent down in the middle of his rookie season. Mauer told a story of getting a pair of hits off fellow Hall of Famer Roy Halladay during a spring training game early in his career.
Each shared moments from their younger days that paved the way for them to be sitting inside baseball’s grandest palace … and each did it with a smile, realizing just how far they had come.
Yes, it’s quiet today in Cooperstown. However, with a new Hall of Fame class in place and spring training just around the corner, the eternal hope and warmth that always comes with the start of a baseball season isn’t that far away.