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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lovers of baseball travel to Cooperstown to honor Blyleven

Friday, August 5, 2011

Longtime Cherokee resident Kenny Bern shakes hands with former New York Yankee great, Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, in downtown Cooperstown, New York. Photo submitted. See more photos in the 'Visit to Cooperstown' Gallery
Do you consider yourself to be a true fan of baseball?

If so, at some point during your lifetime you must experience the nostalgia and history, honoring excellence in Cooperstown, New York, at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown is a village located in Otsego County, New York, nestled in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. It's a perfect small town setting, with a population over just over 1,800.

Thousands upon thousands annually trek to Cooperstown for the July Hall of Fame Weekend, adding more than 17,000 baseball fans plus a large number of current Hall of Famers to the Cooperstown population.

This year my uncle Kenny Bern, a longtime Cherokee resident and myself, a Cherokee native, made the 1,248 mile trip. The honor of traveling there this year with my uncle shall last a lifetime.

According to Baseball Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark, only 205 of the 17,000 men who ever played major league baseball over its 146-year history are enshrined. This makes it one of the most exclusive clubs in sports.

This year's Hall of Fame weekend included the induction of one man dear to many Midwestern hearts, and more particularly Minnesota Twins fans, my friend Bert Blyleven.

Rik Aalbert Blyleven, as his Hall of Fame plaque reads, played 22 seasons of Major League Baseball, with the Twins (1970-1976, 1985-1988), Texas Rangers (1976-1977), Pittsburgh Pirates (1978-1980), Cleveland Indians (1981-1985) and the California Angels (1989-1992), now called the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

He was a two-time All-Star, 1989 Comeback Player of the Year, two-time World Champion (Pittsburgh 1979 and Minnesota 1987), and pitched a no-hitter on Sept. 22, 1977. He compiled 287 wins in his career, and is one of only 17 pitchers in major league history to have at least 3,000 strikeouts. He retired officially in the spring of 1993, finishing with 3,701 career strikeouts (third most in history) and 60 shutouts. A rarity today is seeing a pitcher throw a complete game. Blyleven finished with 242 in his career.

Blyleven, born in Zeist, Holland, became the first Dutch Hall of Famer and fourth to go in as a Minnesota Twin, following Harmon Killebrew (1984) Rod Carew (1991), and Kirby Puckett (2001).

His induction came on his 14th try. He is the first starting pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writer's Association of America (BBWAA) since Nolan Ryan in 1999, and just the 72nd pitcher to be elected overall.

The addition of Blyleven, Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick's brings the number of members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame to 295. Established in 1936, the Hall attracts more than 350,000 visitors annually.

For my 84-year old uncle and I, it was a week-long experience made possible by Blyleven's induction and well put into planning over a year ago.

Sharing time on Friday, July 22 at the Hall of Fame museum with many of Blyleven's family was a highlight. Meeting Bert's 85-year old mother Jannie Blyleven for the first time, and getting to see Todd Blyleven (Bert's son) again after a number of years was a personal highlight.

Also during our walks through downtown Cooperstown, we experienced moments that will last forever, visiting with the likes of Jim Kaat, Yogi Berra, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Ron Guidry, Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn and Paul Molitor, to name just a few.

Saturday night included a Parade of Legends, featuring Hall of Fame members riding through downtown Cooperstown. The culmination of the trip came on Sunday with the induction ceremony itself at the Clark Sports Complex.

Sitting roughly 50 yards from the stage, we watched with much anticipation, and when Blyleven walked to the podium to receive his Hall of Fame plaque and give his induction speech a deafening cheer broke out. He began by looking down at his mother and said, "I love you mommy."

He looked over to his family and expressed his love for their support. He turned to the crowd and acknowledged his sincere thanks for their attendance. He thanked those in attendance who had an impact on his professional career like Kaat and Jim Perry, and also thanked the late Killebrew, Puckett, Willie Stargell, Bob Feller, and Chuck Tanner for helping guide his career.

"These guys are all looking down on me today, along with my dad Jo," Blyleven said. "They all had a huge impact on my baseball career. They all mentored me."

With Sandy Koufax looking on, he credited the fellow Hall member for developing his curveball.

"Sandy, I learned the curveball from you. I listened to Dodgers' broadcaster Vin Scully on the radio," said Blyleven. "He described your curveball, the 'drop', called back then. I always visualized the rotation of the baseball, and once I did get older and developed it by finding the right grip on the baseball and utilizing the seams of the ball to make it spin and curve, so thank you Sandy Koufax."

Following the induction ceremony on Sunday afternoon, the installation of the Hall of Fame plaques took place at 7 p.m. in the Hall of Fame Museum's plaque gallery.

Blyleven has come a long ways professionally. After being drafted in the third round of the 1969 amateur draft, he became, at age 19, the youngest pitcher in the majors when the Twins called him up June 2, 1970. He is currently been a member of FOX Sports North as a Twins broadcaster, with Dick Bremer his broadcast partner, since 1996. Bremer also attended the induction ceremonies with his family.

To Bert, Roberto Alomar, Pat Gillick and the other Hall of Fame members - and to Cooperstown in general, -"you are hereby circled" for providing baseball memories that will last a lifetime.

You must include Sal's Pizzeria & Restaurant; Hey, Getcha Hot Dog in the basement of Mickey's; and the Neptune Diner in Oneonta, New York, as part of your visit to Cooperstown.

The 2012 induction ceremony is scheduled for July 22. Take home a piece of history with you.

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