COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Induction, Hall attendance marks set

Cal Ripken Jr. had been there before, at the center of baseball’s biggest celebration. And just like the first time, he found the words Sunday to put it all into perspective.

Ripken left hundreds of fans teary-eyed during his 15-minute National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony speech, a moment that echoed his 1995 lap at Camden Yards in Baltimore after breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games-played record.

  “Today is about celebrating the best baseball has been, and the best baseball can be,” Ripken told a record crowd of 70,000-plus fans squeezed into every available spot of grass at the Clark Sports Center and even across Susquehanna Avenue. He spoke of the difference his children have made his life, choking up briefly at one point, and how that helped him find his life’s true focus.   “I can only hope that all of us can leave this world a bit better than when we came into it,” Ripken said.   In his induction speech, San Diego Padres hitting maestro Tony Gwynn addressed a similar theme of responsibility.   “You have to make good decisions and show people how things are supposed to be done,” Gwynn said.   The induction of Ripken and Gwynn marked the culmination of an incredible weekend for baseball:   - Sunday’s induction ceremony crowd exceeded by 40 percent the previous record of about 50,000 set in 1999. when Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Young were inducted.   - The Hall of Fame set a one-day attendance record Saturday with 14,000 visitors, smashing the previous record of 9,700 set on the Saturday of the 1995 induction weekend.   - And nationwide, in a year of close pennant races and the Barry Bonds home-run chase, Major League Baseball set a one-day attendance record of 717,000 fans.   The streets of Cooperstown were packed like never before as fans from Baltimore and San Diego, not to mention much of Upstate New York, came to thank Ripken and Gwynn, the two members of the Hall’s Class of 2007.   On Sunday, the crowd for the ceremony stretched from the stage back to a small hill, then over it back to a distant tree line. Across the street, fans found new spots to view – or at least listen to – the ceremony.   “For us four guys to come here and see so many people, we cannot thank you enough,” said Gwynn of Ripken, Frick Award sportscasting winner Denny Matthews of Kansas City and Spink Award sportswriting winner Rick Hummel of St. Louis. “When I come back to the Hall of Fame, and look out and see those fans, I’m going to remember how you were all lined up past the trees.”   With temperatures in the 80s and sticky conditions, Hall officials were worried that a thunderstorm could disrupt the ceremony. So the presentation order was changed, with Gwynn and Ripken’s appearances moving to the front of the schedule.   The result were two quicker-than-average speeches – and then a line of fans leaving the field for almost 40 minutes as Matthews and Hummel accepted their awards and as 1930s and 1940s Boston Red Sox star Bobby Doerr spoke about his career and his relationship with slugger Ted Williams.   In the end, no rain fell during the ceremony.   Gwynn spoke first, speaking with notes but without a script for about 25 minutes. He seemed genuinely thankful for the honor and for the sacrifice his family made during his playing days – and humbled by his induction into the Hall of Fame.   “August 6th, 1993, I got my 2000th career hit,” Gwynn said. “It was my mom’s birthday. At that point, I thought if I could get another 1,000 hits, I could go into the Hall of Fame.”   Gwynn passed the 3,000 hit barrier in 1999, virtually ensuring his election to the Hall. Ripken, meanwhile, assured his place in Cooperstown on Sept. 6, 1995, when he played in his 2,131st consecutive game, passing Lou Gehrig on the all-time list. He wound up with 2,632.   Ripken, as is his custom, downplayed that accomplishment Sunday. But through his work with youth baseball programs, Ripken said he’s committed to leaving a bigger mark on baseball – and the world – than any number can convey.   “As I look out on the audience, I see thousands of people who do the same (show up for work every day),” Ripken said. “I’d like to take the time out to salute all of you for showing up, working hard and making the world a better place.   “My life in baseball has been one giant blessing. Any my opportunity to work with children across this great country enables me to tell you first hand that the game of baseball is alive and well.”   Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch