By Greg Klein Staff Writer
---- — It’s called the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, but on Saturday, the organizers of the fifth annual Hall of Fame Classic had to call a football audible.
Faced with non-stop rains, the Hall canceled the fifth annual Classic and moved its Night at the Museum program up to midday.
“Really, mother nature made the decision to cancel,” said National Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, who stepped in to confirm the call just after noon Saturday. “The weather gave us lemons, but I think we were able to turn it into lemonade.”
Tickets to the Classic were honored at the Hall. Refunds also were offered, although Idelson slyly suggested that disappointed fans could consider the $12.50 ticket price a “donation to the museum.”
Despite the rainout, Main Street in Cooperstown was mobbed all afternoon. Thousands of fans took the opportunity to visit the museum as Idelson estimated that 3,500 had entered by mid-afternoon.
The stars scheduled to appear in the Classic were on hand from 1 to 3 p.m. as well, posing for pictures and greeting fans. Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson, Goose Gossage, Phil Niekro and Rollie Fingers held court in the Hall of Fame Gallery near their plaques. Around every corner, there seemed to be another former professional player.
“We’ve never had the museum come alive quite like this,” Idelson said.
James Daigle brought his family all the way from Houston to see the game. Instead, he beamed as he took a photo of his 15-year-old daughter, Julie, and her friends with several players.
“This is actually better than going to the game,” he said. “How often do you get a chance to do this?”
Even at the Hall, the answer was never before.
“This experience is a first for us and for our visitors,” Idelson said. “We really want to make this a special day despite the cancellation. I am happy to say that the 3,000 to 4,000 people who have come into the museum so far today appear to be happy. I haven’t had any complaints.”
Bob Fernsler, of Lebanon, Pa., agreed as he posed for a picture with former major leaguers Bob Boone, Benito Santiago and Jim Leyritz.
“I am a Phillies fan, but really I am a fan of baseball in general,” he said. “I have been to the Hall of Fame half-a-dozen times, but I have never had an experience here like this. This is a very different opportunity. Being able to interact with the players is great.”
With an unusual induction weekend looming in July — the Baseball Writers’ Association of America declined to vote in anyone and no one in the Class of 2013 is alive — perhaps this past weekend illustrated what this year is all about in Cooperstown: The show must go on.
“Hey this is upstate New York,” joked Jim Gates, the Hall’s head librarian. “If you don’t have a backup plan for rainy and snowy weather, then you aren’t paying attention.”
The last time weather affected a major exhibition game in Cooperstown was June 16, 2008, when the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres were rained out in the final Hall of Fame Game. That marked the ninth cancellation of the Fame Game, with six of those related to poor weather.
The Hall of Fame Classic replaced the Hall of Fame Game, which had been the only in-season exhibition game between two major league ballclubs, the following year.