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Baseball world to converge on Cooperstown for Sunday's induction

 The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown

Baseball Hall of Famers and fans from near and far will gather in Cooperstown this weekend for the annual induction ceremony.

Cooperstown’s week in the spotlight kicked off Monday when New York Governor Kathy Hochul celebrated investments in the village’s iconic Doubleday Field.

The Democrat says the state is contributing $3 million toward improvements on top of $5 million in other grants. Hochul says the overhaul will revitalize baseball in the area.

“I look forward to seeing these amazing young athletes do their very best. There’s nothing like team sports to build that sense of camaraderie,” Hochul said. “And also, it prepares you for life. The ups and downs, the wins and the losses. And it’s more how you handle the losses.”

That’s for the future. But baseball’s illustrious past is top of mind this week when Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday.

McGriff wound up his 19-year career in the bigs with Tampa Bay in 2004, but it wasn’t until December that the 16-member Contemporary Baseball Players Committee chose him unanimously for enshrinement. McGriff was a five-time All-Star who hit at least 30 homers 10 times, and the Crime Dog helped lead the Braves to the 1995 World Series title.

“To call myself a Hall of Famer. Now it’s Fred McGriff, Hall of Famer," he said. "And over the years, like I said, people coming up to you and so forth. And guys that you played against, come up to you and saying, ‘Fred, man, you know, you're a great player, you went out there and played the game right.’ And so forth. And you always have to like, ‘Ah, thank you. Appreciate it.’ And so now, that’s out of the way now. I don't have to answer that question.”

Although McGriff played in the steroid era, many of his home run feats — he finished with 493 — still stand out. He is 29th all-time, was the first to hit 30 for five different franchises, and in 1992 became only the third player to lead both leagues in homers.

Born in Tampa and originally drafted by the Yankees in 1981, McGriff played first base for Toronto, San Diego, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, the Chicago Cubs and the L.A. Dodgers. But his best years were with the Braves during their dominant 1990s in the NL East. He batted .303 with 10 homers in 50 career playoff games.

Rolen was elected by the baseball writers on his sixth turn. The seven-time all-star won eight Gold Gloves at third over his 17 years in the big leagues with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds.

He was the only player from a list of 28 to reach the required 75 percent threshold.

He says the honor is beyond his wildest dreams.

“There was actually never a point in my life that I thought I was going to be a Hall of Fame baseball player. So we can start there,” Rolen said. “And then, you know, never did I think I was gonna get drafted and everything going to play in the Major Leagues, never gonna be whatever, you know. And then certainly, when I make the ballot, you know, it's a great honor at that time.”

Although Rolen finished with a .281 average, 316 homers and 2,077 hits, he was best known as a defensive wizard on the hot corner. The 1997 Rookie of the Year, Rolen won a World Series with the surprise 2006 Cardinals, hitting .421 in the World Series against Detroit. He is just the 18th third baseman in the Hall.

Also being honored are Carl Erskine, with the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, longtime Tigers beat writer John Lowe, and Ford C. Frick Award winner Pat Hughes, who broadcasts Cubs games. Among other events over the weekend, the induction ceremony begins at 1:30 Sunday.

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