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Hall of Famers, fans take in Cooperstown's charms

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The world's greatest collection of baseball talent assembled again on Saturday, when more than 40 Hall of Famers returned to the scene of their greatest triumph.

Induction Weekend, the busiest calendar segment for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, wound its way through several fan-friendly events on Saturday, turning the normally sleepy hamlet of Cooperstown into a thriving metropolis that embodies the best that baseball can offer.

Fans wound their way up and down the Main Street concourse on Saturday, stopping to shop for baseball memorabilia or to stand in line for autographs from players of seasons past. And it was also fun for the Hall of Famers, who began their day by playing at Leatherstocking Golf Course.

Bert Blyleven, one of the game's most affable immortals, was in fine form on Saturday, and he said that he was looking forward to his first induction ceremony as a member of the Hall of Fame. Blyleven was inducted to the Hall last summer, and he's thrilled to finally be among the game's all-time greats.

"Half of these guys, I didn't like anyway," said Blyleven of his peers, joking. "You faced them, you knew what kind of competitors they were, but you find out that they're really good guys. Everybody had a goal in mind on the field and that's to win, but here, now it's just to relax, have fun and really enjoy the fraternity that was put together by the Hall of Fame. It's fantastic and I'm very proud to be part of that."

Indeed, the Hall of Famers spent the morning fraternizing with each other, and several of the game's great players were involved in autograph signings along the Main Street drag. Billy Williams, former Cub and teammate of 2012 inductee Ron Santo, said it's enough just to be back in Cooperstown.

"Although we didn't play with many of these guys -- they were in the American League and of course I was in the National League -- when you become a Hall of Famer, you become teammates," he said. "I've missed one year since I was inducted in 1987. And I used to spend a lot of time up here with my brother. He was a baseball player also, but it's a joy to come back and see the guys."

Greg Wingate, a 55-year-old teacher from Covington, K.Y., booked a group trip to Cooperstown and said it was a dream come true.

"I've been a fan almost since I was born," he said. "I remember the old stadiums and they had a certain charm, and it's nice to get up here and see some of the old players and get some souvenirs. I can't wait for the parade and to see it. I root for the Reds, but I like the Cubs, too. And if there's one team I'd love to win the World Series, it would be Chicago."

Two brothers -- Matt and Shane Williams from Beavercreek, Ohio -- drove nine hours from home to Cooperstown to be part of Larkin's big weekend, and they said they'd love to come back in a few years for Ken Griffey Jr.'s induction. The Williams brothers had never been to Cooperstown before this weekend, but they said they were pleasantly surprised by the way the trip has gone so far.

"The town has a lot more to offer than we thought it would," said Matt Williams, the elder brother. "We thought that it would just be a small town with the Hall of Fame in the middle and maybe some memorabilia shops. But we're really pleased with how many things there are to do."

The fans were also treated to a mock game show featuring Blyleven and Phil Niekro. Both Blyleven and Niekro were paired with a fan and had to guess several baseball-related topics with only minimal clues, and the winner would have a shot at a lifetime membership to the Hall.

Blyleven and his partner won, and they came one question shy of winning the fan a lifetime membership. Blyleven was told that the one they had missed was a disqualification because the pitcher had used an unfair clue in his prompt, thus invalidating the answer that came next.

"I said cow?" asked Blyleven accusingly. "That's a bunch of bull."

Blyleven and Niekro set the stage for the award ceremonies for Bob Elliott and Tim McCarver, the respective winners of the Spink and Frick awards. Larkin and Santo, who died in 2010, will be inducted Sunday, and live coverage of the ceremonies on MLB Network and simulcast on begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.

It's just another year and another instance of the greatest all-time players getting their just rewards, and former Tiger great Al Kaline summed up the emotions of the weekend for everyone involved.

"Everyone knows baseball is probably the most difficult game to play," said Kaline. "To be considered one of the best players to have played the game is a huge honor. Baseball is known everywhere, and to be included as a Hall Of Famer is the ultimate club as far as I'm concerned."