COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Part of the Hall of Fame experience Frank Thomas has enjoyed most was the sea of No. 35 White Sox jerseys in town to celebrate his induction.
The White Sox slugger hasn’t been shy about how stressful this week has been with tons of family and friends in town as well as all of his obligations, including reading his 17-plus-minute speech during Sunday’s induction ceremonies for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
But Thomas said seeing White Sox fans around town excited him — and that was long before he and his fellow inductees from the 2014 class ever set foot on the stage in front of an estimated 48,000 spectators. Sunday’s estimated crowd is the third-largest in 75 years since the Hall of Fame began induction events.
While Atlanta Braves supporters may have outnumbered them, White Sox fans showed up in throngs in upstate New York this weekend to support the man they lovingly called “The Big Hurt.”
Matt Shifrin said he and his father Mitch knew they’d make the trek to Cooperstown from Columbus, Ohio “as soon as (Thomas) got voted in” back in January. The family lived in Oak Park in the 1990s and Thomas was Matt’s hero. Mitch Shifrin said he paid extra for the two to join a Hall of Fame tour trip, which included seats nearer to the stage. Though it was costly, Shifrin said it was an easy choice to make.
“It’s a rationalization,” Mitch Shifrin said. “If it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for my son’s childhood hero, the hell with it.”
Jon Regashus and his family decided that since they were already in the area on vacation — they were in Toronto and Niagara Falls, N.Y. last week — they’d make their way over to Cooperstown. Regashus, his wife Kim and the couple’s three sons, Jack, 10, Luke, 5, and Sam, 2, arrived on Saturday and immediately headed to Main Street.
The couple last visited Cooperstown for a wedding in Sept. 2001 and said the contrast in the size of the crowd for Hall of Fame weekend and a non-event weekend is spectacular.
“We’re just kind of walking around and seeing some of the sights and memorabilia and it’s fantastic,” Regashus said. “The last time here was few years back for a wedding. … The difference with this weekend with the massive crowds, it’s really neat. We felt like we were the only people in town (then).”
With their son and his family in town from Henderson, Nev., Chicago’s Ted and Joyce Callis decided to make a last-minute trip. The couple left U.S. Cellular Field at 8 p.m. on Friday night and drove to town to surprise their son, Jim, and his family.
As of noon Saturday, the husband and wife had already set up chairs in the public viewing area nearest to the stage.
“Big Frank Thomas fan, my favorite ballplayer,” Ted Callis said. “I’m so happy for him. My son’s (favorite), too. We went to all kinds of Sox games.
“I just called (my son), ‘What’s the deal? Are you in Cooperstown?’ So we’re going to surprise them.”
Thomas admits he was caught off-guard and pumped up when he saw all the support.
“I saw all the jerseys downtown and the Chicago people,” Thomas said. “It feels great.”