Cooperstown, NY — It’s a road trip that started a week ago in Orlando, Florida. Parked outside the home of A.J. Pierzynski was a 45-foot bus that had one destination in mind.
Pierzynski, his wife Lisa and their two children hopped aboard the Cooperstown Express along with Aaron Rowand and his family. The two former White Sox teammates are best friends and have taken trips together in the past.
But nothing quite like this.
They made stops along the way in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Williamsburg, Virginia and Hershey, Pennsylvania. But the pot at the end of the rainbow was Cooperstown, New York, and being here for the Frank Thomas Hall of Fame weekend.
“I had the privilege of being able to play with him for 5 years,” Rowand said about Thomas. “He made a big impact on my career and the way that I went about my business. He taught me a lot about trying to go to the plate with a game plan and how they’re going to try to get you out. Obviously, he’s one of the best at it and him being in the Hall of Fame shows that he was.”
[MORE COOPERSTOWN: What fellow Hall of Famers say about Frank Thomas]
The Rowands and Pierzynskis rented a house in Cooperstown, right down the street from the Hall of Fame. You’d assume that these two well-known baseball players would attract a ton of attention in this small Mayberry town. Instead, all eyes are focused on their monstrous vehicle parked outside.
“Everyone who seems to drive past our house sees our rig in the driveway that probably shouldn’t be in that driveway and it’s really funny to sit out on the front step there and listen to everybody’s comments about it,” Rowand said.
Pierzynski planned on being here for the whole weekend, but something called “a job” got in the way.
Designated for assignment two weeks ago by the Red Sox, Pierzynski was out of work, which opened the door for his family to join Rowand’s on this cross-country trek. Thursday night, Frank Thomas randomly told Pierzynski he’d be a perfect fit for the Cardinals.
The very next day, Aaron and A.J. were in the middle of a lake on a pontoon boat when Pierzynski got a call from his agent.
The Cardinals wanted him.
“I had to bring him back to shore so he could get his stuff and go to Chicago,” Rowand said. The Cardinals were playing the Cubs at Wrigley. Pierzynski was in the lineup the very next day.
“Man, we manifested that over night, didn’t we?” Thomas joked afterwards.
Pierzynski might be gone (his family is still here), but Rowand still has some a former 2005 teammate to keep him company. There’s also Jermaine Dye, the World Series MVP. Dye’s jersey from the clinching Game 4 is hanging in the Hall of Fame. Dye actually didn’t know about it until Thomas spotted it during a private tour in March.
“He texted me and said, ‘You’re in the Hall!” Dye said. “I was in awe.”
[MORE COOPERSTOWN: Frank Thomas' Hall of Fame speech years in the making]
Something of Rowand’s is in the Hall of Fame, too. I thought it might be the X-rays of the famous broken nose he suffered slamming into the wall when he played for the Phillies. But nope.
“The mic I wore in the World Series. I was the first player mic’d in a World Series ever,” Rowand said. “So at least I have something in there.”
Dye has been wearing his World Series ring this weekend. Considering the journey Rowand took to get here, there’s no way that was going to happen.
“I’m deathly afraid of losing it,” he said. “Coming on a 2 week road trip in an RV, I was a little nervous about wearing it. It’s in my safe in my house. I wear it out when I go out to dinner with my wife, special occasions, stuff like that, and then it goes back in the safe.”
Rowand and Dye both had great baseball careers. So has Pierzynski. But their accomplishments pale in comparison to the likes of Thomas, Maddux, Glavine and the scores of past Hall of Famers who have made the trip here to witness the greatest class since the very first in 1936 get inducted in the game’s cherished shrine.
“J.D. and I are rubbing shoulders with the greatest players who have ever played the game,” Rowand said. “It puts us in an awe-inspiring place, even as major league baseball players. One play is great, but to be able to do it for 18, 19 years, however many years Frank played is something truly special and something well deserved.”
Considering Thomas has been dreaming about making it here since he was a boy, he’s finally made it home.
Rowand heads back to his tomorrrow.