COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — They faced down opposing baseball players in some of the biggest games in the sport’s history. They excelled on the biggest stages and earned the highest honor — getting elected to the Hall of Fame.
So why are some of the six inductees of the Class of 2018 starting to feel nervous going into Sunday’s ceremony?
“The butterflies are turning into pterodactyls,” former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman said Saturday.
With so many friends and family in the crowd and more than 50 fellow Hall of Famers looking on from behind you on the stage, the acceptance speech can be a tougher assignment than these great athletes faced during their playing days.
“It wasn’t fun,” 2015 inductee John Smoltz said of preparing his speech. “I thought it was going to be. I thought I had it done. I taped it on my phone and I would listen to it and I thought, ‘That’s stupid.’ Finally, I just said, ‘The heck with it. I’m going to roll with what I brought and stay to the script as much as possible.’ ”
Smoltz will be in attendance when his former Atlanta Braves teammate Chipper Jones joins Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero, Jack Morris, Jim Thome and Alan Trammell in a six-pack of stars whose bronze visages will grace Cooperstown starting Sunday.
“When you look at it, we’ve got variety,” Thome said. “We’ve got pitchers, we’ve got position guys. I think at the end of the day — all great people. To be amongst this class and to be in it, for years and years we’re kind of like now in this brotherhood.”
Jones, the former Mets tormentor, got in on the first ballot, as did Thome and his 612 home runs. Guerrero made it on his second try and Hoffman his third.
“I think it’s a great mix of first-ballot people like Chipper and guys who’ve had to wait a little longer,” commissioner Rob Manfred said. “I think the size of the class makes it exciting. A whole group of them going in together. But just some great players.”
History and the Hall make no distinction as to when and how players get in. All six are now and forever Hall of Famers.
And they’re loving it.
“I know I’m going to go home with cramps in my face,” Morris said. “I’ve been smiling. I’ve hugged more grown men than I ever imagined I would in my life. Everything so far has been more than I could have imagined. It’s just been so fun.”
But about the speech . . .
Hoffman said the advice he got was to “be yourself. Be authentic. Maybe not make eye contact with too many family members so we don’t lose it. Maybe kind of look in the trees back in the distance.”
Said Jones: “I’ve gotten so much advice from the other Hall of Famers. They said, ‘Take a deep breath, slow everything down because you’re going to get to Monday and you’re just going to wonder where it all went.’ It’s going by like a blur.”
Greg Maddux, who gave a memorably funny speech in 2014, was asked if he gave Jones any advice.
“Advice?” Maddux said. “No, he can handle it.”
Jones has more on his mind than just the speech. His wife, Taylor, is pregnant with their sixth child, a boy they’ve already named Cooper. Taylor’s due date is Monday.
“Still pregnant,” Jones said. “Hopefully, little Cooper will wait till we get back to Atlanta, but if he was to be born here this weekend, it’s be pretty cool.”
(If he has to miss the ceremony, Jones has already taped some remarks.)
Thome said he’s not nervous at all.
“I’m set,” he said. “I’ve been set. I’ve been ready to go. I had it done right at about June 1 and I’ve tweaked it from there. I’m excited about it. For me, I feel like I’ve worked on it. The people that are going to be in it that I’m going to thank, they mean so much to me and it’ll be a special day. No doubt. Just embrace the moment. When I get on the stage, truly understand what this means and how special it is. All those emotions of how many people have helped you and what they’ve meant to you. Just take it all in. This is just such a cool, humbling, honoring moment. Honestly, it’s going by very quick, but I want it to slow down a touch because I truly want to embrace it.”
Every year, the inductees talk about how great it is to mingle with the other Hall of Famers, to sit on the porch of the headquarters hotel and swap stories. This year is no different.
“It’s been so great,” Thome said. “Sitting out on the porch and joining in to all the guys that have been part of this great fraternity and to be a part of it and now to be in that group is just so special. You don’t ever really want to leave the porch, to be honest.”
Just the facts
What: National Baseball Hall of Fame induction.
When: Sunday, 1:30 p.m. TV: MLB Network.
Where: Cooperstown, N.Y.
Inductees: Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell.