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Opinion: Derek Jeter, Ted Simmons, Larry Walker can't believe Hall of Fame induction nearly here

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It has been one year and seven months since they received the news they would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and with one induction ceremony postponed for year, and another delayed, that glorious day is almost here.

For the first time in 780 days, with the world being turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony on Wednesday in Cooperstown, New York.

There will be fans permitted on the grounds, but instead of a record crowd of perhaps 100,000 that was anticipated two years ago with Derek Jeter as the main attraction, it will be one of the smallest crowds, likely less than 25,000.

The normal July weekend celebration, honoring Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller, will be confined to a brief, one-day festivity.

There will be no parades on the downtown streets.

The traditional Hall of Fame cocktail reception where Hall of Famers gather on the eve of the induction has been cancelled.

Larry Walker, left and Derek Jeter are scheduled to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Larry Walker, left and Derek Jeter are scheduled to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

There are no team parties celebrating the honorees.

The streets and shops won’t be bustling with crowds, and fans won't be lining up for autographs.

Yet, while it will be the most unique ceremony in history, with strict guidelines and COVID-19 testing just to enter the Otesega Hotel where the Hall of Famers stay, the induction ceremony is finally returning.

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“It has been such a difficult time for everybody here in the last two years,’’ Simmons said Wednesday on a Zoom call. “All over the country, in the workforce, in society in general, with this pandemic it's been tough for everybody. The fact that it's now going to happen, just brings us closer to some normalcy.

“We’re all hoping that everyone can eventually get back to when this pandemic is essentially all behind us. I think that’s what Major League Baseball wants specifically, what the Hall of Fame wants specifically, what all of us want specifically, is to get back to some normal operation of our lives.

“Whatever condensed form, whoever can come and can’t, at least it’s in the right direction that says, OK, we’re going to try to this. I'm really all for that in every conceivable way. Let’s get back to normal."

The delay has provided plenty of time for everyone to prepare their speeches, with Simmons saying that he’d have to be “brain-dead’’ not have his speech memorized by now. Still, there have been so many stops and starts, no wonder why Jeter is still not certain the ceremony will take place next week.

“I’m hoping it happens," Jeter said, with the Delta variant raging throughout the world, and hospitalizations in the United States at the highest rate since last winter. “There were so many things going on in the world the first year, I didn’t really think about (the ceremony) much early on. I was getting excited for it, and it was cancelled. Your mind goes other places. Knock on wood, it’s been a long time coming.’’

While Simmons has been practicing his speech for more than a year, submitting it to the Hall of Fame for its perusal, Jeter is still trying to finalize his speech, and has kept it private.

“It's something that I've tried to take my time with, write down notes," Jeter said. “I didn't want to get help from anyone, didn't want anyone to see it or hear it before I deliver it.’’

Then, there is Walker, who completed his speech, practiced it over and over and still is waking up in a cold sweat.

“The speech was done all by myself, aided by punctuation, and making it sound like a human being,’’ Walker said, laughing. “There are nights I don’t go to sleep, and when I do, it’s not very long. The butterflies are here, right now, and there’s a lot of them."

Walker, who started focusing on baseball only when he was twice cut from hockey teams, is taking great pride in joining Ferguson Jenkins as the only Canadiens to be inducted into Cooperstown. Simmons spoke passionately about growing up in the Detroit area, graduating from high school about the same time as the riots of 1967. And Jeter, instrumental in the Yankees’ dynasty, winning four World Series titles from 1996-2000, loves simply being remembered for the team he played for throughout his entire career.

“The most important thing," Jeter said, “is that I want to be remembered as a Yankee. That was it. That was the only team I ever wanted to play for since as far back as I can remember.

“So, that's what I wanted my legacy to be."

There was nothing greater, Jeter said, that winning those four World Series titles, even if Yogi Berra would always tease him, saying he had a long way to go before matching his 10 World Series rings.

Fans would ask Walker his greatest seasons, and always, he would say it was the three years he reached the playoffs.

“That's the best feeling you know," Walker said, “because you're out there playing a team sport and you celebrate with the rest of the team. That champagne in the eye hurts, but it sure is fun."

Now, these three men, along with Miller’s family, will be linked as they finally enter baseball’s hallowed grounds.

“The wait has been good and bad," Simmons said. “Bad in that you had a wait an extra year for this thing to come to a head. Good is that it’s extended an additional year.

“It’s been a pleasure to walk in and being able to stay really twice as long in the room."

A wait they plan on savoring.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons waited on Hall of Fame entry