COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- With the International League enjoying a season-long celebration of its 125th anniversary, what better place for that caravan to stop than in Cooperstown, a town synonymous with baseball history?
The road show made a stopover on Sunday at Doubleday Field, in the shadows of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with plans to feature a regular-season matchup between two longtime members of the International League and two local rivals, the "host" Syracuse Chiefs (Blue Jays) and the Rochester Red Wings (Twins).
Though Mother Nature had other plans, bringing a steady, soaking rain that finally brought the game to a halt in the second inning with the Chiefs leading, 1-0, (to be picked up, weather-permitting on Monday at 5 p.m. in Syracuse) inclement weather did not keep a surprisingly large number of fans -- and their umbrellas -- from gathering in the cozy confines of the stadium.
The choice of these clubs to play in this game was not random. Both have longstanding associations with the league in both its current and earlier incarnations, which date to 1884.
"The history [aspect] was huge," explained International League president Randy Mobley. "That was a big part of this."
The Red Wings were born in 1877 as the "Rochesters" of the International Association, then launched a franchise in 1885 in the circuit that eventually became as the International League. Since Minor League teams began affiliating with big league clubs, Rochester has been a poster child for stability, partnered with the St. Louis Cardinals for 33 years (1928-60), the Baltimore Orioles for 42 (1961-2002) and the Minnesota Twins for the past six.
Though the team moved around in the late 1800s, it's been playing in Rochester since 1899, making it one of a half-dozen franchises in all of professional sports that has been playing continuously in the same city and league since the 19th century.
More recently, the Red Wings may be best known as one of the two teams to participate in the longest baseball game ever, a 33-inning, eight-hour, 25-minute affair against the Pawtucket Red Sox. It began on April 18, 1981, was suspended at 4 a.m. on April 19 and finally ended in a 3-2 PawSox win on June 23.
Syracuse, meanwhile, first had pro baseball in 1876 and joined what would become the IL in 1886. Coincidentally, the city's first parent club was St. Louis in 1927, marking the first time a big league franchise partnered with an International League team.
The Chiefs remained there for one year before the Cards moved west to Rochester. Subsequently, Syracuse has been home to 10 parent teams, with the Blue Jays there since 1978.
This year's anniversary tour also coincides with the league's decision to revive its Hall of Fame, which had been dormant since 1964. Without a permanent home along the lines of Cooperstown's shrine, the IL Hall of Fame exists as a "traveling display." The display itself will include a replica of the original league Hall of Fame plaque.
The Hall was created back in 1947 and suspended in 1964, but league record-keeping at the time was inconsistent and there was no hard and fast list of inductees. As a result, the current board took it slow as it prepared for the revival.
"I'd always been fearful that until we got our research done, we'd name someone to the Hall and their great grandson would step forward and say, 'That's wonderful, and he was originally put in in 19-such-and-such,'" Mobley said. "We finally got to a point where we were confident in our research enough to fire it up again in this special year."
As far as creating a traveling display rather than a bricks-and-mortar site, Mobley felt that International League fans would be better served by having it rotate around a few of the league's 14 parks each year rather than hanging on the wall of his league office in Dublin, Ohio.
"We feel it brings it closer to the fans that way," Mobley said.
Twenty-seven individuals were named to the Hall of Fame this year, with induction ceremonies scheduled over the course of the caravan.
Among this year's inductees were several luminaries with ties to the two teams competing in Sunday's game, most notably Morrie Silver and Tex Simone.
"These are two men who have meant so very much to our league," Mobley said. "We're really excited that they're in this initial revival class."
Silver was the Rochester businessman who spearheaded the drive to keep baseball in the Lilac City in 1956. When it appeared the Cardinals were going to move the club, Silver started an innovative stock drive to allow the community to purchase the team and keep it in Rochester.
Enough citizens bought shares, protected by Silver's own choice to cover the remaining amount needed, to buy the team from St. Louis.
Though Silver died in 1974, his legacy lives on, both literally and figuratively. His daughter, Naomi, serves as chairman of the board of the Red Wings, which ranks among the few publicly owned professional sports franchises.
Simone, whose name is synonymous with Syracuse baseball, is the Chiefs' executive vice president/chief operating officer. He joined the organization in 1961 as a member of the club's grounds crew and moved up to general manager in 1970. He has been COO since 1997.
While fans on hand Sunday got to see some of the stars of the future, and perhaps even a future Hall of Famer or two, they definitely recognized a current Hall of Famer.
Carlton Fisk, who played 24 Major League seasons with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. And while the last six innings were washed out, Fisk's pitch was right on target to Chiefs backup catcher Kevin Nelson.
Fisk, who was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, honed his big league chops in 1971 with the IL's Louisville Colonels, hitting .263 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs in 94 games before moving to the bigs at season's end.
An 11-time All Star, he is one of 99 Hall of Famers to have played in the International League. And though he has no direct connection to either team that played in the Classic, Fisk was the man Mobley wanted.
"We wanted to find a connection between the special feel you get in this village with the Major League Hall of Fame and the International League, so we began to look at the players who had played in the IL and also had that connection to Cooperstown," Mobley explained. "Carlton was one of those people. We were very excited about his being here."
The Rochester-Syracuse clash was the second game of a four-game series, with the Chiefs technically the "host" team. The series resumes Monday with the completion of Sunday's game, followed by a seven-inning contest.