tampabay.com

Nerves start fraying as big day nears

Boggs' fellow Hall of Famers know all about the growing tension in the days just before the induction.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 30, 2005


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - There aren't many people who can actually understand what is racing through Wade Boggs' mind in anticipation of Sunday's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And among the 60 living members who can, many say it is difficult to describe, a complex weave of thoughts and emotions, sprinkled with excitement but draped by a wave of worry.

According to Ozzie Smith (Class of 2002), Boggs by now is "a nervous wreck." Gary Carter ('03) termed it a mix of "excitement and anticipation." Paul Molitor ('04) described it as "a comfortable anxiety." George Brett ('99) considered it "the hardest thing" he ever did. Johnny Bench ('89) talked about the growing "pit" in Boggs' stomach. Tony Perez (2000) simply said, "Wow."

Boggs said all are right.

"It's building like Mount St. Helen's," he said Friday afternoon at the Otesaga Resort Hotel. "It's all starting to hit me right now."

Boggs sat among 30 of his new colleagues for a rededication ceremony on the front steps of the Hall on Friday afternoon, but he said the most emotional moment of the day was the arrival of his father and mentor, Win.

"Seeing my dad on the veranda was quite a feeling," he said.

Most of Boggs' family and friends, a group that is expected to swell to 150, arrived Friday from Tampa, adding to the buzz. His sister Ann, who has multiple sclerosis, is due in today.

"I think he's getting very excited, and probably a little nervous," his wife, Debbie, said. "Everyone's talking to him about his speech."

The Sunday afternoon speech is the defining moment of the induction ceremony, but the anxiety builds throughout the weekend.

Carter said it starts with all the Boggs/Sandberg banners, signs and logos that appear on every official item. "You can't help but notice how your name is plastered all over the town in anticipation of the ceremony," Carter said.

It builds with each event and appearance. Friday, Boggs met with Fame officials to go over Sunday's schedule, practiced his speech, did several interviews and attended a formal dinner.

"There's no way he can't feel the nerves," Smith said.

Bench said Boggs won't relax until Sunday's postinduction dinner. That's when Bench, as the unofficial "coach" for the new inductees, will insist Boggs and fellow inductee Ryne Sandberg sit in rocking chairs on the hotel's grand veranda and reflect.

Until then?

"(Thursday) night, Wade wasn't feeling anything," Bench said. "You can see the look in his eyes, he's just sort of like, "Man, this is the greatest thing ever.' All these emotions are like, do I ... am I here ... do I belong? And (Friday) he's out having lunch, and it's just having lunch, but it's like a deer caught in the headlights.

"It's one of those things where you can't imagine. You cannot imagine at all."

The result, Molitor said, is a mix of being overjoyed and overwhelmed.

"You go around with that little boy smile pasted on your face, but inside there is some turmoil," he said. "It's hectic and you're handling requests and your family and you have a little speech to deliver on Sunday, so there's some anxiety that comes with it.

"But people who survived a career and found a way to get here will survive this. I've told those guys, fret a little bit, but be sure to savor."

And it's not like Boggs isn't having some fun.

"There's a Miller Lite shortage in town," Brett said. "He's been here one day."