Blyleven's hard work, perseverance pay off

Blyleven's hard work, perseverance pay off

Blyleven's hard work, perseverance pay off
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Standing at the dais on Sunday, a plaque in Cooperstown officially and finally his, Bert Blyleven recalled his first start in the Major Leagues, how his Hall of Fame career on the mound began in suspect fashion, with a Lee May home run.

He talked about how he was a catcher in Little League, and how his father, Joe, who passed away from Parkinson's disease in 2004, fell in love with baseball by listening to Vin Scully on the radio.

He talked of his love for his wife, Gayle, and his mother, Jenny. He spoke of waiting to throw a curveball, the pitch that carried him to the Hall, until his body was at an age where his arm could handle the stress, about 13 or 14 years old.

The 287-game winner from Holland also talked about his family's travel to this country, by route of Canada, and how he woke up his first big-league manager at about 2 in the morning in a Boston hotel.

"I started playing baseball when I was 9 years old," Blyleven said. "All I wanted to do was throw that baseball, ask my sisters or brothers. That's all I'd do. I'd just want to play catch."

It was a long, long journey for Blyleven to reach Cooperstown, longer than most who get in. In what was likely a conscious decision, that was one subject Blyleven did not touch in his eloquent speech on Sunday: the 14 years he spent on the ballot before receiving the game's highest recognition, despite the talking point it's become in the media.

In a press conference afterward, Blyleven made clear where he wants to leave that chapter.

"I think sometimes in life we look forward to things and sometimes we don't get 'em," Blyleven said. "As little kids, I'm sure we wanted candy every day and sometimes our mother would say no. It's kind of like going into the Hall of Fame. You feel that you can get into that store and take a piece of candy, but they won't let you in.

"Finally, I'm in. So you know what? I've got my candy. What's happened in the past is over with, as far as I'm concerned. It's an honor to be a Hall of Famer. ...I had a great day."

As captivating on a stage in front of a crowd of an estimated 17,500 as he is as a commentator during Twins telecasts, Blyleven said he learned his "Dutch stubbornness and determination" from his parents. So taken with slugger Frank Howard was his father, that when Blyleven told his father he struck out the 6-foot-7, 255-pound Howard, the phone went dead.

"'Dad? Dad?'" Blyleven said. "He hung up on me. He wanted Frank Howard to take me deep."

Funny as that anecdote and many others were, the autobiographic story Blyleven told Sunday, was wholly reverent of his whole experience, and in particular his father; a classic tribute to the one for whom baseball careers, from the Hall of Fame to Little League, so often start with. Dad.

"I was introduced to baseball by my friends and my dad," Blyleven said. "My dad became a huge baseball fan by listening to the radio with Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett, who of course cover the LA Dodgers. I listened to the game with him all the time. ...I used to keep score listening to the game, especially when Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitched. I loved putting down the 'K' for a strikeout."

Hand-cramped official scorers may not feel the same way. Blyleven struck out 3,701 in his 22 seasons, the fifth most all-time.

He's charismatic, at times indelicate in his speech, but always entertaining and remarkably talented. In a speech he waited a long time to make Sunday, Blyleven might have pinpointed his ringer.

"I was kind of like Forrest Gump," Blyleven said. "He ran, I threw."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.