That’s wise advice when going through a foundry. The molten bronze is at around 2,000 degrees, and workers handling it are wrapped in safety gear and wearing helmets that appear fit for a spacewalk. Even from a distance, the heat glistens on the golden liquid metal.
Don’t get too close? No problem.
But this sooty, noisy and oppressive place produces treasured pieces of baseball history that will be admired for decades.
This is where the plaques are made for the Hall of Fame.
Matthews, a company specializing in bronze headstones and signs of all shapes and sizes, has worked with the Hall of Fame since 1983, making the plaques commemorating the exploits of 160 legends.
You wouldn’t know anything special is going on inside just by looking at the place. The foundry is in a nondescript brick building along a busy road about 4 miles from PNC Park.
As the Hall of Fame plaques were made in late June, so was a large round sign that would be placed in a plaza outside a bank, along with a small statue of a man recently died with his beloved dog.
Hall of Fame plaques are a tiny part of their business and, as factory manager Trevor Dunthorne was careful to note, Matthews puts the same care into all of their products.
“But people here love making the plates,” Dunthorne said. “We are very proud of them.”
From making the initial mold to casting the bronze and then finishing the plaques to ensure every detail stands out once it takes its place on the oak wall of the Plaque Gallery in Cooperstown, many employees of Matthews have a role to play in the process.
It begins when Tom Tsuchiya, a Cincinnati-based sculptor, creates the player image. He works from photographs provided by the Hall of Fame so that the player is shown at a particular time in his career.
The plate is not a reproduction of a single image. It is an original three-dimensional work of art.
Jon Shestakofsky, a native of Belmont, is the Hall’s vice president of communications and education. He leads the process and works closely with Matthews to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Otherwise, they start over.
Final approval comes from Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch.
For a gamer like David Ortiz, there are thousands of images to choose from. Tsuchiya researches different angles of a Hall of Famer’s face and found a Globe photograph of Ortiz’s last game in 2016 particularly helpful.
Others represent a much greater challenge. One of this year’s inductees, Negro Leagues pioneer Bud Fowler, died in 1913 and only two photographs of him were available.
“I can look at a grainy photo and use my knowledge of what humans look like and fill in the blanks,” Tsuchiya said. “It’s a team effort with the Hall.
Tsuchiya, 49, started working for Matthews in 2016. His first two designs were Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said Tsuchiya, a baseball fan who has also created statues for the Cincinnati Reds that are displayed outside Great American Park. “It’s the most special thing I do.”
Hall of Famers play no role in the creation of their plaques. The first time they see it is when it is unveiled at the induction ceremony.
The wording of the plaque is something Shestakofsky and other Hall of Fame staffers transpire.
“A labor of love but also something that we have to make sure is 100% correct,” said Shestakofsky, who worked in media relations with the Red Sox before joining the Hall. “It’s something people will read for years.”
Ortiz’s plaque reads:
Minnesota, AL 1997-2002; Boston, AL 2003-16. Powerful left-handed hitter who was at his best in the clutch with legendary playoff performances that took the Red Sox from championship drought to three World Series titles in 10 years. Named top designated hitter eight times while earning 10 All-Star selections. Has been in 100 or more runs in 10 seasons, leading the American League three times. His 541 home runs, 632 doubles and 1,768 RBIs are all-time highs among designated hitters. Hits in extra innings in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS, earned Series MVP honors. Set AL record for batting average (.688) en route to 2013 World Series MVP
Ortiz traveled to Cooperstown in June and, at the request of the venue, signed the spot on the wall where his plaque will be. Ortiz also took the time to browse the gallery and carefully examine the plaques, especially those of the players he played against.
“It’s an amazing place,” Ortiz said. “This plaque signifies that you have accomplished something special. This is where you know you have succeeded.