Touching Base at Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame
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This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their 60’s, are (mostly) retired, and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a budget airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade, his adventures are usually captured not just in his mind, but in his camera. He shares his thoughts and travels here from time to time, and I’m excited to share another one of their big adventures.
Who’s on first, What’s on second, and I Don’t Know is on third. These are lines from Abbott and Costello’s famous baseball bit but could also be used to summarize the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The Hall not only tells you ‘Who’s who’ and ‘What’s what’ but also answers all your ‘I Don’t Know’ questions about baseball. It is a comprehensive visual and factual encyclopedia about the game that for decades was the vital artery to the heart and soul of most of America. It was Our National Pastime.
I was, like millions of others, one of the boys of summer.
Baseball was more than just a sport or activity; it was a passion. To us, it was the obvious reason school let out for the summer…so we could play ball. In front yards, back yards, empty fields, vacant streets and at the ball fields of our youth, we could be found playing catch, flies and skinners, home run derby and games both organized and not.
We bought, collected and traded baseball cards. Six cards and a big stick of gum for a nickel. You wanted the big guns, the All Stars, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Nellie Fox, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford. These were the cards that gave you street cred. You hated getting duplicates or unknown rookies, and the fate of those were often found flapping in the spokes of your bike attached to the frame with clothespins to give your ride “The Sound.”
I was, we were, among those that listened to ballgames through the fog of static on the radio in our parent’s car or from the radio on our bedside table. I was, we were, among those that just hoped each October that our teacher was a baseball fan so that we could keep up with The World Series when all the games were played in the daylight hours. I was, we were, among those that for hours pounded a ball off an exterior wall of the house to sharpen our throwing, hone our fielding and to play imaginary games in Busch Stadium, The Polo Grounds and of course, Yankee Stadium.
It was from this background, it was from this perspective and it was from this love of the game that made Cooperstown a must do stop on our recent trip to the northeast states of our great country.
Cooperstown is located in the pastoral hillsides of central New York, and on the October day we visited, it felt quaint and rural and inviting and welcoming.
It felt more like the mid-twentieth century than 2016. It was as if we had hitched a ride in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and hit the 88 mph barrier with its time clock set to 1959.
We walked the main street of Cooperstown on a beautiful fall morning and soon arrived at the Hall of Fame. I must admit that I was a little disappointed? or perhaps just surprised upon my first sighting of the front facade of the building.
It seemed very low key and understated. It certainly did not shout “HALL OF FAME” and was not a photo moment kind of experience. It was classy and straightforward, but not what I had envisioned or anticipated.
We stopped at the front desk to purchase our tickets and were soon greeted by two gentlemen who obviously loved their job. They were enthusiastic, and my assumption is that they too were boys of summer who were still enjoying the game. They advised us that the Hall has three stories, and the best way to visit was to to start on the second, then go to the third, and finish on the first. My initial thought was that this was not good base running advice, but we followed their suggestion anyway.
Mommy Points Tip: Discounted tickets to the National Baseball Hall of Fame are available to Seniors 65+, children 7-12, and Veterans. Tickets are free for active duty and retired military as well as children 6 and under. There are also AAA discounts and occasionally discounted tickets have shown up on Groupon type sites.
As we entered the exhibits on the second floor, we first saw locker cubicles representing each of the 30 major league teams.
Jerseys were hung, hats were present, and special mementos from iconic moments in each teams’ history were included.
Some of the jerseys were displayed with game dirt and stains still on them. I personally thought this was a cool addition and a nice down to earth touch. Down to earth, get it? From there you went further into the origin of the game, the equipment used and the respective evolution of both. You met the pioneers of the game and followed the game’s growth in scope and popularity.
Babe Ruth, his life and career, were highlighted in this section. Video and audio clips were interspersed with photos and numerous articles of memorabilia to provide proper homage to one of the game’s true giants.
There were large sections devoted to the history, the influence and the contributions made by The Negro Leagues, The Women’s Professional Leagues, and the Latin American players. Mommy Points tip: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is worth a visit!
This floor also offers the transition of baseball from the past into the modern era with a comprehensive look at the teams and players of the most recent 50 years. You watch and see as the wool uniforms give way to double knit polyester blends, the Dodgers and Giants move to the West, and the players get bigger, stronger, and faster.
The 3rd floor was actually more in the vein I wanted the entrance to The Hall to be. Here, the experience of the fan going to a game is honored. Sculptures of famous fans and legendary characters greet you outside the park to establish the mood as you enter next to a turnstile into the “Sacred Ground.”
Your eyes and walk are now both directly focused to a large photo of the field and the game.
You can hear the refrains of typical ballpark music emanating from an interactive display that allows each visitor a chance to pick the song most dear to their experience. It is not uncommon here to hear visitors (fans) (me) whistling or singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, “New York, New York” and “Sweet Caroline.”
It is also in this area that it is most likely to see tears wiped away and emotions touched as nostalgia fills the room with its powerful and poignant presence. Individuals will pause and recall sweet and endearing memories of particular moments in time from their baseball past. It may be a flashback to the smell of the freshly mown grass or the distinct sound of the crack of the bat. It may be the roar of the crowd from a walk off homer or the hawking of “peanuts, popcorn” from a nearby vendor. It could be a recall of playing catch with your Dad or the thrill of taking the field on a cloudless June day. Each visitor will have their own moment, their own private treasure, and this is where it most likely will happen.
Deeper into this level you come across the tribute to Hank Aaron and his career of achievement. The depth of the presentation certainly rivals that of the earlier referenced one for Babe Ruth. Here, also, individual record holders and milestone achievers, like Nolan Ryan with his 7 no-hitters and 5714 strikeouts, are memorialized and honored.
You will also see the artwork and pride that went into the individual and team championship trophies that are on display.
The ultimate baseball series, The World Series, has its great moments brought back to life here. Who can forget Bobby Thompson’s home run, Don Larsen’s perfect game, Carlton Fisk waving his arms to keep the homer fair and a hobbled Kirk Gibson’s “I don’t believe what I just saw” game winner off Dennis Eckersley?
Performance Enhancing Drugs are referenced as are those whose careers were tainted during this era. One of the most interesting displays was a video describing and showing how Tommy John’s surgery is performed. As you near the exit, the timeless, famous and funny video “Who’s On First” is playing on a constant loop for the fans to sit a spell and enjoy.
After rounding third and sprinting to first, you get to the Shrine part of The Hall. It is here that the individual plaques are hung for the 312 honored recipients. They are grouped by the year of induction rather than the years their career spanned.
This is where every major leaguer aspires to end their career, and many have tried but so few are selected. This is a special fraternity for those that laced up their cleats, that took the field and could hit the curve or throw the heat better than the rest. It is reserved for those that could gun a runner down or play the bad hop with more skill than the others. It is a place where actions spoke louder than words and where we honor those that stood tallest when the spotlight was brightest.
I loved Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The people visiting alongside us that day were our brothers and sisters. We shared a bond that transcends the moment, and we instinctively knew that each other understood the connection we had. Without a nod, without a glance, we quietly acknowledged what baseball people know. They know, we know, that baseball in its purest state is a science, an art, and a breathing life form. It is so simple and yet so complex. It is straightforward but with a hundred variables and a thousand nuances. We know that baseball has its own pulse, its own rhythm, and it is best to just take your time and let the game unfold. Pitch by pitch, out by out, inning by inning. Let the game unfold.
About two blocks from The Hall is Doubleday Field.
Baseball did not really have its birth on this site, but it is close enough. You enter the stadium and take your seat on the wooden bleachers behind the screen.
The field and the stadium look deserted, but to the believers, the baseball believers, the field is never empty and the stands are always full. You squint into the afternoon sun, and you can see the players take the field like they always have. The third baseman in on the grass, protecting the line. The shortstop is deep and a step toward second as the batter awaits the umpire’s call to “Play Ball.” You smile, you feel at home. Life is good.
Mommy Points Tips: If your kiddos visit the Baseball Hall of Fame with you there is an interactive “Sandlot Kids Clubhouse” built just for the 12 and under crew, so it isn’t all plaques, stats and “don’t touch” artifacts.
The Country Inn and Suites in Cooperstown has rebranded and is no longer in the Club Carlson family, but there are plenty of moderate hotel options in and around Cooperstown. My parents stayed in the Oneonta Hampton Inn about 20-30 minutes away. It can be had for 30,000 HHonors points and cash rates dip below $100 during non-peak times.
Stay tuned for more tips and stories for my parents 11 day fall foliage trip through the northeast!
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