Maybe if I were 12 years old, I would enjoy Cooperstown. But I’m not. And I didn’t.
For most of the world, this little dot on the New York map is a baseball shrine, pure and simple. They don’t breathe oxygen here. They inhale nostalgia.
The game’s Hall of Fame Museum is here. And the city’s Main Street is alive during the day with numerous shops making hay off baseball memorabilia and other mechandise.
For the baseball fan, Cooperstown is a must. A pilgrimage, you might say.
It was September 10 when Nebra and I drove there from the Adirondacks in Upstate New York. A distance of only about 215 miles from Lake Placid, our last stop, it took all day. We stopped for a few hours to wander around the state capitol in Albany, a place that appears more the king’s castle than a seat of governance. Dim and empty staircases of mammoth proportion. Very plush but also very interesting.
So it was 8:30 at night when we arrived in Baseball Town, USA.
It was quiet, the streets dimly lit. A few bars and a restaurant or two were the only signs of life. So we drove on through town without a place to spend the night. About five miles south we came to the large, well-lit Country Inn & Suites in Milford.
It was not until the next morning, in daylight, that we realized why a motel like ours would locate so far away from the action in Cooperstown. Simple. The Cooperstown Dream Park is just north. Little Leaguers come here to play in these miniature ballparks every summer. And the kids bring along their parents who dole out the money for lodging. Nice racket, this Dream Park.
At the Hall of Fame Museum, we paid the discounted admission with our AAA membership and began a walk-through of the 3-story building with a film, “The Baseball Experience,” in the Grandstand Theater. The crowd was small but enthusiastic. Everyone, including me, sang “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” at the end.
Then came the boring part. Ambling by case after case of exhibits. Autographed baseball, special bats, history of the Major League ballparks. It was all nice, I suppose. At a young age, I would have stood in front of the Babe Ruth exhibit for a long time. But, for me it was like shopping with Nebra. I soon got sleepy. Two and a half hours was mind-numbing. And, hell, I’d been a sports writer once upon a time. The best part was finding the Hall of Fame plaque of my childhood idol, Stan “The Man” Musial, of the Cardinals. I had Nebra take a photo of me beside the plaque.
Outside, standing beside the squatted statue of catcher Roy Campanella, I eased into a batting stance to take a fast one from Dodgers pitcher Johnny Podres, also a statue. I think I hit it out of the ballpark. In any case, Nebra caught a photo of me doing it.
To be sure, Cooperstown, beyond baseball, is an attractive town. And historic. Set on the south shore of Lake Otsego, it has many beautiful old homes with landscapes to match. And, more to my interest, it was home to the long-ago author, James Fenimore Cooper, whose father founded the town. We found a statue of JFC near r the baseball museum. I was startled to find a man, a foreigner, beside me reading the inscription. How many Americans, I wondered, have read “Last of the Mohicans”?
After a great lunch at the Doubleday Cafe (named after the “inventor” of baseball, Abner Doubleday), we walked up and down Main Street. Even I was surprised to count 18 businesses with baseball-related names: Safe at Home, Heores of Baseball Wax Museum, Hard Ball Cafe, On Deck Circle and many more.
It was 5:10 when we left Cooperstown. The experience was far from thrilling. But I was also glad I did it.
Some things you just have to do.