Saturday, February 07, 2009

Baseball Place No. 1: Cooperstown

The glorious shrine that is the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is the logical place to start our trip down Josh Pahigian’s 101 baseball places to see before we strike out.

I’ve been blessed to make three pilgrimages to Cooperstown, and, of course, there were adventures along the way.

The Hall of Fame was once a rather low-tech operation, as you can see from this meager Seaver shrine, complete with elements of the display falling off the background.

The first time was a family road trip in 1983, another example of being spoiled by my parents.

Cooperstown was a very different place, then, and so was the museum. It was very small-town, much like the picturesque village.

For some reason, the Hall felt obligated to note Casey's Yankee years along with his more notable time with the Mets.

We could tell that some changes were taking place, and the upper levels looked like a modern museum. But the older areas looked like something you’d see in a high school display case.

Not that we minded. Because the artifacts like Gil Hodges’ jersey are awe-inspiring whether they are placed on a simple shelf with a typed label or in a grand display.

The three or so blocks that made up downtown had some evidence of the Hall of Fame down the street, but it was along the lines of a luncheonette with a baseball name. A souvenir store next to the museum had amazing and ancient items that you know had been on those shelves for years.

I returned in 1988 with my wife to celebrate our first anniversary. She, too, spoiled me. Obviously.

We went in October when Cooperstown and its hills were beautiful with fall color. Sadly, we had to go all the way to Utica to find a hotel. And beautiful was not a word we used to describe it.

A ball from Tom no-hitter -- mounted on peg board. Clearly the Hall had not learned how to properly display such glory.

And we were there at the time the Mets were in the playoffs against the Dodgers. You can imagine that if my wife was willing to spend our first anniversary vacation days at the Baseball Hall of Fame, she was not going to be willing to watch the Mets on television.

I was able to slip the hotel TV on for a portion of Game 4, and saw that the Mets, already up 2-1 in the series, were in the lead, 4-2, with Dwight Gooden cruising.

I snuck the set on one more time in the top of the ninth — just in time to see Mike Scioscia become Mike "Bleeping" Scioscia.

All was still good in the world. We were at the Hall, and Mike Scioscia had not yet ruined Dwight Gooden.

We returned to Cooperstown again in fall of 1992 for several reasons.

1) Tom Seaver had been inducted the Hall earlier that year, and I knew there would be special exhibits and merchandise in the gift shop.

2) My son was born in July. Clearly, the duties of responsible parent are to take a newborn to see the Tom Seaver exhibits, even if the child is three months old at the time.

The trip did not start well, as the newborn was having some digestive issues and you will thank me for sparing you the details. Let’s just say we hold it over his head to this day.

But I had learned from the Utica mistake, and found a hotel that was a block from the Hall. Keep in mind, this was before the days of the Internet, and this was not easy. We had no idea what it looked like.

We pulled up in front of the Lake Front Motel, and discovered it to be a mom and pop place, an old building right on the water and shaped like a boat. It looked like something right out of the 1940s.

This was shock to our Hampton Inn-conditioned world, but once we got settled in we decided it was really cool in an odd retro way and liked it.

The next morning we pushed the stroller up the street to the Hall and found that it had changed dramatically from our earlier visits. It was now a very modern museum experience, with theaters and fancy exhibits.

Tom's jersey is clearly from 1983, but we shall not complain.

The village had changed, too, filled with memorabilia shops and other touristy places.

Which is not to say we didn’t have great fun.

The newly minted Seaver plaque naturally made us all weepy, and there was much to enjoy.

I parked the stroller in front of a photo of Rickey Henderson, and he promptly let out a window-rattling burp, signifying both that his digestive issues had passed and that he had already formed strong opinions of ex-Yankees.

Knowing both of those things made for a much smoother ride home.

Our scoreboard:

1) Baseball Hall of Fame. Visited 1983, 1988 and 1992.

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