Thursday, July 8, 2010

Baseball Hall of Fame: Cooperstown New York

Waking up, I headed down to the breakfast room. Katherine decided that it could wait, but under the potential of waffles I could not wait. I had to rush down and try the experience.

There were no waffles. But, there were all number of muffins, and bagels, and an unlimited supply of cream cheese. Not only that, but there were juice machines. Fantastic – wonderful – juice machines, providing me with glass after glass of apple and orange, until I was full. After the feed I went back to the room, waiting for Kath to get up. As she hadn't eaten, we went back down again. Breakfast number two? Also delicious.

Fifteen minutes of The Price is Right, and we headed out, getting on the road again. We were two hours outside of Cooperstown, New York. Our destination? The Baseball Hall of Fame. Aside from a little flag on the GPS, I had no idea where I was headed, nor what type of area I'd be driving into.

This was my first time behind the wheel in a long time, and it took a little white to get used to. Not driving – that's easy. What was tricky was getting used to the MPH, rather than KPH. I found myself unable to hold 55MPH, settling at 100 KM or 90 KM. It's strange, you're not sure why you should be at those speeds, but whenever you check, you've found a comfortable niche at something familiar.

Driving through New York State I was shocked by the landscape I was driving through. Endless green fields, farm lands, and hills covered in thick rich greens. Trees climbed across the hill extending back to the horizon. I was shocked to find so much life, and nature, and wilderness alive and well here in America. It shouldn't have surprised me, but when I think of New York, this is definitely not what comes to mind. Endless forests, and small white farms off in the distance?

When we finally pulled into Cooperstown, it appeared out of nowhere. Empty road for miles, and then a small little American town out of nowhere. Whitewashed houses with American flags flying freely, individual designs and builds, resisting anything even remotely suburban – and a main street with storefronts as they would have looked hundreds of years ago.

Most important to us? The Baseball Hall of Fame. It's a place I've thought of for years. Being close to nothing in particular, I had always just sold it off as something I'd never actually get to see. It was a place that I knew of, but – an unreachable gem.

Rather than pulling into the ten dollar lot, I found a two hour parking spot just down the street from the building.

Walking into the Baseball Hall of Fame, you're first directed to a theater which plays a thirteen minute video about the love, and joy, of the game. Not only is it a theater, but it's a theater designed to look like the stadium seating in a ball park. You're in the chairs, the levels are separated, and while you wait for the show to begin the ambient noise of a major league park surrounds you. I was giddy, in a way that I haven't been for quite some time.

Once you enter the museum proper, you find yourself looking at memorabilia from all th names you'd heard growing up. Babe Ruth's locker was on site, with the gear he wore as a Yankee, Jackie Robinson's hat and coat were on display, surrounded by some of the death threats he received for daring to play the game – a black man, breaking into the white world. Coloured entrance tickets were in a separate case. It seems that black baseball fans were finally allowed to watch Major League games for the simple reason of capitalism. Watching how much as spent to see the “Negro League” games, MLB decided to start raking from that untapped source.

The women's league, Mexican league – it's all represented here with more information than you could possibly hope to ever read through. And yet I knew, being baseball, there would be obsessed fans out there who could probably quote every single panel on every single wall.

Each modern team had a locker displayed with gear from their modern day greats. Then there was the case containing the World Series rings dating back to the pins and badges they received in the early days. The two Blue Jays rings were on display in their chronological slots, reminding me of a time when Toronto Sports really shone.

The final exhibit we passed, before heading out to move the car somewhere less time constrained, was a collection of sculptures created to represent key fans throughout the years. Five people were represented, with their signature items. One, an old lady who would dance in the aisle – never missing an Atlanta home game for two decades. The other, a man and his giant projection horn he would yell at. These were legends of their local ballpark. Before I could say it, Katherine looked at me – you know, you could be one of these.

With thirty years of commitment, there's no doubt that I could. Me, with my blue and yellow “Sport” hat. A legend in fandom.

Entrance into the Hall of Fame/Museum is good for the entire day with unlimited reentry. Moving the car to a side street which had now mostly cleared (who is paying for parking here?) allowed us the freedom to take our time. Heading over to the information booth, I asked where a good place to eat was. The lady, no doubt a long time fixture of this small town, asked what we wanted to eat. Like myself, she could not recommend one place over the other, without knowing what type of food we'd be after. I decided on her suggested reuben, and headed over to Cooleys. Never have I had such a wonderful sandwich. Although, truth be told, you heap Kraut on just about anything, and I'll love it.

Bellies full, we headed back in to the building. If I'd worried about my stamp rubbing off, there was no need, “don't you worry. We remember him,” they told Kath, “we all remember him.” It's just like being at a real ball game!

The final exhibit? The art gallery – this featured the iconic image of umpires arguing over a potential rain delay.

Next door? The hall of fame.

It's strange how some names come through the fog. Every plaque here represents one of the greats – from the player, to the managers, to the umpires, to the announcers. Over one hundred years of faces line the walls. Each, with a description of what they did and why they deserved to be here. I took photos of those I knew, and tried to read about those I didn't. What I found most shocking were the medals beneath some players listing the wars they fought it.

A number of plays went through the first two world wars, and some fought in Korea. It's hard to imagine Jeter in the thick of things out in the desert – but these early players? With a change of location, that's what they were doing. How much must they have loved to just play the game, after surviving Europe?

All in all, we spent four hours in the museum/hall of fame. Double that could easily be filled, by those willing and ready to take every little detail in. And then there was the gift shop. I picked up a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, with the hall of fame logo on the back – something to say, I was there. I also quite fancy the cap, as it has quickly become my favourite hat that I now have on me. Down the street we wandered to find a Jays' cap for Katherine. For some reason they didn't sell them there. Every other team? Sure. The Expos – you bet. But the Blue Jays? No.

We each grabbed a 1977 origin cap, with the old logo, and the green under the brim. It was discovered that Katherine's freakishly large head was a quarter inch, sometimes an eighth of an inch (depending on fit) bigger than mine.

I've been looking for this cap for years, and despite the fact that I had just bought a Brooklyn cap – well... I'm sure I'll love this when I'm back in Toronto too.

With that, we said goodbye to the town, leaving so much more unexplored (you could by a museum pass that also granted access to the farmers museum – though I don't know who would be coming to the Baseball museum, also interested in farming – but, perhaps many Americans, now that I think on it.) We said goodbye to the lake, and goodbye to the score board with updated standings. I cringed when I looked at our division. In our division, against the toughest teams in the game, we are fourth of fifth. This may sound ugly, but the team in third in our division , would be leading the other five with their win/loss record. And this? This is why divisions are a terrible, terrible thing.

Unless you're leading.

Or in any but ours.

Or any team but ours.

I digress.

A few more hours were spent on the road, until we pulled up at a Super 8 in Albany, right beside a Target that will need investigating tomorrow morning after breakfast. We'll start camping soon – we have to, to stay on budget, but for now, why not relax and take it easy while we can?

The guy at the counter said there were no more rooms at the magazine advertised 48.98 left, that they were ten dollars more. Nope, no thanks, I said, walking away - “but we're the cheapest in town.” Yeah, but that doesn't matter when you're not here for the town, just passing through. “I can do 52.98.” Ugh. That was only three bucks more than the next cheapest, and really – could I be bothered to leave at this point? Not for three bucks. Fine – whatever – there we go. We have ourselves a Leave it to Beaver room, and a nice place to stay for the night.

Plus – Target next door.

Up at at them tomorrow – with some ground to cover, headed out to Providence Rhode Island. Surely we'll stop along the way as well. Thus far we've avoided main highways – probably because we told the GPS not to hit up any toll roads – but it's for the best. Would be have seen the two deer bounding across the road, and another calming munching in a farmers field, if we had? No.

Although – I bet the speed limits are more consistent on the I-##s. Here? Twisting and curving blind turn filled cottage country road? 55MPH. Two lane, divided highway? 35. And not only that, but there are no warnings on speeds. Top of a hill it's 45, bottom it will be 55, and then a few seconds later, it slams down to 35. It's a treat to be sure! But that's all part of the fun.

Not only that, but you can turn onto a road and not see a speed limit sign for nearly a dozen minutes, your only choice to guess – are the cars blowing past me? Too slow. Staying behind me? Too fast. Passing only now and then – that's probably the true limit.

Driving – it's a good time.

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