Friday, December 28, 2018

Cooperstown

On One Petty Man Controlling the Universe

Doubleday Field
Doubleday Field, 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018
Cooperstown, NY


Outside the Game: 
I'm not sure how I've gotten into the habit of going to Cooperstown every nine years or so, but here we are. A year ago, I was getting over jet lag in Australia at this time, but I had a full Christmas week off and nothing particular to do, so I dove into going back up to the Hall of Fame again, almost exactly nine years after my last visit.

Things have been ugly at the on-ramp from Weehawken onto 495 for a while. It was never a great experience, from the steep incline, to the multiple lights to traverse the quarter mile, but it had somehow been getting worse, to the point that even at non-peak times, it could take a half hour from the bottom of the ramp to actually getting on 495. Several days ago on Christmas Eve, it took twenty minutes.

Given all this, I decided to start my drive early, walking down to my car at 3 PM, and being out on the road no later than 3:30 PM. Now, 3:30 PM on a random holiday Thursday should not be anything to worry about, traffic-wise. I shot down and out of Hoboken in under five minutes, and I was at the on-ramp in under ten.

And it was already backed up and unmoving. After two traffic light cycles of literally not moving, I gave up and actually went past the on-ramp intersection to turn around because it seemed a better bet to actually get anywhere. And while it was slow going coming from the other direction, at least it was moving. There was a truck that I was parallel with on the other side before I bailed that was still sitting where I left it on as I managed to start inching my way up the on-ramp proper. Even with this progress, it was an exercise in frustration. When I finally got close enough to see the last traffic light before the merge, it was clear we were only moving a car length or two every other light. When I eventually got to the light, I found the culprit: a traffic cop that was letting the perpendicular road go for two green lights before advancing our direction. It was all I could do not to flip him off and roll down my window, screaming at his imbecile behavior, but I realized that it would just delay my progress further.

At a quarter after 4, I was finally merging on 495, a good 45 minutes after I set out. I vowed never to take this on-ramp again. And when Route 1&9 is a better option to anything, you know you've hit rock bottom.

The rest of the drive, until the end, was mostly a piece of cake. I managed to get far enough out of Dodge in 45 minutes that even rush hour didn't affect my progress that much as I tore up the NY Parkway. I stopped for gas and a pre-dinner snack at a pull-off at some point, but for the most part, it was just a calming drive north, with WFAN providing the soundtrack all the way up, with a switch from FM to AM somewhere around Albany as the stereo signal died off. I made my left turn at the the Tri-City area, and then I was off west to my final destination.

Getting the last stretch into Cooperstown, I went on a county road next to the lake. In daylight, it is a nice view and a pleasant drive. At night, in the unlighted pitch dark, it is a white-knuckles drive, dancing with high-beams to try and not drive off the poorly marked road, with literally no idea that there was a large lake to the right in the inky blackness. This stretch of nightmare promptly turns onto the quaintly lit Main Street of downtown Cooperstown, festooned in archaic Christmas decorations from a Norman Rockwell painting. A turn or two further got me to my hotel for the night, where I was able to check-in with a minimum amount of fuss and head to my room to unpack.

Just shy of 8 PM, I headed back to the front desk to inquire what restaurants were still open. Armed with some suggestions, I took the short walk to downtown Main Street, trying to locate the restaurants and stopping by at familiar locales to grab photos of Doubleday Field and the closed Hall of Fame. Walking my way back through town, I found that most of the restaurants were closing at 9 instead of 10 PM. It being about 8:30 PM, I didn't want to be "the guy" to make the staff stay late for an entitled late guest, so I went into a bar and grill and grabbed a To-Go order from the bar and toted my giant hamburger with tater tots on the side the short walk back to the hotel.

Ensconced in my room, I ate my dinner and watched some TV before hitting the hay relatively early so I could make the most of my day at the Hall on Friday.


The Accommodations: 


The Railroad Inn
The Railroad Inn

The Railroad Inn looked new, and that was because it was new, having opened this July. Everything had that brand-new clean about it, and all the room furniture was in the perfect condition that comes not from careful maintenance, but the fact that it was all just put together a few months ago.

The staff was very helpful, and the place was nice enough in a nice enough location, but there were some things that were just weird about it. The lighting in the room was weird. There were two night table lamps, and a small ceiling lamp, off-center from the room, and that was it, which left the room a little murky. Also, there were no chairs in the room. There was a long ottoman-type thing at the foot of the bed, but that was it for where to sit. There was no desk, or no way to comfortably work on the surfaces available. Rooms at the end of the hall featured lofts, but the loft was actually cut into the room next to it (mine, in this case) so that the bed was above the bed in the room next to it. Not wrong per se, but something felt off about it. (There were a pack of dude bros in the loft room next to me, and the sound insulation was poor, but they didn't turn out to be a problem, which was nice.)

The room itself had a large bed on one wall of the room, flanked by two end tables with the aforementioned lamps, and a long ottoman at the foot of the bed. A full coat rack was next to the door, and a credenza with a refrigerator inside was opposite the bed, while a large dresser was underneath the flat-screen TV on the adjacent wall. The wall opposite the bed had the door to the brightly lit bathroom, with toilet and vanity across from a shower with those rain showerheads. I know people like them, but they have zero water pressure, and I never feel quite completely clean after using them.


On Revisitation with Membership Privileges

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum


Friday, December 28, 2018
Cooperstown, NY


Outside the Game:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn't get a great sleep this night, but part of the reason why was certainly unexpected: It was too hot. The room had those small Japanese units from the future, and I left the heat on, it being the middle of winter and upstate New York and all. But the weather was unseasonably warm, and it was eventually stuffy in the room, requiring the curiously effective temperature controls of hanging one leg out of the covers to cool off.

I was up at 7 AM when the breakfast buffet started, so I got dressed and trudged down to the lobby, grabbing a seemingly random selection of beverages and consumables and eating them in grumpy silence alone at the only table in the lobby. After presumably eating an adequate amount, I lumbered back to my room and fell asleep again until 8:30 AM.

I was feeling much refreshed by the additional sleep and quickly showered and dressed, heading out the door at 8:45 AM with my camera. It was misting a pissing rain that was washing away the light coating of snow that was left on the ground, just making everything look damp instead of seasonably aesthetic. A short, watery walk later, I was arriving at the Hall just before it opened up. A couple was walking to the Hall as well, and the man was wearing a Tokyo Swallows hat. I had been this close to wearing my Swallows t-shirt for this visit, but had saved it for the next day in lieu of the "Who's On First" shirt produced by my friend for our last visit to Real Yankee Stadium. We had a short conversation about Japanese baseball until the doors opened up, and we quickly got out of the drizzle. As we were the first two groups in, we each got to one of the two ticket counters as they opened.

As I was planning to come back the next day, I was going to get a membership for the first time ever. It required filling out a form, and there even was a 20% holiday discount still in place, so I had that going for me. The attendant told me to come back later, and he would have all my membership materials ready.

It was there that my luck ran out. The movie theater was closed for the week, as was the library again, even though it was supposed to be open on weekdays. After asking around, it turned out that the library and book store were closed for the holiday week, which I suppose I could understand, but I didn't particularly want to.

I was able to walk around the rest of the museum with limited disappointment. It was an interesting mental overlay task to try and remember what had changed since my last two visits in the preceding 20 years. The "Baseball Today" and origins of the game areas were more of less the same, as well as the areas for African-American baseball, women's baseball, and Latin-American baseball. The areas on stadiums, movies, media, and art were similarly changed only in small ways. However, there was a new exhibit on Moe Berg (no doubt to capitalize on the move that came out this year on his life), and the recent baseball history and the all-time records area were completely redone.

San Diego Chicken
Chicken under glass

The recent history was changed into an exhibit called "A Whole New Ballgame," with the San Diego Chicken in a box at the entrance to the exhibit covering the 70s through today. The displays were obviously a lot more contemporary, and there were also giant video boards showing highlights from each decade, along with giant touch-screens that surveyed visitors on topics including labor/ownership relations, PEDs, and DH and other "advancements." Not surprisingly, the Hall visitors were of a much more conservative mindset than the average fan, with a vast majority siding with my opinions on the removal of the DH and there being no place for PEDs in the sport, for example.

Hall of Fame
The DH is evil.

The area on all-time records was similarly updated with new displays, as well as digital boards for filtering every record every possible way. A giant wall on the Yankees record for most World Series titles probably gave everyone north of Connecticut a heart attack. I was disappointed in the regular baseball history area that there was so little on DiMaggio, but they had brought his locker and jersey up here for the exhibit on his hitting streak. In addition, they had worked in non-MLB records as well, such as mentioning Oh's home run record and the steals in a season record from the women's professional league, so that was a bit of progress, at least.

Who's on First
Who's on Who?

The "Who's On First" display had been moved back to its own area, just outside the all-time records section. I got my picture with the sketch and my shirt and made my way down to the Hall itself. I had a quick first look around at the new inductees since I'd been last before the 11 AM tour started. I learned quite a bit that I hadn't before. The tour started at the Buck O'Neil statue and area. I knew that he had missed getting into the actual Hall during the last Negro Leagues review, but I hadn't realized that it was by just one vote. I hope whoever didn't vote for him burns in Hell for a long, long time. His absence is perhaps the biggest oversight in the entire Hall. I also learned that several of the Latin players' plaques had been changed because they found out that traditionally the mother's maiden name is listed last in Latin names. What boggled my mind is that it had taken so long for someone to finally speak up and point out the mistake extant for decades for some of the first-inducted Latin players.

Bud Selig
I have opinions.

After the tour, I headed back to the front counter and picked up my membership package and then headed out to Cooperstown for lunch. I made a beeline back to the Cooperstown Diner to get a hamburger as big as my head. It was mostly filled with locals, but I managed to grab a seat at the counter and order a burger as big as my head. I received and ate said burger as big as my head and then headed back into town. I scouted out a few stores and then stopped in at Doubleday Field for some pictures. A little poking around found an open gate, and I discovered they were in the middle of doing demolition on a lot of the bleachers on the third-base side. Sledgehammers and broken-up concrete with tipped-over seats were to be found aplenty. I imagine they assumed no one would steal sledgehammers, and on that note, they were correct. The batting cages next to the field were also closed for the season, so I struck out there again, as well.

Doubleday Field
Construction ongoing

I ended up at the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum, housed in an old bank building. It was closed the last time I came up, but open twenty years ago when I visited, so I did remember the place. It turned out to be affiliated in some way with the Railroad Inn, as they had signs all over the place about it. The museum was just as wonderfully cheesy as I remembered it, though the exhibits had been updated a bit in the last two decades. A ton of contemporary players had been added, and others moved around, and there even was an exhibit from Seinfeld with George Steinbrenner with his back to the visitors and George at his desk. To be honest, the thing that fascinated me the most about the place was its layout. The exhibits and path were all worked into this old bank footprint, and one of the old offices, for example, was used for the Seinfeld office. I spent a lot of my time trying to figure out how the layout worked with the original building. To wit, a display with Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe coming down a flight of stairs was clearly worked into the original stairwell of the bank building. Also, given all the Yankees, both historical and contemporary, in the place, it was clear the owners were big Yankees fans.

Seinfeld
"George, we need to talk about this wax museum..."

After, I went to the bookstore on Main Street to scope out all the vintage scorecards they had on hand, as well as get out of the worsening rain for a bit. Just $50 later, I was back walking out to the lake to walk off some of that burger and take some pictures of Otsego Lake, thus miraculously causing the rain to clear.

Otsego Lake
Otsego Lake

I headed back to the Hall for round 2. I started by asking after the Casey at the Bat statue that I was unable to find in my first run through the gallery. A lady told me that it was moved from the library entrance to the art exhibit and then put into storage for some reason. It was apparently some big screw up, because it was still in the treasure hunt program they give out to kids, and a lot of exasperated parents ask about it as well. It was clear the volunteers were a little miffed about it.

I walked around the Hall again a little bit, taking pictures of some things that caught my fancy and sitting through some movies and displays I skipped the first time through. I then surrendered to the inevitable and went to the gift shop to spend all my money. To my credit, I didn't spend all of my money, just a whole lot of it, on various books, trinkets, and postcards of Bud Selig to desecrate when I get home. I did buy my first Strat-o-matic set ever, which almost seems a complete impossibility. Yet here we are. I did resist buying the complete boxed set, just purchasing the "beginner" set. If this in any way works out, I can easily see buying the whole shebang going forward.

I headed out into the late afternoon, stopping in and browsing at all the various memorabilia shops that lined Main Street without buying too much. I stopped in a bar/store built in an old bookshop building. Cooperstown recently became host to its own micro-distillery, which was right down the street my hotel, actually. This was a distillery store in addition to being a bar. They produced a whiskey, a vodka, and a bourbon, all of which were bottled in baseball bottles. A "triple play" got you all of them. I'm not a vodka guy, but I went up to get tastings of the whiskey and the bourbon. The whiskey was just okay, but the "Beanball Bourbon" was surprisingly drinkable, so I got a baseball bottle of the bourbon, along with a wooden box for $5 more, because... you know why.

Cooperstown Distillery
Because I'm a sucker

Laden heavily, I made the short walk back to my hotel and took a long nap. I got up, took a shower, and got dressed to go out for dinner. I cleaned up, did some organizing and packing, and then headed out for dinner about 6 PM. I took a long walk in the surprisingly mild weather to work up an appetite, as well as thoroughly scout all my dining options. I settled on a Tuscan restaurant near the Hall, where I had a thoroughly acceptable dinner, with the exception of a sick child a couple of tables over who was coughing constantly and not covering his mouth. After his family left, it was a more relaxing mealtime, though I had to take a doggy bag home with the remains of my carbonara, as the appetizer meatballs were way more large and numerous than expected.

I had contemplated visiting the distillery store that evening for a drink, but I had a huge glass of red wine at dinner, and I'm far too old to be mixing grains in one evening at this stage. So I took another long walk, stopping down at the inky blackness of the lake at night for some ruminating and picture-taking before a long sweep of Main Street on the way back to the hotel.

Back at the room, it was getting warm again, so I tried to get the Japanese unit to start circulating some air while leaving the window open. I was having problems getting the unit to stay on, so I went to the front desk for some assistance. He confirmed that I was using the right controls, but there was something wrong with the unit. He said he would cycle the entire system, and after turning it on again after ten minutes, the unit stayed on correctly, so I guess that fixed it.

I finished packing up as much as possible, and then took most of the stuff out to the car to get ahead of the game for tomorrow. On my way back, I stopped at the vending machine to buy a Gatorade, but the machine not only spat out three Gatorades instead of one, it then proceeded to refund me all my money in coins. Fair's fair, so I told the guy at the front desk, and he said that it was a known issue that the hotel informed the vending company about the issue, but nothing had been fixed. I said I wasn't an expert on such things, but the vending company is probably going to lose money giving out three for one at no charge.

Laden with beverages, I went back to my room and finished getting as much organized as possible before hitting the hay again at a relatively early hour.


The Accommodations: 
I was at the Railroad Inn again, spending a good deal more time in my room today than the previous. Nearly everything of note has been discussed above.



On Regretful Departures and Travels

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Saturday, December 29, 2018
Cooperstown, NY


Outside the Game: 
I woke up at 8:30 AM after a much more amenable night of sleep. I showered up, got dressed, finished packing, and headed out. I checked out at the front desk and confirmed that it would be okay to leave my car in the lot past checkout before walking down to Main Street again.

It started to snow lightly, which just confirms that I can make it snow in Cooperstown just by leaving, as I had last time I was there. I stopped at a German bakery at the head of Main Street for "the best donuts in town" (actually, they were quite exceptional), which I ate on the way to the Hall. Armed with my membership, I waltzed in just after they opened for free and spent most of my time taking pictures of plaques in the Hall, in addition to another brief sweep of the building. A "quick" stop in the gift shop yielded a bunch more purchases before heading back out.

Rickey Henderson
Fun Fact: Rickey Henderson is tied with Goose Gossage for the most teams played on by a HoFer 

I stopped at "Seventh Inning Stretch," the shop that occupies the building of the old Smalley's theater. I made a few purchases there and saw that they had HoF inductees sign their doorframe, which was both neat and weird. I headed back to my car in the snow, stopping in at the bakery to grab a couple ham and cheese croissants for the road.

I finished packing up the car and took off. Even with the light snow, the road up the lake was much less terrifying in the daylight, and there were no incidents for most of the drive home. In fact, there was a Saturday afternoon Talking Baseball out of nowhere, so in addition to listening to WFAN all the way home, I had the dulcet tones of Ed Randall guiding the second half of the drive.

Of course, the tunnel traffic was a mess for no reason. I dumped off to 1&9 and had to deal with some congestion, but I had an otherwise uneventful ride back to the garage in Hoboken. With three days of purchases with me, I wisely Lyfted back to my apartment, where I spent the late afternoon doing laundry and unpacking everything.


The Accommodations:
Jersey City, sweet Jersey City


2018 Stand-Alone Trip