Monday, December 28, 2009

Cooperstown

An Introduction:

It has been at least nine years since my last trip to Cooperstown. I actually don't know the exact time period, except that I think it was when I was still in publishing. It was definitely after college, at least. I remember quite little, except that I had my Plymouth, went off-season, and stayed in an extremely cheap motel by the lake -- it was one of the only motels in Cooperstown at the time that had a Web site. Ah, the nineties. Having just finished my trips to all the major league ballparks this season, I figured this was as good a time as any to visit the Hall of Fame again, and it would be a chance to actually do something on the week I had off between Christmas and New Years, which I usually just spent sitting around.


On Traveling North and Turning Left

Night Hall
The Hall at Night


Sunday, December 27, 2009
Cooperstown, NY


Outside of the Game: 
I waited to leave until after the Giants football game began to avoid any residual traffic and then started my drive up, guided on my TomTom not by the previous dulcet British voice, but a Dalek one that I downloaded off their Website. My traffic management stratagem proved only partially successful, as a serious accident where 287 turns into 87 in New York tacked a good 45 minutes onto my trip before I even really got going. Once past the accident, there was less and less traffic to be found as I jetted away from population centers, and by the time I took the left turn at Albany, there were next to no cars on the road for the remainder of my drive.

After checking into my hotel, I popped out for some dinner next door and took a quick trip to Main Street, and then went to bed.

The Accommodations:

Holiday Inn Express

Outside of some over-priced bed and breakfasts and some really shaky-looking motels, there's very few places to stay that are actually in Cooperstown proper. Just on the border of the village is a mini-mall complex where the two closest chain hotels are. I stayed in the Holiday Inn Express slightly removed from the mall proper. It was a nice enough place, and literally down the road from Main Street Cooperstown, such as it is. The long sloping driveway of the hotel would prove to be interesting the next day, but I get ahead of myself.


On Dreaming of a White Post-Christmas


Casey at the Bat
Casey at the Back

Monday, December 28, 2009
Cooperstown, NY

Outside the Game:
I awoke to something of a surprise, as I looked out my hotel window to see the entire landscape covered in snow. Once I got myself completely awake after a shower, I observed it was just a dusting of powder. Because I was up early to get to the Hall when it opened, and because I was literally a five-minute drive from Main Street, I wasn't too concerned. The hotel's aforementioned long driveway did give me a bit of adventure to get up and out before it was fully plowed, but besides that, it was no trouble.

Snow
Bit of snow

I parked in the tourist lot right next to Doubleday Field. As everything was snowed over, the small gathering of out-of-town cars were all parked in an arbitrary row. After the lot was plowed later in the day, it turned out that we managed to all park within the lines, so there's something to be said for serendipity -- or perhaps just the first car in the line parking before the lot was completely covered in snow.

Doubelday Field
Picturesque Doubleday Field

After walking around the closed-for-the-season Doubleday Field a while, I went straight to the Hall of Fame as it opened at 9. There had been several renovations since my last visit, so I didn't really recognize everything straight away. One new exhibit right by the entrance is the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. While it is nice that the Hall has finally done something--anything--to acknowledge Buck's life and all he has meant to baseball (and the first recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award was, unsurprisingly, Buck O'Neil), it is a half-effort. Induct him--just do it. There's simply no excuse not to do so.

Buck O'Neil
Buck

The new layout takes you to the second floor, where you get a history of the Hall, and then the "Grandstand Movie Theater," based on the old Cominskey Park. I have clear memories of the theater from my last visit, so it must have been here for a while, though the "stars of today" content in the film has obviously been updated.

After the film, the timeline of the history of baseball section begins, with separate branch rooms for Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and women in baseball. Of particular note in the "women in baseball exhibit" was the fact that Suzyn Waldman is in the Hall of Fame, and not as "The Worst Announcer in the History of the Game." There are some artifacts from her and a picture detailing her access to the locker rooms after lawsuits to allow in women reporters. This strikes me as the largest travesty in the entire Hall. It actually offended me, as any it would any right-thinking individual.

Steroids
Elephant in the room

At the end of the "timeline" area is the "Today's Game" section, where they have the lockers with all of the teams currently in the league. At the entrance to this area is one of the only mentions of PEDs in the entire hall. There is a tiny disclaimer at the entrance to the area that says they acknowledge the existence of steroids, but want to take a longer view of history to see what the real impact on the game was, or something squirrely along those lines. In the Giants' team locker is the Bonds home run ball that fans voted to brand with the asterisk, along with perhaps the longest explanatory panel in the entire Hall documenting why it looks like that. I have to say, it nearly brought a tear to my eye.

*
*

The next area is all about ballparks and fandom. From what I can discern, this is a relatively new area, and is quite well done (if not up-to-date with the ballpark openings from last year). There is a large virtual reality area where you can see parks from the past, and more areas on World Series, and baseball art and whatnot. Another room has a constantly running video of the original Abbot and Costello "Who's On First" routine and George Carlin's "Baseball vs Football."

Holiday Hall
Holiday Hall

And this brings us to the Hall of Fame proper. It was all done up for the holidays, and particularly pretty looking. I was amazed how much time I spent in there just reading all the plaques. You almost get the sense that they are headstones, with the bodies in the wall behind them. The first induction class and the newest entries are all now at the back of the Hall in an alcove, with some particular disturbing statues of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. The Hall also has a nice, new disclaimer of its own, saying that the info on the plaques was believed to be true at the time it was engraved, which is a disclaimer that Cooperstown itself needs to put on the outside of the Hall, when you get right down to it.

Walter O'Malley
Opinions

The Hall of Fame Library building has now been linked up with the Hall proper, and the display on baseball journalism is the last area in that building, along with the research library (sadly closed that day) and a kid's area. The statue of Casey has been moved to the back library exit that is there now.

After my first run-though of the Hall, I ducked out for some lunch. Many of the small food places were closed for the season, but the Cooperstown Diner remained open. I ordered a burger and fires and received a chunk of meat larger than most steaks I've ever been served, crammed inside an intimidated-looking bun. Thus fortified against the cold, I headed back out to Main Street. As a male member of the species, I generally don't have a problem controlling my shopping habits, with two notable exceptions: when new Venture Brothers merchandise comes out, and anything baseball related. The later was a particular problem, being in a village utterly dedicated to divorcing baseball geeks such as myself from their money. The temptation was happily diminished somewhat by the season in which I visited, as many of the stores were closed for the season as it was for the restaurants.

Cooperstown Diner
As big as my head

Which isn't to say that I got away scott-free. The Willis Monie used book store was open, and with its cluttered isles, poor lighting, and cavalcade of books, it stands as a paragon of what a used bookstore is supposed to be. Given its location in Cooperstown, the first two or three walls of books, in addition to other little annexes, are dedicated to the subject of baseball. They even sold items such as old scorecards and programs. It is a wonder I got out of there without them owning my soul.

Truth
Truth

After some more tooling around at other stores more dedicated to baseball card crowd (a particularly clever sign in a store advertised that they had all the cards your mother threw away), I headed back to the Hall for a while. The only other big baseball attraction in town, the wax museum down the street where Pete Rose generally holds court every year, was--from what I could understand from the handwritten sign in the window--closed for the week. Because of this, I was able to head back to the hotel at around 6 PM, having seen everything that I wanted to see.

The Accommodations:
I was at the Holiday Inn in the morning. As mentioned, I had gotten up extremely early to get to the Hall of Fame when it opened, so I had a big helping of the breakfast buffet before heading out into the snow.

Every weather report for the second day was warning of additional "Lake Effect" snow, which seems to be a blanket term that meteorologists feel empowered to use when they have no real idea how much snow was actually going to come. The forecast was literally for 1-6 inches of snow, with possibly more or less. These are frankly the kinds of tolerances I need in my job performance. "The job is going to cost between $1-$600,000, or possibly more or less. I'd like to give you a more accurate estimate, but you know, it is Lake Effect."

The snow from overnight previous had already been cleared, but the trouble I had getting out of that parking lot with just an inch or so of snow was starting to weigh heavily upon my mind, as was getting back to the main roads with a half a foot of snow on the ground. After confirming the "forecasts," I decided to check out of the hotel after a brief nap and drive back that night to try and beat the snow.

It is rare to get an almost immediate validation of your decisions, but mine came as the night sky exploded into snow as I finished packing up my car for the trip back. I grabbed some gas, and started back towards Albany. It was then that my little Dalek-voiced master decided to have some fun with me, as the TomTom mapped a course up some mountain county road, in the night, in the snow, to get me back out to the main roads. As calmly as possible, I nervously weaved my car up switchbacks and down abandoned stretches of road before finally arriving on the main road back to Albany.

Once on populated roads, I tried to make as best time as possible to get around Albany for the right turn home to get out of the weather. I eventually outran the snow front, and made my way back, driving into the parking lot in Hoboken at a little after ten.


2009 Stand-Alone Trip