It is hard to know where to start with this story, so bear with me if it gets a little long. I like baseball, and one of the things I love about Dan is that he likes baseball as much (okay, probably a little bit more, when it comes to the history of it) as I do. Even though our teams are not the same, it’s the crazy love of the game that we share. And that’s really something. So last summer, we planned to drive up to Cooperstown, NY to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame during our Birthday Week Extravaganza. We didn’t realize at first how much going in peak season would impact the cost and convenience of the trip, so we decided then that we’d just have to wait and go during the off season.
I added it to my 30 before 30 list because I was secretly afraid that if we didn’t make this trip a priority, it would easily fall by the wayside and years would pass and we’d still be wistfully saying, “We should really visit Cooperstown.” I went to Cooperstown to see the Hall of Fame game in 1992 when Tom Seaver was inducted, but I never visited the museum, and despite being a member of a pretty baseball-oriented family (of Yankee fans, AHEM), Dan had never been at all.
I can’t remember when we decided to just go, but we picked Presidents Day weekend and I’m writing this a few hours after getting home. We knew upstate New York wouldn’t be a super popular destination in the middle of winter, and let’s face it, only crazy baseball people are thinking about baseball in late February. And while there were some drawbacks to our winter visit, overall I’d do it this way again in a heartbeat.
We left New Jersey in the late morning on Friday, and the trip took a little less than five hours. We stayed at the Inn at Cooperstown, and honestly? Staying at a Bed and Breakfast seemed so… adult to me. But the Inn is within walking distance of the museum, and that was a big priority for us. We knew going in that we’d need at least a full day at the museum, and we didn’t want to have to commute on our weekend away. The Inn was really beautiful, the people were friendly, and the whole experience was just completely charming. And yes, kind of grown-up-ish. Right down to the no tv in the rooms. And the key to the outside door, since they lock everything up at 10:30 each night.
A few friends told us to do everything we could to go out to Brewery Ommegang during our visit, so we drove out after we got settled on Friday afternoon. It seemed a little deserted, and for good reason, because one of the staff members told us that the brewery was, in fact, closed. Not just Friday, but all weekend. And that was a complete and total bummer. We drove back to the Inn and hung around for a while reading (and/or napping, depending on who we’re talking about here) before taking a walk into the village proper to find somewhere to eat. The downtown area is really only two blocks, and it was both completely charming and oddly deserted. You could cross the street without really looking, half of the stores and restaurants had hand-written signs that said “closed for season” and it was really a very eerie feeling. It honestly felt a bit like walking through an empty movie set. (It was, however, really insanely fun to see the baseball-related signs in every store. Even the CVS had a giant sign assuring us that baseball fans were welcome.) We found a small pub-type place and had a few beers (Dan had one of the Ommegang beers, and I had one from another Cooperstown brewery, which were both pretty fantastic) which was a relief after both the long drive and the disappointing brewery trip. We stopped at a liquor store on the walk back, hoping to pick up a six pack to enjoy back at the Inn, but alas, the liquor store? Only sold wine and liquor. (I am still having trouble getting my head around that notion.) So that’s how Dan and I came to spend our Friday evening drinking wine, eating cookies, and playing board games in the Inn’s common room. (I kicked his ass twice in Battleship, furrowed my brow through an attempt to teach me how to play chess, and then got beat pretty solidly in Parcheesi.)
On Saturday we woke up to a pleasant postcard view… of snow. And howling winds. My insistence on wearing Converse all the damn time has never felt so impractical. We had an insanely tasty breakfast at the Inn (I don’t know why I was so enchanted by the color-coordinated plates, mugs, and placemats, and B&B style family breakfast tables, but there it was. I loved it.) and hurried through the wind and snow down to the museum. (Don’t tell Dan I’m telling you this, Internet, but when we were walking around on Friday night, he deliberately decided on a restaurant we saw early on, so that we wouldn’t see the Hall of Fame until our Hall of Fame Day on Saturday. And I think that’s AMAZING.) As picturesque as the snow was, it was just way too damn cold to even appreciate how pretty it was, it was the keep your head down to keep your face from getting frostbite kind of snow, and it was a relief to just get inside.
And then we were there! And we had baseball-shaped stamps on our hands and Tom Seaver souvenir tickets and a map and it was just so great. They advise visitors to start on the second floor, and we started with the Cooperstown history and a multimedia presentation about baseball and its history and how it makes you feel the same as the kids playing in the fields and stuff. And it had me getting a little sniffly until we were supposed to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame collectively right before doing the freaking wave. (But it was still great.)
We spent a looooong time walking through the second floor, which is organized chronologically and includes artifacts from each important moment going back to the late 1800s. Dan’s favorite part all day was the old-timey baseball stuff, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Something about baseball’s beginnings and seeing the old catchers mitts and ticket stubs, seeing the maps and photos from these trips around the world taken in the very early 20th century, it’s just so … I don’t know. I’m clearly running out of adjectives, but it was really something to see it all. I had a hard time getting over all of the trophies and plaques given to the players by all manners of organizations from schools to towns… the bats artfully carved into canes, commemorative pins and fruit bowls… silver season passes to early games. Since I’m a student of history and baseball, the artifacts that have been preserved for more than a hundred years are just so wonderful to see. I loved especially seeing the old uniforms and warm up sweaters (real wool sweaters) and naturally all of the most famous players along the way (Ruth and Gehrig and Paige and on and on). There were more people there than I expected, but few enough that you could read every description of every artifact in each case if you really wanted to.
Seeing it myself was pretty great, and seeing Dan appreciating and marveling over the history of it was really special, too. I didn’t really have a huge need to go to the Hall of Fame until recently, because I knew that I had to get to a certain place, fan-wise, student-of-the-game-wise, before visiting the Hall would really mean as much to me as it should. And we hit that sweet spot, and I suppose this is getting boring for you non-baseball fans out there by now, but just… you know. Or you can imagine.
By the time we got to the 1960s or so, it got a bit more interesting (sort of… the oldest stuff was really the best) just because you’re so much more familiar with what you’re looking at, with the names attached to each exhibit. We saw a full diagram of the expansions of the 60s and 70s, then more Yankees stuff, a few Mets things here and there, the exhibits on women in baseball and the Latin influence on the game… We got through the entire second floor, ending with the modern day exhibits (which frankly really weren’t very impressive to me) right as it got to be about lunchtime. I was starting to feel super bleary-eyed at this point, and my feet hurt in my damn Converse and it was time for a break. How we stumbled through that wind (it was so windy and cold that it almost made me breathless) and into the pizza place, I’m really not sure. But that white pizza? Tasted like heaven.
I was afraid that we’d never, ever get through the whole museum in one day, knowing that we had two more floors to cover before the museum closed at 5pm. We went up to the third floor after lunch, and saw a really interesting exhibit about ballparks (although it hasn’t been updated to include the demolition of the first Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium), which I really enjoyed. I love that aspect of the game, and those early ballparks? Woah. It’s hard to imagine structures like that. There was a special exhibit about Hank Aaron’s legacy, a room full of AP Yankee photos (which, of course, Dan was super into), and an exhibit about the postseason which included copies of each World Series ring since the first one. I could have stayed and pondered the Records Room for quite some time. Seeing the records that Dan is constantly quoting to me written out, and comparing some of the unattainable ones with the active players’ status on the list? Really amazing, especially when you think about how much the game has changed since some of these records were first broken. The wall of game balls from the no hitters was especially impressive. We also got to sit and watch Who’s on First, which is still so damn funny.
And then it was time to head down to the Plaque Gallery. The gallery and rotunda have a sacred feel, you’re led naturally to the first and most recent classes at the back of the hall. I have to be honest here and say that this was not my most favorite part of the museum. I have to acknowledge, of course, that knowing all of the Hall of Fame inductees and their accomplishments is one of the most interesting aspects of the game… but half of the names are ones I’m not familiar with, and it would be hard to read every single plaque in there. But we found the noteworthy ones, and being there in that space was the perfect cap to the day. It sort of sealed in the history and impact of the experience, somehow, although I’m sure that sounds weird.
We were exhausted at this point, truly exhausted. We spun through the gift shop briefly and then trudged back to the Inn to put our aching feet up and talk like little kids about how much fun we had, and how we finally saw the Hall of Fame, and to debate over records and statistics and how cool it was to spend the day among other baseball fans, fans who were excitedly pointing out records and bits of history just like we were.
We read and dozed for a while, and then braced ourselves to go back out for dinner. I had expected that we’d be able to get dressed up and go out for a nice dinner, but with the weather and so many of the restaurants being closed, that just didn’t happen. We were just so disappointed with the food options, settling for another mediocre meal of chicken fingers and spaghetti on Saturday night, before settling in at Friday night’s bar for quite a few beers. (We both had Ommegang’s Rare Vos and couldn’t get enough.) And then? We crashed.
On Sunday we expected to walk around town so I could get some non-snowing photos of the Hall and other landmarks, while stopping in a few more souvenir shops along the way. We didn’t bank on the few stores being closed because it was Sunday, or the 11 degree temperatures that had our poor toes frozen and hurting. So we cut our trip shorter than we expected and came home.
But overall? This trip was amazing. It was exactly the escape we both needed, it was relaxing, it was interesting, the Hall of Fame was as awesome as we both knew it would be. It goes without saying – if you’re a baseball fan, you need to get yourself there. Just don’t go in July. There were a few disappointments along the way, but the bottom line? These two baseball fans spent a weekend steeped in love for the game, and it doesn’t get very much better than that, if you ask me.