The National Baseball Hall Of Fame, located in the picturesque village of Cooperstown, NY, represents baseball Mecca to many fans, including my brother and me. Arguably the most famous sports hall of fame, the Hall keeps alive the past, as well as integrating the present, making it a prime target for any passionate fan. For years we talked about going, but transportation issues, and coordinating work schedules proved formidable for planning a trip. At that time, I was living in southern Maine, further complicating the situation. All of these factors resulted in us putting off the trip early 2000. We have made two subsequent trips to the Hall, and each visit occurred in different times of year, lending a unique perspective to the museum and village of Cooperstown.
First visit : Sunday, March 12, 2000
Our first visit occurred on Sunday, March 12th 2000. Though we were only about 10 days from spring, the weather was decidedly winterlike, with cloudy skies and cold temperatures in central NJ, where our trip began. Not unexpectedly, weekend traffic afforded us some relief from the normal commuting issues in NJ, and the drive was rather uneventful. From central NJ to the village of Cooperstown measured about 250 miles, which we covered in a bit less than four and one-half hours. Since our visit was out of season, Cooperstown was quiet, as was the Hall. It was so quiet that we were able to park just across the street from the museum, a pleasure we would not have in subsequent visits.
After purchasing tickets in the the Main Lobby, we headed almost immediately to the Plaque Gallery, located on the first floor. The Gallery houses the famous plaques for each member of the Hall of Fame, and the view was better than I had imagined. During much of my life, I had seen pictures of the plaques, but now here we were in their presence. At first, my brother and I walked through the Gallery together, but soon we split up, as each of us gravitated to our favorite players and eras. Time passed incredibly quickly, and since we had only carved out enough time for a brief visit, it seemed all too soon that we had to move on and see the main part of the museum, referred to as the Baseball Timeline., located on the second floor.
Baseball came alive for me in the Baseball Timeline. In this section of the Hall lies the vast majority of the historical items and memorabilia collected over the past 150 years. Being Mets fans, we searched for the Tom Seaver display, as he is the only Mets player to be enshrined in the Hall. We spent most of our time here, as the history of baseball was laid out before us. Because of time constraints, we were limited to visiting only a fraction of the Hall. Unfortunately, we either did not take pictures during our visit, or those photos have been lost. Either way, we did not have much in the way of visuals to display here. Nonetheless, it was a trip all true baseball fans should make at some point, as I do not believe there is a greater collection of baseball history in any one place. We left in the mid afternoon, as I needed to be back in Maine in less than 24 hours. There was so much to see, and we did not give ourselves nearly enough time to see it. We will return again, as the call will be too strong to ignore.
Unfortunately, our trip back to the central NJ shore shaped up to be much trickier than the trip here. Shortly after leaving the Hall, snow began falling, and as we reached the NY Thruway, it became heavier, covering the road. There was not much traffic, which was a blessing, as we needed to reduce speed in order not to end up on the side of the road. Snow ended as we crossed back into NJ, with an uneventful trip ahead of us the remainder of the way.
Second visit: July 23/24, 2014
Apparently, the call of the Hall was not as loud or enticing as I expected, because our second visit occurred more than 14 years after our first. To be fair, we were crisscrossing the US visiting major league ballparks, checking off all but Oakland-Alameda County Stadium in Oakland CA in the process. Though we had begun visiting minor league ballparks, we managed to carve out time to return to Cooperstown, this time in the heat of the summer. We were unaware that the following weekend was Induction Weekend, but in all honesty, I am glad we were not present at that time. Cooperstown is small, and resources (like parking) become stretched when large crowds are present.
This time, we devoted two days to the visit, traveling from central NJ to Cooperstown on Wednesday morning, July 23rd. Warm and sunny weather made the trip uneventful, though the GPS we employed chose a peculiar route for us, taking us through what appeared to be a working farm as we approached the Hall. After finding our hotel and dropping off our bags, we went in search of lunch. As might be expected, Cooperstown and environs offer mainly American cuisine in local diners. and we chose one not far from the Hall.
Not surprisingly, the Hall was much busier than our last visit, as Induction Weekend was just days away. Ticket prices had risen considerably since 2000, which should not have been a surprise, but I must admit I was taken aback by the steep increase. Like our last visit, he headed straight for the Plaque Gallery. To my mild surprise, the Gallery was not crowded, which suited us just fine. Unlike our last time here, we had the luxury of time, and we took much more time to appreciate the simple but distinguished tribute the members of the Hall.
Since our last visit, another New York Met was enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Mike Piazza, traded to the Mets during the 1998 season, arguably had his best seasons as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning the Rookie of the Year award with them in 1993. Though Piazza never topped his best offense seasons with the Dodgers, he led the up and coming Mets to the playoffs in 1999, and the World Series in 2000. However, Piazza’s home run against the Atlanta Braves in the aftermath of 9/11 cemented his place in Mets history. Piazza was just the second Hall of Famer inducted as a New York Met, so seeing his plaque was a must.
Few of the plaques contained names we did not recognize, but the plaques are ordered by the year the dignitary was inducted, so there were a couple surprises when it came to chronology. After tracking down the plaque of Mike Piazza, I looked for the plaque of Willie Mays. Considered by many (including myself) to be the greatest player ever to lace up spikes, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Mays’ career, as a New York Met in 1973. Only a shadow of his former self by that time. Mays still seemed to possess a love for the game, as if time itself had come to a stand still. Despite his subpar play in the 1973 World Series, Mays remains my favorite player, even if his best days occurred before I was born.
Following our stint in the Gallery, we headed for the Baseball TimeLine. Naturally, there were many new items added, but perhaps the most interesting was the ball from home run number 756 by Barry Bonds. The ball itself was defaced with an asterisk, clearly by someone unhappy with the crowning of a dubious new home run king. Rather than honor Bonds for the feat, the Hall constructed an elaborate display featuring Hank Aaron. Whether you believe Bonds is indeed the home run champ or not, it is clear that the Hall was sending an unambiguous message by celebrating Aaron over Bonds. During our tour we spotted a glove worn by Gary Carter. A member of the Hall, Carter was enshrined as an Expo, which was a personal disappointment. Like Piazza, Carter may have had his best years with the another team, but his impact on the Mets teams in the 1980s cannot be overstated. Carter was generally regarded as the final piece of a team that would win the World Series in 1986.
Perusing the seemingly endless stream of displays, I was drawn to a picture of Jackie Robinson at bat. Having seen many pictures of Robinson, this photo did not appear to offer much about the player that I did not already know. However, it did have something in it that is no longer seen, and in fact has probably not been seen since the 1950s or 1960s. The image that drew my interest in the picture was a photographer in the field of play, barely on the foul side of the third base line. Camera equipment was not nearly as sophisticated as it is today, and to get good action shots, photographers needed to be on the field. That image reminded me that the coverage of the game has changed so much that something this subtle would catch my notice.
We called it a day after working our way through the Timeline. Following a local dinner, we headed back to the hotel to rest following a long day.
Sunshine and moderate temperatures for late July greeted us the next morning, tempting us to get outside before heading back to the Hall. Our target that morning was Lake Otsego, the nearest point of interest. Cooperstown lies on the southern end of the lake, which meant is was just minutes away from the hotel. Being a workday, the area was nearly deserted, which meant the dock area was ours alone. We spent nearly an hour exploring the southernmost end of the lake, as well as its environs. The heat and humidity began to increase, signaling to us that it was probably time to get moving and head back to Cooperstown.
Returning shortly after the Hall opened, we scanned the museum for treasures we had missed. Our next stop was Doubleday Field, the baseball field and complex located adjacent to the Hall. Once the home to the Hall of Fame Classic, we saw the field as it was being prepared for the Induction Ceremony just days away. At first glance, Doubleday Field closely resembled many of the low Class A ballparks we had visited in the previous few years. It came as quite a surprise to learn that the capacity of the stadium was approximately 9,700, far more than expected.
On this day, there were no ball games being played, nor were any scheduled. We watched as the playing field was slowly transformed into the shape it would serve for the induction ceremony. Clouds began to thicken, blotting out the sun, and it was clear that thunderstorms would follow shortly thereafter. We took this as a hint to make our escape back to central NJ before the weather became a problem during our four and one-half hour drive home. Our second visit to the Hall was much more satisfying than the first, and allowing ourselves additional time made all of the difference. At the time, we were not sure we would visit again, so I was glad we made the trip.
Third visit: October 7th/8th, 2017
My brother and I found ourselves back in Cooperstown in early October 2017, as the MLB baseball playoffs were underway. Expecting the region to be undergoing a transition from summer to fall, we were mildly disappointed, as there was not nearly as much color as expected for the time of year. Much of the Northeast was in the midst of a return to summer with high heat and humidity covering the region. Instead of finding refreshingly cool air with billowy clouds, we were greeted upon our arrival with temperatures near 90 degrees, and thunderstorms in the area!
Having learned from the mistakes of our first visit, we scheduled the weekend around exploration of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, leaving plenty of time to acquaint ourselves with the haven of baseball fans worldwide. Arriving in the early afternoon of Saturday, October 7th, we found that the area was much more active that usual, especially considering football season (both college and the NFL) was well underway. When paying for out tickets to the Hall, a nice woman at the desk convinced it was cheaper to become members of the Hall, particularly because we were visiting twice that weekend. One of the perks of membership was a reduced price of admission, but the best perk was a membership card, which quickly became one of my most prized possessions.
As had become our custom, we visited the Plaque Gallery first. Something about this exhibit screams the Hall to me, where the greats of the game have been immortalized. Every time I visit the Gallery I notice something I had previously missed; this time, it was that the initial induction class had been give a section to themselves. In 1936, the Hall of Fame enshrined Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth, though the Hall would not formally open until nearly three years later. Being a history buff as well as a lifelong baseball fan, I appreciated the special treatment these greats were afforded, among the very best baseball had to offer from its first 75 years.
Viewing the plaques, it is clear that the New York Yankees were well represented. From Ruth and Gehrig through DiMaggio and Mantle, the Hall is replete with examples of the dominance of the Yankees. Being a die hard Mets fan, I confess to a certain amount of envy, but it is difficult to debate the profound impression the storied franchise has left on baseball history. Just as we were exiting the Gallery to head to the Baseball Timeline, I noticed wax figures of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. While it was here during our last visit, it did not receive the proper attention from me at that time. Aside from Ty Cobb, these two are arguably the greatest left handed hitters in the history of the game. Sadly, their careers did not overlap, but they are here together at the Hall.
While there was not much new in the Baseball Timeline, we did spend a fair amount of time studying jerseys and equipment from various eras of the game. There is a large enough age spread between us so that we have a different perspective of the game (my love for baseball was based in the 1970s; my brother’s love for the game is rooted in the 1980s). We wandered among the relics, enjoying the history of the game with the aid of items from those eras. One of the newer displays was based on The Simpsons and their take on the game. Many players from the 1970s and 1980s did voiceover work in this episode, so there was plenty for the both of us to enjoy in this display.
Following our initial pass through of the Hall, we walked over to Doubleday Field. Unlike the last time we were here, there was some actual baseball being played. A collection of players (seemingly from different teams) were playing, and with umpires being present, I suppose this was a fall league game. Clouds were building ahead of a cold front and its attending showers and thunderstorms, but we did explore the park for a bit. Heat and humidity cut our visit to the field short, as the conditions felt more like mid July than early October.
Showers and thunderstorms during the evening and early overnight changed the season from summer back to fall as we began Day Two of our visit. There were many, many people in the streets of Cooperstown that morning, and the breeze almost felt cool when compared to Saturday. It was almost a festival like setting, with many vendors hawking their wares on the sidewalk on Main Street. Supposedly Pete Rose was signing autographs at a sports shop down the street, but we did not have enough interest in him to battle the crowd to glimpse a view of one of the most controversial players in MLB history.
As we prepared to bid adieu to the Hall, we spent some time walking around the museum. We found sculptures outside of the Hall, mainly in the back of the museum. From a distance, it was difficult to discern the identity of the people in the sculpture, but as we got closer, we could identify at least a few. In the center of the courtyard, Johnny Podres was delivering a pitch to Roy Campanella, with Satchel Paige to the right of Podres, as well as an unidentified “Woman at Bat”, a tribute to the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Finally, it was time to go, and we left Cooperstown during the mid afternoon, listening to the Jets lose to the Browns on the way home. It is not clear whether we will visit Cooperstown again anytime soon, but considering the 14 year gap between our first and second visits, we could come back again. If you have never been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, GO! Not only is the Hall worth the trip from anywhere, Cooperstown NY is a charming village, worthy of exploring as well.