My Pilgrimage to Cooperstown

I happen to belong to a rare breed of baseball people: Rockies fans in New York City. There are a handful of us, but no more than that. Some of us even root for New York’s baseball teams (guilty). But in our hearts the Rockies reign supreme.

One thing every baseball fan in New York should do, regardless of favorite team, is visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It’s a short drive upstate and there’s really no excuse for missing out. So I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve lived somewhere in New York State for 7 of the past 11 years and I’ve just now made the trip for myself. However, the point is that I made it happen, and you can read all about it right here. And you can even see some awesome cell phone pictures I took.

That short drive I referred to starts on Interstate 87 and continues for a bit on I-90 and I-88. From 88 I exit onto Highway 20. I spend about 35 miles headed west on this road, which is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever driven on. It’s non-stop rolling hills and valleys, open fields and forests, broken up by the occasional farmhouse or barn. Despite our nearly snow-less winter in the city, this part of the state has clearly received their share, some within the last 24 hours judging by the trees. Every so often I pass a sign that informs me I’m on a scenic byway, but that seems like something I ought to be able to see for myself.

I pass through quaint little towns with names like Duanesberg and Sloansville before arriving in Springfield. Here, my GPS informs me that I must make a left turn onto County Road 31. I do this against my better judgment, because there is a giant sign at the intersection telling me that 31 is closed 4 miles down. Since I won’t reach Cooperstown for 11 miles, this could pose a problem. I decide to hope that there will be a detour, or that the sign is lying. I feel less hopeful as I go, however, because the road, though well-salted, is becoming less and less thoroughly plowed. Finally, I do reach a sign that tells me only local traffic may go further. Judging by the condition of the road beyond the sign, I deduce that “local traffic” refers to giant trucks with chains on their tires; in my little Corolla, I do not qualify. Luckily, there is a detour sign.

My GPS does its job, repeatedly insisting that I make a legal U-turn as soon as possible. I am reminded of the episode of The Office when Dwight follows his GPS right into a lake. These machines simply cannot override common sense, tempting though it may be to obey them. I make another couple of turns before reaching a dead end; fortuitously, at that exact moment the GPS manages to recalculate a route that is acceptable to it, and I’m instructed to turn left. I’m now on Highway 80, which is very well-plowed and running along Otsego Lake, not a bad view at all.

I’m mere miles from the Hall, my destination and the Holy Grail of baseball fanhood, when suddenly I see a deer out the corner of my right eye. It is in a dead sprint toward the road, chasing something, on a collision course with me. I slam on the brakes, which you are supposed to do, and squeeze my eyes shut, which I’m pretty sure you are not supposed to do. I brace for the impact … and then it doesn’t come. This is inexplicable, because this deer was literally on top of me when I saw it. I have no idea how I got out of this near-death experience with no death. The only explanation I can think of is that the ghosts of the baseball greats are protecting the perimeter to allow all true fans safe passage. I am thoroughly relieved to have been granted this. But I drive the rest of the way at about 7 miles per hour.

I arrive on Main Street in Cooperstown, whose economy clearly centers around the Hall of Fame. Nearly every business on the street is baseball-related. The Hall itself is tucked unassumingly next to a general store, and I almost miss it. I park the car without incident and head inside.

After buying my ticket, I head up to the second floor and spend a little time in the Babe Ruth room. It’s a worthy tribute to arguably the greatest player that ever lived and includes such artifacts as his old locker and uniform.

From there, most of the rest of the floor is dedicated to a history of the game, generally represented by which teams were “dominant” in each era. Naturally, there’s a lot of Yankees. In fact, if I wasn’t something of a Yankees fan myself, I’d probably be a little bit insulted. In the end, though, I’ll admit that my team has only been around since 1993 and people must have been doing baseball-related stuff before then, so it’s fair that those teams would take up a little bit more room.

The section on today’s game features a locker from each team with artifacts from its recent accomplishments. The center display has items from important moments in the 2011 season, including Prince Fielder’s jersey from the All-Star Game and Derek Jeter’s helmet and spikes from the day he recorded his 3,000th hit. This is a very cool room, but it also plays World Series highlights on a constant loop, and you know what that means: Joe Buck just won’t shut up and let me enjoy myself!

Also on the second floor is the “Diamond Dreams” exhibit, which showcases the role of women in baseball. I’m pleasantly surprised and gratified to see this, and delighted to learn that there are many more female sportswriters, owners, and announcers than I’d ever thought. There is a plaque explaining that baseball fans initially “resisted” female journalists. Thank goodness that’s over, right? Otherwise you might not be reading this. One of the artifacts in the exhibit is a jersey from the Colorado Silver Bullets. Remember them? They were a women’s baseball team that traveled around from 1994 to 1997. I remember being so proud of them because women mostly played softball, and I wanted to think that we could play the same sport the boys did.

I head up to the third floor. My feet barely touch the floor on my way through the “How Baseball and Cricket Connect” exhibit (because seriously, who cares?). There’s a whole gallery full of press photographs of the Yankees, and the walls are decorated with pinstripes. Once again, I’m torn between my affection for them and the annoyance I’m supposed to feel as a fan of a team that is their polar opposite. I spend some time in the Autumn Glory room, which is dedicated to World Series feats.

The records room is one I could have spent hours in. It holds display cases featuring artifacts from all of baseball’s most sacred records. There is an enormous shrine to Hank Aaron, so clearly someone who carries some weight around here still rightly views him as the home run king. Barry Bonds gets a little glass display case with his batting helmet and … yep, there’s that famous ball, complete with a giant asterisk affixed to it! Other items of note include Willie Mays’s glove from when he made “The Catch,” Yogi Berra’s mitt from when he caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and a cap worn by strikeout king Nolan Ryan.

The Sacred Ground section highlights the history of many of baseball’s most famous stadiums. There is not one word about Coors Field, even in the part about the “modern” stadium, so I leave this area pretty quickly in disgust.

Down on the first floor, I finally enter the gallery. It is beautiful, with oak walls and a giant skylight that allows the sun to touch the most recent inductees’ plaques. Each Hall member is represented here with a bronze plaque highlighting details of his career. I find my favorites: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr. It’s amazing to think that they all stood here once, accepting their membership into these ranks.

Now, on to the question I know is right on the tip of your tongue: Are the Rockies anywhere to be found?? The answer is yes, though you have to keep your eyes peeled. In their locker, the following artifacts currently live: Ubaldo Jimenez’s cap from his no-hitter in April 2010, Matt Holliday’s bat from Games 3 and 4 of the 2007 World Series, Jason Jennings’s bat from his major-league debut in 2001 (when he hit a home run!), Jim Tracy’s cap from his 2009 Manager of the Year season, Todd Helton’s bat from the 2009 season, Troy Tulowitzki’s batting gloves from the day he hit for the cycle in 2009, and his jersey from the day he made an unassisted triple play in the same season. I’m speechless at the sight of all these special items in one place, and right before my eyes! This alone would have been worth the trip.

Elsewhere in that same exhibit, there is a base and a ball from the first game played at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick last March, which the Rockies won 8-7 over the Diamondbacks. Moving on into the records room, there is much more of the Rockies than I expected to see! Ubaldo’s name is listed among those who have thrown no-hitters, and Tulo’s among those with triple plays. Eric Young is one of the players who hold the record for stolen bases in a single game with 6, and his pants from the day he did it are in the display case. In the attendance section, the Rockies are featured as the team that still holds the single-season attendance record, and a ticket from opening day at Mile High is displayed.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. Even the 2007 World Series might never have involved the Rockies if the Hall is to be consulted. The only artifact from that Series in the Autumn Glory room is a pair of spikes worn by Daisuke Matsuzaka when he became the first Japanese pitcher to start a World Series game.

But you know, that just means there’s plenty of room for future Rockies in this hallowed Hall. Who will be the first inductee? Larry Walker? Todd Helton? Troy Tulowitzki? We will have to see. Until then, it’s more than worth your time to make a trip to Cooperstown. Just go slow, because that deer is still out there.

 

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