Independence Day Weekend in Cooperstown
“The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love.“–Bryant Gumbel.
And God, do I love baseball. This weekend just increased my love for it.
Saturday I had the pleasure of going all the way up to Cooperstown, N.Y. to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Last week, my best friends David and Vito made me an offer for my birthday/graduation gift: Yankee tickets for Saturday’s game vs. the Toronto Blue Jays (which the Yanks won 11-3) or a day trip to the hall.
I have already been to three Yankee games this season and will probably go to more by season’s end. I have only been to the Hall of Fame and Museum once in my life; Memorial Day weekend in 2007 with my dad.
Now given the opportunity to share the experience with my best friends, I took them up on their offer to Cooperstown; a three hour road trip to upstate New York. To me, there was no better way to spend part of the Independence Day weekend.
When we arrived to Cooperstown, I felt the same way I did back in ’07. The town itself is small and gives you such an old-time feel. Complete with a General Store and even a trolley service, Main Street in Cooperstown, simply put, is awesome.
The one gripe I really have against Main Street is the food spots. There aren’t too many places to eat up there, at least not many of you want to eat something quickly. As a matter of fact, my friends and I ate at the same restaurant my dad and I ate at the last time I visited Cooperstown.
Not that the food is bad, it’s great. But not having fast food spots around just is not convenient when you want to move things along and see all the sights in one day. But I guess that goes with the old-time ambience; there was no such thing as McDonald’s back in the old days.
After we finished our lunch, my friends and I headed for the Museum. It was just as nice as I remember it; the big brick building at the end of the road filled with historical baseball artifacts from all over the world. More importantly, it’s filled with more historic Yankee memorabilia than you could ever imagine.
When we first walked in, the usher told us that the best place to start the tour was on the third floor of the museum. We ascended the stairs and right away it was almost as if the baseball history slapped us across the face. We were immediately greeted with the origin of baseball and how the game came to be.
One of my favorite parts about the “first origins of baseball exhibit” were the artifacts about Henry Chadwick. According the Museum, Chadwick was the “Father of Baseball” and reported on the sport for several newspapers. He dedicated his whole life to sports writing, and as an aspiring sports writer myself, I have to respect that and give him a lot of credit.
Without Chadwick, no baseball writer would be where they are today. For the record, Chadwick’s column was called Chadwick’s Chat. I think it is very cool title. It has the alliterative grammar quality, just like Yankee Yapping.
Next we entered the Babe Ruth Room at the Museum. Yes, the Babe Ruth Room. The Bambino had such an impact on the game of baseball that he owns his own private quarters in the hall.
On display are many of his jerseys, trophies, his cleats, and even the bat he smacked his final career home run with. While you visit the Babe Ruth Room, a video about his life plays, which really makes it a learning experience.
After Ruth’s Room we embarked on the “Pride and Passion” leg of the journey. On display–basically everything you can think of from every Yankee legend there is. We saw Babe Ruth’s crown (given to him by Ralph Kiner) Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle’s jerseys, the bat Roger Maris hit his 61st home run with in 1961, and even Yogi Berra’s Most Valuable Player Award from 1951.
It was overwhelming! A lot of Yankee history to take in all at once.
Eventually the Yankee memorabilia turned from old to contemporary. We moved on from relics of the ghosts of long past and onto the pinstripe mementos of the not-so-distant past.
On display were Derek Jeter’s spikes from the 1996 World Series, Mariano Rivera’s jersey from the 1999 World Series, and even a lineup card used by Joe Torre in 1998–the year the Bronx Bombers won 114 regular season games and eventually the Championship.
Also on display was the 1996 World Series trophy. One thought about that, however. I’m not sure if it was the actual trophy or a replica of the trophy. Today at Yankee Stadium, that trophy was on display in honor of George Steinbrenner, as it was his birthday and the Yanks won that title under him as principal owner. Did they take that trophy from Cooperstown and get it to Yankee Stadium for today’s game? Is there more than one trophy?
Who knows. Whatever the case, I took a picture with it.
After the “Pride and Passion” exhibit, we went into a room filled with pieces of old Stadiums. We got a feel for what Ebbets Field looked like, saw one of the original pinwheels from Comiskey Park in Chicago, and sat in old seats from Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia. Also showcased was the Phillies Phanatic…well, at least his costume.
In 2007 I remembered taking a picture of me pretending to smack the Phanatic with my program. I recreated the same picture yesterday.
We then entered the records room; a place reserved to acknowledge all the records held by active and retired players.
For example, Jeter is currently playing and leads all active players in the hits category. Pete Rose, on the other hand, is retired and owns the record for most all-time hits.
Same thing goes for Alex Rodriguez and Ricky Henderson; Rodriguez leads all current players in runs scored while Henderson is the all-time leader in runs scored.
It’s very fascinating and the museum seems to keep the record walls up-to-date.
After that we came to the “Autumn Glory” room. It is packed with World Series and postseason knick-knacks. The museum owns a ring from every World Series Championship team since rings began being distributed. Of course I spotted the Yankee rings from the Dynasty of the late ’90s and I really thought it was one of the better parts of the tour.
After all, winning isn’t everything. It’s just the only thing that matters. Win the World Series and your team’s ring gets a one-way ticket to enshrinement in the Hall.
I noticed in ’07 that the case in the “Autumn Glory” room contains mementos from the most recent World Series. So when I visited the Hall of Fame in 2007, artifacts from the 2006 World Series (played between the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers) were showcased.
If my memory serves me correct, the Yankees won the latest World Series. Therefore, a bunch of items from the 2009 World Series were on display, including CC Sabathia’s cleats, Hideki Matsui’s Game Six bat, and Jose Molina’s catcher’s mask.
But the item in the case that stood out like sore thumb…the 2009 Championship ring.
That’s what it’s all about.
After the “Autumn Glory” room, we entered the “No-Hit Games” exhibit. Showcased were baseballs used in practically every no-hitter and perfect game in history.
I was able to pick out David Wells’s and David Cone’s baseballs; both Yankee hurlers tossed perfect games; Wells in 1998 and Cone in 1999. Not only was each ball signed by the pitcher, but information on the score and opponent was given in a card underneath the ball.
Again, it all goes back to idea of learning and preserving history.
We came across one last Yankee portion of the museum before we entered the Hall of Fame: an exhibit entitled “Pinstripe Pictures.” There were so many photos of so many memorable Yankee moments that I almost cried. Everything from Aaron Boone’s blast in Game Seven of the ’03 ALCS to Gehrig and DiMaggio, it was amazing.
Probably the best picture I saw was the Yankees lifting Cone up on their shoulders after his perfecto in ’98. I couldn’t help but think of the words used by Buster Olney in his book about it:
“Cone’s teammates lifted him after his perfect game on July 18, 1999. Throughout the season, in more subtle ways, he lifted them.”
I think that really speaks to Cone’s character. He was always one of my favorites.
Once we were finished looking at all the Yankee pictures, we finally came to the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery. Every member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is honored and remembered with a plaque with their likeness and a short description of their career accomplishments. We found all the Yankees and read about each player.
Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Jackson, Gossage…if you were to ask me, the Yankees virtually own the Hall of Fame. They have more members than any other team, and the reason for that is their history; the Yankees are the best and more storied team in baseball history. That’s pretty much the bottom line.
Once we were finished in the gallery, we headed upstairs to the final leg of our tour: a view of the Writer’s Wing of the hall (which I one day hope to be a part of), the library atrium, and the “Baseball at the Movies” exhibit, where they listed every baseball movie ever made.
My favorite part of the Writer’s Wing was the setup of the announcing booth in the old Yankee Stadium. The Museum (in a devilishly clever way) built a mock announcer’s box, which gives you a sense of what it feels like to be a baseball broadcaster.
It’s such a neat feature they added to the Writer’s Wing of the hall and I can only hope one day I get to sit and work in the real reporting booth at Yankee Stadium.
We headed outside and looked at the crazy statues that are in the hall’s courtyard. There are some interesting likenesses of old-time pitchers and catchers. These statues really afforded me and my friends the opportunity to snap some funny-looking pictures. For instance, the statue of Satchel Paige and his high leg kick…
Go ahead and laugh. That’s why I took the photo.
We then took a walk down the road and visited Doubleday Field, the supposed birthplace of baseball. We jaunted inside the ballpark and wouldn’t you know it, a game was going on. We sat and watched about four innings of baseball from the grandstands. A small crowd was on hand; the building was nowhere near filled.
Last time I visited Cooperstown in ’07, I only got to see the exterior of the park. I was elated that I finally got to see the interior and even watch some a game that just happened to begin the minute we arrived at the park. I have to say, it’s a nice little field. And again, it’s one of the most historic parks in baseball lore.
After we paid our visit to Doubleday Field, we (lastly) traveled to the Cooperstown Baseball Heroes Wax Museum. I had gone back in ’07 and enjoyed enough that I wanted to go again, not to mention Dave and Vito wanted to see it for themselves.
The Wax Museum was again a wonderful experience. There are wax figures of many Yankees, including Mantle, DiMaggio (along with Marilyn Monroe), Wade Boggs (riding off on the horse like he did at the conclusion of the ’96 World Series) and countless others.
Yet my favorite sculpture has to be “The Georges.” The wax museum crafted a figure to look like George Costanza, Jason Alexander’s character from Seinfeld. George is sitting in his office opposite George Steinbrenner, his boss on the show. Costanza is one of my all-time favorite TV characters and to see the figures setup the way they were made me laugh.
Another one of my favorites was the Abbot & Costello “Who’s on First” figures. They even had the words from the comedy routine playing on a speaker in the background as you viewed the statues. Believe it or not, that comedy bit is a huge part of baseball history; it is so funny that it has withstood the test of time and is still remembered by die-hard baseball lovers, such as myself.
After we saw everything there is to see in Cooperstown, we headed back to the car; another three hour ride ahead of us. I can say that I got the same amount out of the experience of the National Baseball Hall of Fame the second time, probably even more.
After I went in ’07 with my dad, I thought to myself, “Going to Cooperstown was incredible, and it was very meaningful to share this experience with dad. I’d like to go back eventually and share it with my best friends.”
I got that chance and I jumped at it. And what an experience it was. One I won’t forget. As a result of this trip, my love for baseball just increased by tenfold, if that’s even possible.