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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame

We just got back from our end-of-summer vacation, and upstate New York was a good tonic to decompress from the hectic pace of life in the Mid-Atlantic Region. We took the family first to the Hall of Fame and then for some recreation (which will be the subject of another blog post).

I had first traveled to the Hall of Fame about 25 years ago, when Cooperstown was a tired town, especially in March, when snow was on the ground and I stayed at a hotel about 5 miles down the road that was a destitute man's version of the hotel in The Shining. I went with a college buddy, there were very few places to eat, and we were among the few dozen or so visitors that populated the museum that day.

About 5 years later, in the late 1980's, I took a good friend from growing up there as a present for getting his PhD. This fellow is an outdoorsman who looks every bit of the part, who hasn't cut his hair since he graduated from college over a quarter-century ago, and who disdains organized activities as a general rule (unless they're part of cooperative thinking). Ever the contrarian, he is an avid Boston Red Sox fan, drawn in perhaps more by the Sox' Homeric struggles than the fact that they're the home team in New England (where he currently lives). I gave him a Red Sox hat for graduation. To the dismay of his mother, instead of donning a mortar board along with his gown at the prestigious Ivy university that bestowed the degree, he wore the Red Sox hat in the processional. A few months later, I traveled to where he was doing his Post Doc and then took him to the Hall of Fame. Part of my present was giving him a tour of the premises. We had a great time, two overgrown boys looking at Babe Ruth's old glove, Heinie Groh's old "bottle bat", and various other exhibits that did a great job of honoring the National Pastime.

Again, a relatively sleepy, uncommercial town. There was only one memorabilia store, a few old greasy spoons, the grand old Otesaga Hotel (still fine today), but not much more.

Fast forward to today, and you still have a great, tiny village with 2,500 year-round residents, restored inns and hotels, a baseball complex than can host about 100 teams at a time (and does), over a dozen stores where you can buy t-shirts, engraved bats, memorabilia and the like, and an elegant Hall of Fame with great exhibits, excellent lighting, plenty of room, and fun for the whole family. We spent at least a half a day in the Hall (and, predictably with kids, at least that amount of time poring over the offerings of the various stores just so we could purchase the right souvenirs). There was something for everyone (my wife, a native Baltimorean, reminisced over the Orioles' exhibits, as she well remembers the glory days of that franchise, from 1965 to 1983).

I enjoyed the plaques, the special exhibit of women in baseball, the team-oriented lockers, the World Series rings (you'd have to have taken steroids to don one of the two rings the Marlins' gave out over the past 10 years -- the thing is the size of your average ice cube), and, most specifically, the references to the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia A's. I don't have a lot of family, but I'm sentimental, and some of the most fun I had as a kid was going to Veterans Stadium with my father to see the Phillies of the 1970's and early 1980's.

Mike Schmidt. Steve Carlton. Tug McGraw. Larry Bowa. Garry Maddox. Greg Luzinski. Pete Rose. Bake McBride. Manny Trillo. Bob Boone. Larry Christenson.

And many others.

And then it hit me what a special time I was having. I can't bring my father back, but I can spend time on great, shared experiences with my own nuclear family. And there I was, walking with my wife, son and daughter, telling them about Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts and Jim Konstanty, about Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, and about the teams that my father and I saw together. We talked about today's team and how it compares. They didn't see me, but at one time I caught myself welling up just a bit about how nice a time I was having.

Just talking baseball.

Phillies baseball.

Philadelphia A's baseball too.

Baltimore baseball (my father-in-law loves to tell the story about how he was at a very special extra-innings game at Memorial Stadium when Orioles' reliver Tippy Martinez -- who was a very good reliever by the way -- picked off three visiting players in a row off first base to get out of the top of an extra inning), too.

Old gloves and bats and ticket stubs.

A display of "The Shot Heard Round the World".

Plaques of guys with monikers like the Chairman of the Board, Cool Papa, the Iron Horse, the Duke of Tralee and Goose.

The Say Hey Kid, Big Train, Little Poison and Mr. October.

Answering questions, telling stories, sharing experiences.

The night before we left I created a scavenger hunt/trivia quiz for the kids involving players such as Ryne Sandberg (whom the Phillies traded to the Cubs) and Fergie Jenkins (whom the Phillies also traded to the Cubs), Athletics and Yankees and such. The kids got a lot of the answers right on the way to Cooperstown and finished the job after our visit to the Hall of Fame.

We bought t-shirts and a few pennants for our basement wall (where our Phillies' pennant hangs proudly), and we walked around a beautiful town -- during the stay, at twilight, at night.

Main Street.


Ice cream.

What a great start to a vacation.


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