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Archive for Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Cooperstown trek well worth the wait

July 26, 2000

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Sooner or later, I knew I would visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. Over the years, I've been confident that one day I would worship at the shrine.

That day finally arrived last week.

A couple of months ago, I decided I'd waited long enough to visit Cooperstown, N.Y., so I purchased airline tickets to Albany. Eventually, my wife and I were riding in a rental car up New York Highway 28 into the small lakefront city named after James Fenimore Cooper's father.

Because parking is limited in Cooperstown, it is advisable to park on the outskirts and take a motorized trolley into the city. Soon we boarded the "Natty Bumpo" and, minutes later, were let off in front of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It's hardly an imposing sight. To tell the truth, the brick building is so bland I could have confused it with the post office across the street. Why don't they put a statue of Abner Doubleday or an oversized bat and ball or a cloth hanging of Babe Ruth out front?

Momentarily, we were inside after plunking down $9.50 apiece for tickets. Why not an even 10 bucks? Not that it matters. Economics in the pursuit of the holy grail is insignificant.

Once treading on the sacred ground, we headed straight for the Hall of Fame Gallery in search of the plaque of who else? George Brett. Sure enough. There it was, Brett immortalized in bronze.

Oops, I goofed. The museum guide I finally took the trouble to read it suggested starting the tour on the second floor, then proceeding up the stairs to the third floor, and finally returning to the first floor to witness the Gallery.

Oh, well.

Up the stairs and we were into a pantheon of baseball history, lore, biography and equipment. The Negro Leagues have their nitch here. So does the All-American Girls Professional League made famous by the movie "A League of Their Own."

But do we really need a corner devoted to the music of baseball? Listen, we are informed, to dozens of baseball songs from the familiar "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to rare tunes from baseball's earliest days? Thanks, anyway.

Ah, but the baseball card section. There is a nook for lingering. How many boys and girls remember the first year they collected baseball cards? I do. It was 1952.

Included in the baseball card corner were a half-dozen or so 1952 Topps specimens. Surprise. One was Ralph Houk, the only man born in Lawrence who has played major league baseball.

Houk, who now lives in Florida and will turn 80 two weeks from today, later went on to success as a manager with the Yankees, Tigers and Red Sox. The '52 Topps set contains Houk's lone player card.

For those of you who don't know, Houk was a reserve catcher with the Yankees in the heyday of Yogi Berra which was almost like being a back-up shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles in the '90s.

Speaking of Cal Ripken, everyone knows he played in more consecutive games than any player in baseball history, but did you know Ripken also participated in the longest professional game?

I learned that tidbit in a first-floor display featuring the 33-inning two-day marathon between Rochester and Pawtucket, two International League teams, back in 1981. Yes, Ripken played in all 33 innings for Rochester no surprise there and he went 2-for-13. Pawtucket won, 3-2.

After visiting the museum, we walked a short block to Doubleday Field, the cozy little ballpark constructed on the purported site of the first baseball game. Hallowed turf indeed.

Also along Cooperstown's Main Street are numerous souvenir shops, including at least three stores that specialize in bats. Eateries abound, too we ate in a trendy deli but you won't find a McDonald's or a Wendy's or a Subway, or any other franchise restaurant. Or motel, for that matter.

Perhaps the two smallest cities in America that draw the most tourists are Cooperstown, N.Y., and Branson, Mo. Yet Cooperstown is to Branson what South Park is to 23rd Street.

Branson you don't need. Cooperstown you do. Sooner or later.

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