Way back in April of 2012, The Lady and I headed south and west to visit some family in Binghamton, New York, right around Easter time. From central Maine, where I currently live, to one of the suburb towns of Binghamton, where they live, is about an 8 hour drive. It would be a short road trip, but one that I was determined to enjoy nonetheless.
We packed up the car and hit the road at about 5 A.M. on a fine Saturday morning, a cooler full of snacks and drinks nestled behind the center console, tunes and podcasts pumping through the car’s sound system. We were excited to be taking our first road trip of any substance since the previous summer, so spirits were high.
Around hour 6, the car was silent as the pair of us, exhausted and grimy from the day’s adventure in Interstate travel, steered the rig off the highway near Oneonta. Pulling into a gas station, just off the highway in this rural western New York plot of land, I noticed how quiet everything seemed, how big the area was while still being small. A lone residential home, small, coated in fading red paint, with beautiful flowering trees in the yard, seemed to hide itself among its deciduous cohorts, nestling into their shade, directly across the street from this one-horse-town gas station. It seemed to be a typical scene for this area of New York State, where the cows and mountains likely outnumber the people. It’s truly a beautiful area.
Twenty minutes, a full gas tank, and a couple of cool drinks later, we were back on the road toward Binghamton.
It might be a good time to pause here and mention one of my few true loves. It started when I was young, likely not even out of diapers. My parents, ever the faithful, would dress me up in my Yankees onsie and take me out to the back yard, where my dad would toss a plush ball in my direction, apparently hoping I’d pick it up and wing it back at him. As I grew my grandfather, a true fan, would regale me and my younger brother with tales of his time in the army, tossing around the old leather ball in some field in the English countryside. Baseball. To my family, it is the only truly American and truly fun sport. It will forever be imbued with great memories of warm summer days spent on a dusty diamond playing the nation’s past time with friends. And to every die hard baseball fan, there is one place in the world that holds more power over these memories than any other: the small hamlet called Cooperstown. It is this tiny village that plays home to baseball’s Mecca, The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Back to Interstate 88, the long black strip of tarmac spilled out naked in front of us, the warm noonday sun leaving nothing to the imagination. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was fate, maybe just coincidence, but for some reason, I looked up at just the right moment to see the white reflective letters rampant on a field of green, screaming out to me the words every baseball fan lives for: Cooperstown, 20 miles.
WHAT?! COOPERSTOWN IS HERE?! I am a virutal hop, skip, and jump away from baseball nirvana? “Wehavetogothereohpleasecanwegothereit’sthebaseballhalloffamepleasepleaseplease?” was all I could manage to spit out to The Lady as she desperately tried to keep the car in lane. “Yes, on the way back, we’ll go.” I imagine it was all she could do to keep me from jumping out of the car right there and then. It would be two days before I could set foot in that palace of reverence to my favorite sport, but those two days would be well worth it (I mean, it was fantastic seeing my family, so it wasn’t exactly torture to have to wait).
TWO DAYS LATER
On the road again, heading east. I can feel the excitement building as we exit Interstate 88 to drive north on Route 28 just outside Oneonta. The 17 mile journey seems to drag on for days as we wind our way on narrow rural roads through farmland, trapped behind an endless stream of baseball faithful and tour buses choking exhaust at us. But once you hit the outskirts of downtown Cooperstown, one thing strikes you immediately: this is Hometown, U.S.A. Holy cow, is it. Narrow streets are lined with Federal and Victorian style homes, most of which are on some kind of historical registry. Then you swing right onto Main Street, and it is everything that springs to mind when you hear “Main Street, U.S.A.”
Nestled at the southern end of Otsego Lake, Cooperstown started out as a small village named after Judge William Cooper—father of famed writer James Fenimore Cooper—who purchased 10,000 acres of land in 1785. Today, a year round population of about 1800 people runs this 1.6 square mile village that, in 1939 became home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Cooperstown isn’t just baseball, although a noted summer resident was one Abner Doubleday, a civil war general who has for years mistakenly been credited as the inventor of baseball. Other notable people have been author Susan Fenimore Cooper (James’ daughter) and the Clark family, patent owners of the Singer Sewing Machine.
But it is baseball that draws people to Cooperstown each year. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Museum is a magnificent tribute to a relatively young sport that so many associate with youth and family and warm summer days. The exterior of the red brick building seems almost like a bank from the early 20th century, with few modern upgrades on either wing. Gold lettering under the center eave announces the building’s residents. As you walk into the lobby and turn left toward the ticket booths, you glimpse a flash of the actual Hall of Fame, bronze plaques darkening the tall white walls. Skylights cast an eerie, almost heavenly, glow about the room, teasing you. Because you know the Hall is the crowning glory after the journey through the rest of the Museum.
I can’t go too much into detail of the museum, as it would rob you of the magic of seeing it for yourself for the first time. But from items used and signed by old timers like Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, to jerseys and cleats worn by current players destined for the Hall of Fame, to the most sought after baseball card of all time, The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a special place for baseball fanatics from all walks of life.
Cooperstown itself is a beautiful place, and well worth a few summer days. Rent a room at the Inn at Cooperstown, paddle a canoe on Otsego Lake, hike the trails in Glimmerglass State Park. Or better yet, go catch a baseball game.