On Sunday, June 22, 1997, I took one of baseball's ultimate pilgrimages. On my way from New York City to Toronto, I stopped in Cooperstown, NY and visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame houses the history and memories of our National Pastime. Besides honoring the greatest players to ever put on a major league uniform, the Hall of Fame offers visitors a chance to live the history of baseball, sit in the stands at the greatest major league stadiums, and trace the evolution of the game, the players, the tools of the trade and more. And, behind the Hall of Fame is one of the most beautiful little league fields you will ever lay your eyes on.
The drive to Cooperstown is long and boring. If you aren't paying attention it is very easy to get lost. I did. For the final hour of your journey you drive along a windy road in what feels like the middle of nowhere. There are few signs to let you know you are traveling in the right direction.
As you approach the Village of Cooperstown, your excitement grows. You imagine what the Hall must look like. The Taj Mahal of baseball. A grand palace designed to honor the greatest players in history. For those inducted into the Hall of Fame, the journey up Route 20 is taken only after a lifetime of hard work and dedication to the sport. For the fans, this pilgrimage can only be appreciated after years of following the game. This is no ordinary tourist attraction.
But Cooperstown is smaller than you thought it would be. And your drive right past the parking lot for Doubleday Field without even noticing the turn in. And as you drive up the main street of Cooperstown, you approach the hall, almost mistaking it for a small town post office. It's just another building.
Then you walk inside.
When I walked into the Hall of Fame, I was so excited I couldn't breathe. On my left was a baseball art gallery, including the Norman Rockewell piece "Three Umpires". Up a series of escalators are galleries and hallways full of history and baseball magestry. Uniforms from every team, baseballs from important games throughout baseball history and seats from the most storied ballparks in the majors were all withing my reach.
But there was more. A whole section about baseball writers and communications, a retrospective of the New York Yankees, a room listing all the major motion pictures ever made about baseball, and the Hall of Fame library which houses thousands of baseball books and other notes.
And, of course, there is the main attraction. The reason people visit the Hall of Fame: the placques commemorating the Hall of Fame inductees. The finest players, coaches, and owners ever to grace a major league ball field, each captured in bronze with their historical information and statistics written below. Hundreds of them, one on top of another. . . Ruth, Mantle, Mays, Robinson, Koufax, Reese, and more...
Sure, I have visited the Hall of Fame before. I have seen most of the plaques, many of the exhibits are the same, and I don't really need to buy a Hall of Fame t-shirt or shot glass. Nonetheless, I had an overwhelming feeling of excitement when I walked through the Hall of Fame. I couldn't stop smiling as I snapped pictures and talked with other fans. Each person I spoke with had a different favorite player or section of the museum. I heard several children commenting on how they had autographed baseball or commemorative cards just like the ones in the cases. I could have spent days just sitting and listening to memories of the old fans and the dreams of the younger ones. I was truly in baseball heaven.
On this day, I only spent two hours at the Hall of Fame. It was only the second visit of my life. I had a lot of driving ahead of me to keep my schedule, so I didn't get to read EVERY plaque or watch every movie being shown. But, the rest of my day has been filled with thoughts of the history I saw, the conversations I had, the players I read about, and the feeling I got standing on the concourse at Doubleday Field.