The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York
A Baseball Lover's Dream Destination
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I don’t care who you are, if you consider yourself a true baseball fan, at some point in your life you have dreamed of visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Since I was a kid, I have always wanted to go to Cooperstown, but it’s a long and daunting journey to get to the supposed birthplace of baseball (Rumor has it that Abner Doubleday played the first game of baseball there, but this rumor is not exactly supported by facts.). As years passed by, I began to wonder if I would ever make that dream journey to Cooperstown when a friend of mine suggested we go during our summer vacation. I was so excited the night before the trip that I could barely sleep.
Set in the middle of a countryside teeming with lustrous natural beauty, on the surface, it would appear that Cooperstown has never aged. Sure, they have traffic lights, telephones and municipal parking meters, but much of the buildings and the overall look of the town is reminiscent of towns dating back to the early 1900s. It’s got that historic feel that inspires awe and reverence and that’s just coming from the look of the town itself.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is located at 25 Main Street and there is no way you can miss this sprawling brick building. It’s surrounded by baseball fans of all walks of life, from every location imaginable, young and old. Entering those doors was like a dream come true. The price of entry to the hall is tiny compared to what you are paying to see: $16.50 for adults, $11.00 for seniors, $6.00 for children 7-12, with discounts for AAA Memberships and free entry for all retired and active military personnel. The best part about the admission price: you receive a hand stamp upon paying so if you have to leave for any reason whatsoever, you can return the same day and not have to pay for re-admission.
Once we got past the ticketing area, we decided to begin our visit by entering the Hall of Fame Room. Featuring the bronze plaques of every member ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame mounted on oak walls, the room is perfectly lit by enormous windows and skylights. There isn’t a shadow in the place to ruin your camera shot of your favorite player’s plaque. I delighted at seeing my favorite player, Sandy Koufax’s plaque, along with players, baseball pioneers, managers, etc. that I had either read about or grew up watching play the game over the years.
From that awe-inspiring room, we moved on, examining the plentiful displays honoring baseball’s past and present. Having visited numerous museums in the past, I have always been amazed at the amount of care that has gone in to keeping items preserved and in displayable condition. The Baseball Hall of Fame is no exception featuring photos, gear, tickets and documents from the earliest days of the sport, all in extremely well-preserved condition. Whole uniforms from the earliest of baseball teams were on display in glass cases, an old stadium turnstile stood in the entrance to one of the numerous rooms. There were displays honoring the players and teams that made the sport great and some who made the sport more colorful.
An entire section was dedicated to the Negro Leagues, honoring some of the greatest baseball players who never were allowed to play for the major leagues and those who broke the barriers and emerged victorious. Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience features photos and gear from teams and players dating back to the Civil War era. Fans can check out team photos of Negro League teams like the Kansas City Monarchs and the Pittsburgh Crawfords and photos of some of the greats of the league like Stachel Paige and Josh Gibson. And of course, there is a whole section dedicated to Jackie Robinson, the first African American to achieve regular everyday player status in Major League Baseball.
Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball is a section that celebrates women and their roles in baseball, from manager to player to the first woman umpire in the game. That’s right, that movie by Penny Marshall called A League of Their Own was based on real life women baseball players. The movie also gets some recognition in this section with photos of stars from the film on prominent display alongside the photos of actual players from the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. A section of seating from one of the AAL’s stadiums is on display here. In addition to checking out the uniforms, photos and gear of the AAL, you can watch a documentary about the film and the history of the league featuring Penny Marshall.
There’s a section called Sacred Ground which takes a look at baseball parks of the past and present. It was nice to see Shea Stadium and Ebbets Field prominently displayed there. On the same floor, you can check out the records room with photos of all the batting, fielding and pitching records in baseball history. There are displays of each record featuring pictures of current players on pace to either tie or beat the records. Also on the same floor is a room dedicated to post-season game play, featuring awards, World Series rings from every single series ever played and more.
Then, there is the baseball card room. Cases upon cases of baseball cards are on display here from the very earliest to the most recent. Beginning with cards offered in cigar and cigarette boxes by tobacco company and ending with the most recent cards from Upper Deck, Topps and more, collectors have the opportunity to see for themselves how much the baseball card has changed over the years. I loved the fact that some of the cards on display are also cards that I have in my own personal collection.
If you are an art aficionado, I suggest you visit the Art Gallery where you will see baseball in a very different form. Artists see baseball in a different light, depicting moments in baseball in various mediums. It is here that you will see paintings in various styles and formats, statues and more, all dedicated to the sport of baseball, created by individuals of all walks of life.
Once your done checking out the displays inside, I suggest you check out the baseball field outside. Having heard a great deal about Abner Doubleday Field, it was amazing to see the field in person. Even more amazing was the opportunity to sit in the bleachers and actually watch a game already in progress. The field was immaculate and there wasn’t a bad seat in the outdoor stadium.
After perusing every single display in Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame, one could get a tad hungry. No problem there as there is no shortage of eateries in this lovely town. I was hoping to get into The Doubleday Café, located at 93 Main Street, but the place was packed and I was hungry enough to eat a bear, but not willing to wait long enough to be seated to eat one. We decided to check out an outdoor eatery called the All-American Café. Situated right next door to the Baseball Wax Museum at 99 Main Street, the place didn’t look like much, but the look was incredibly deceptive.
We were invited to sit wherever we would like in the outdoor area. We chose a pub table beside a wall adorned with flowered plants. Our waitress told us the specials of the day and we could have chosen from a number of sandwiches or grill options, but the steak and baked potato served with a side salad sounded good, so we chose that option. The salad was rather good, with crisp, fresh greens, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and our choice of salad dressing on the side. I chose French dressing. For a drink, I had unsweetened iced tea, some rather tasty unsweetened iced tea I might add.
As I ate my salad, I began to wonder what silverware we were going to use to eat our steaks with. Surely they weren’t expecting us to eat with the plastic silverware available in a holder at every table. I was pleasantly rewarded when our meals arrived and we were given real silverware and a steak knife. My mouth watered at the sight of my steak and, as I cut into the meat, I was rewarded with a juicy cut of beef that separated quite willingly with very little coaxing from the knife. Rubbed with peppercorn, the steak was melt-in-your-mouth beef happiness. The baked potato was equally enjoyable, served with a side of butter and sour cream. My tummy was very happy and I made it a point of remembering just where the All American Café was situated so I could recommend it to all my friends and perhaps visit again if I ever got back to Cooperstown.
The rest of the day was spent visiting various memorabilia spots where we bought shirts and other Cooperstown memorabilia not available at the Hall of Fame store. I spent an obscene amount of money in this town, but it was well worth it. When we weren’t spending money, we were visiting shops in which we wished we could spend money, including a shop that sold custom-made baseball bats.
We stayed in a hotel some miles outside the town and I recommend staying overnight to anyone with as long a drive as we had (almost five hours). The roads into town are twisty-twervy and rather tight two-way county roads without dividing lines could make for rather dangerous night driving.
As it turns out, there are quite a few other entertaining places to visit in Cooperstown if you have the time. In addition to the Baseball Hall of Fame, one could visit The Farmer’s Museum located at 5775 State Highway 80, where you can learn about the agricultural history of the region. Just up the road a piece is the Fenimore Art Museum at 5798 State Highway 80. Nestled inside the beautiful 1930s neo-Georgian mansion are some of the finest pieces of American paintings, folk art, photography and American Indian art. The Hyde Hall State Historic Site, located at 1527 County Highway 31, is the site of an 1800s neoclassic fifty room country mansion known for its high ceilings, sweeping stairwells and well-preserved history. Don’t feel like driving to each site? Well, there’s a trolley you can take to all of Cooperstown’s attractions and the fare is terrific - just $3.00 for an adult all day pass and $2.00 for kids from 5-12 years of age.
If you are a nature fan, I suggest heading out to Cooperstown during the fall season as the beautiful foliage I observed could only prove to be more beautiful in the fall with all the leaves turning colors and harvest season looming. If you’re not much into the scenic aspects of the journey, but are definitely into historic sites, there is nothing like the town of Cooperstown and if you are a baseball fan, this is a journey of a lifetime you just have to take. Cooperstown is a baseball town like no other with a rich sense of history and a dedication to the preservation of said history. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a must see for avid baseball fans young and old. In fact, I wouldn’t mind making that five hour journey back to Cooperstown to experience the Hall of Fame all over again, becoming a kid again as I ogle at all of the exhibits on display dedicated to America’s favorite pastime.