Over the weekend, four great baseball players were officially inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio, and John Smoltz were all tremendous players and some of my favorites to watch growing up. However, rather than take time to commemorate each player and his contributions to baseball over the last quarter-century (Jonah Keri and Jerry Crasnick have already done that pretty well), I’d like to take a moment and celebrate the gift that the town of Cooperstown is to baseball fans everywhere.
Last summer, Peter and I — along with our two older brothers — visited Cooperstown as part of our annual baseball road trip. We had all been to Cooperstown once before on a family vacation in the mid-90s, but for me it felt like it was my first time. Even though it took 28 hours of driving round trip and meant showing up to work on Monday on an hour of sleep, it was well worth it. Here are a few reasons why I love Cooperstown:
- Nestled into the forests of central New York, Cooperstown is nothing but a baseball paradise. Seriously, if baseball wasn’t invented, Cooperstown might not even be on the map. Even with the Hall of Fame, Cooperstown remains a village in population (1800 residents!) and size (1.6 square miles). But in some ways, that’s what makes the town so great. Without other cultural attractions, Cooperstown brings together like-minded people like few other places. Simply put, you’re likely not spending time in Cooperstown if you don’t love baseball. I’m not sure I would enjoy this type of environment year-round, but for a weekend visit it’s a special place.
- Another benefit to the Hall of Fame being located in a village is that you’re bound to run into baseball celebrities. If the Hall were established in a major city like Chicago, you’d have to be pretty lucky to bump into a star. But in a village of 1800 that attracts hundreds of notable baseball figures every year, it’s difficult to get through a day without seeing royalty. For example, during our 3 days in Cooperstown last year, we walked past Bud Selig, Frank Thomas, Pete Rose, Bert Blyleven, Bobby Cox, and several other noteworthy names (Jermaine Dye, Aaron Rowand, John Rocker, and Ryan Klesko). In addition, we crossed paths with Chicago Comcast Sports Net’s Chuck Garfien and were interviewed for a TV spot on Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux (listen to Episode 15 of the podcast for a little context).
- As a fan of the history of baseball, I particularly enjoy the way Cooperstown pays tribute to baseball’s past. Retro hats and jerseys, along with pictures and posters of former players, fill the dozens of shops along Main Street. We also spent a couple of hours at Willis Monie Bookstore (where I found a Bill James Abstract from 1986, the last year he published his now-famous baseball annual). Even the architecture of the town (short, 2-3 story brick buildings) pays homage to the first ballparks built in the early 20th century.
In the fast-paced, distraction-laden world we live in today, Cooperstown stands apart as a reminder of simpler times. If you get the chance, I highly encourage you make the pilgrimage to baseball heaven.