- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

Even if baseball wasn’t really invented in Cooperstown, N.Y., as it is said to have been, that’s a lie we can live with. Legend has it that in 1839 Abner Doubleday, a West Point cadet who previously had gone to school in Cooperstown, modified the rules of a similar game known as “town ball.”

Years of serious intellectual inquiry into the origins of the game have contributed to the debunking of the Doubleday myth. However, the consensus of those who visit this peaceful upstate New York village forgotten by time is that even if baseball was not born in Cooperstown, it well might have been.

Situated on the banks of the pristine Otsego Lake, the pastoral village of Cooperstown is recognized most notably as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Nicknamed “Glimmerglass” by Cooperstown’s own poet laureate, James Fenimore Cooper, the 11-mile-long lake is the source of the town’s drinking water and is its most spectacular physical feature. The lake also serves as the headwater source of the Susquehanna River, which eventually flows into the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Md.

When Baltimore Orioles ironman Cal Ripken Jr. is among the class of 2007 inductees four years from now, metaphorical analogies undoubtedly will be made to the upstream journey from his birthplace in Aberdeen, near Havre de Grace, to baseball’s hallowed hall.

Many of Baltimore’s baseball faithful also will be making the trip north later this month, when former Orioles slugger Eddie Murray joins the ranks of Cooperstown’s enshrined on July 27.

While traversing the country with the Babe Ruth Museum’s traveling exhibit last summer, we had the opportunity to make pit stops in Cooperstown on three occasions.

The first group of inductees at the museum, opened in 1939 as part of baseball’s centennial celebration, included Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and, of course, Babe Ruth.

As traveling baseball ambassadors, we found Cooperstown was a natural fit for us. We spent hours taking in all of the hall’s three floors of exhibits at a leisurely pace, which is how it should be done. There is so much to see that at least one whole day should be allowed for touring the museum.

However, it may not take as long this summer. One-third of the museum’s exhibits remain closed during a two-year renovation scheduled for completion by the end of 2004.

The second floor is the suggested starting place and begins with the hall’s most contemporary exhibit, “Today’s Stars and Season Highlights,” which flows into the Major League Locker Room gallery containing samples of current major-league uniforms.

A walkway leads to the Grandstand Theater, where a brief 13-minute film billed as a “glimpse into the heart and soul of the game” serves as an introduction to the rest of the Hall of Fame experience. The meat of the hall’s exhibits is contained on the rest of the second floor. “The Game: The General History of Baseball” chronicles the sport’s history from pre-1900 to present. Special rooms are devoted to Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and the black baseball experience.

There’s plenty to see, and it literally could take tens of hours to read every word of the text accompanying the displays of artifacts, memorabilia and paraphernalia.

Inevitably, the baseball history on display at the Hall of Fame triggers personal memories of summer days and nights spent at ballparks in faraway times and places. Requisite time should be allotted for daydreaming and genuflecting.

One example is the third-floor exhibit on ballparks that evokes nostalgic longing. Huge photographs of various ballpark exteriors and interiors re-create some of baseball’s most revered temples. The emotionally charged atmosphere continues with a display on post-season play that will spark feelings ranging from despair to elation. Through photographs and artifacts, moments from World Series past unfold again.

Two displays reveal the evolution of uniforms and equipment, and some sociocultural aspects of the game are explored in the baseball-card and baseball-music areas. Exhibits on youth leagues, the minor leagues and women’s baseball leagues round out the remainder of the third floor.

Moving back down to the first floor, baseball’s far-reaching effect on American culture is explored further in the “Baseball at the Movies” and “Scribes and Mikemen” exhibits. The “Spook Jacobs Stamps Exhibit” contains more than 500 baseball postage stamps from around the world, claimed to represent about 80 percent of all baseball stamps issued. The international representation is illustrative of how globally popular baseball has become.

The Records Room posts charts on baseball’s all-time and active leaders in just about every conceivable statistical category, and it serves as an appropriate segue into the museum’s feature attraction: The Hall of Fame Gallery, which makes for a fitting finale that will leave some breathless.

The bronze plaques honoring the select few who have reached the sports pinnacle inspire silent awe and reverence. In this room, conversation is reduced to hushed tones and whispers as if not to awaken the sleeping ghosts presiding behind the tombstonelike plaques.

With the addition of Eddie Murray and former Montreal Expos and New York Mets catcher Gary Carter, the number of plaques in the gallery moves to 256.

For the even more seriously hard-core and perhaps professional baseball fans, another whole day could be spent in the Hall of Fame Library. Among the largest libraries in the world devoted to a single subject (albeit a subject that contains numerous subcategories), baseball’s “ultimate research facility” houses more than 2.6 million reference items, including photographs, scrapbooks, newspapers, assorted periodicals, films, videotapes and audiotapes.

Traveling last year with baseball artist Gary Cieradkowski, I was fortunate enough to witness the hall’s library staff in action as they sought and found photographs of old Brooklyn Dodgers players for a portrait series Gary was creating. The atmosphere must have inspired him, because just two days later, his pencil sketches of the old Dodgers covered two beds in his hotel room.

We were passing through town in late May and early June just before the height of the tourism season and secured lodging with relative ease.

Of course, Induction Weekend is to Cooperstown what Mardi Gras is to New Orleans, and making reservations well in advance definitely will make it easier to find a room in one of the more sought-after locations on or near the town’s Main Street. That being said, the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce insists that rooms still are available for this year’s induction weekend.

Last year, we stayed at the Bay Side Inn & Marina on a lush lakefront hillside seven miles north of Cooperstown on New York Route 80. The Bay Side, our favorite of about a dozen hotels along the winding country road, offers clean and comfortable motel rooms as well as cottage units available for weekly rental. A pair of boat docks extend from the inn’s private beach, which also contains two gazebos and pair of barbecue grills.

We took advantage of our accommodations, jumping off the docks for an afternoon swim and inviting new friends to join us for a grilled salmon dinner with baked potatoes and corn on the cob that we bought at the P&C; Foods store.

According to the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, there are about 180 lodging facilities, (hotels, motels, Inns and bed-and-breakfast accommodations) in and around Cooperstown. The area runs south to the college town of Oneonta, north to Richfield Springs and northeast to Sharon Springs, where you’ll find the award-winning American Hotel. Recently featured on both the Food Network and HGTV’s “Restore America,” the American Hotel is an 1847 Greek-revival-style hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Otesaga Resort Hotel is the centerpiece and best-known of Cooperstown lodgings. Operating since 1909, the Otesaga is a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America and serves as the host hotel to most of the baseball dignitaries attending Induction Weekend, which also makes it a great place for celebrity spotting and autograph seeking.

The Otesaga’s Leather Stocking Golf Course is the site of the Hall of Fame’s annual golf tournament, during which fans line the fairways as the famous foursomes make their rounds. The hotel restaurant and Hawkeye Grill offer some of Cooperstown’s finest dining.

Perhaps the most sophisticated restaurant on the Cooperstown strip (actually just off the side on a small alley-type street) is the Hoffman Lane Bistro, a bar and grill that would not look out of place in a major metropolitan area. The split-level dining room is sleek in slate gray and paprika, and the cozy L-shaped bar seats about a dozen. A banquet room off the side also serves as the stage area for live music. Outdoor cafe seating is also available, and the menu offers varying eclectic choices of Continental cuisine.

In a town of tourists, the regulars who circle the bar include employees of the Hall of Fame just across the street as well as people who work at any of the number of gift and novelty shops one block parallel on Main Street. Our daytime equivalent to the Bistro was Sal’s Pizzeria, also on Main Street (as things in Cooperstown are) and, for good reason, the most popular lunch spot in town. Sal’s serves up classic New York-style and Sicilian pizza as well as calzones and assorted casual Italian fare with a variety of imported and locally brewed beers such as the regionally famous Genesee Cream Ale.

For breakfast, Danny’s Main Street Market makes great ham, egg and cheese sandwiches on fresh-baked breads that you can down with gourmet coffee while reading one of the New York daily newspapers. It’s also a full-service market, where you can buy provisions to get you through picnics and barbecues back at the ranch.

Although baseball is the underlying theme, it wouldn’t be fair to typecast Cooperstown completely in light of the game. Though dozens of baseball souvenir and memorabilia shops line both sides of Main Street, a variety of peddlers spaced between them sell crafts, antiques, jewelry, books, food, wine and cigars. Another day could be spent perusing the shopping district.

Other non-baseball attractions include the Glimmerglass Opera, a renowned company that is performing four operas this summer season in a splendid setting beside the lake just a mile or two past the stretch of hotels on Route 80.

In addition to its most famous hall, Cooperstown is home to two other nationally and internationally recognized museums.

• The Farmers’ Museum is an operational working farmstead where 19th-century crafts and trades such as blacksmithing, spinning, weaving, woodworking and printing are still practiced; hands-on interaction is part of the museum experience.

The Farmers’ Museum is a mile away from the center of town and accessible by Cooperstown Trolley, with unlimited daily passes available for $2 (adults) or $1 (children).

• James Fenimore Cooper’s former residence is home to the Fenimore Art Museum, which houses one of the largest folk-art collections in America and has a new American Indian Wing.

Two local breweries are just minutes outside of town, and each can be toured in an hour’s time. Since 1994, Cooperstown Brewing Co. has been making English-style beers reminiscent of the types produced by the settlers who first inhabited Cooperstown in the 1800s. The brewery uses English barley, West Coast hops and Ringwood yeast to produce its ales, porter and stout. Samples are available in the tasting room, with daily tours beginning at 11 a.m. Cooperstown Brewing Co. is on River Street in the neighboring village of Milford.

Brewery Ommegang’s Belgian-style beers are made in its one and only location in Cooperstown and sold all across the country. The place looks as if it was lifted up from a site in Belgium and plopped down in the upstate New York countryside. The brewery’s award-winning Ommegang, Henepin and Rare Vos have received platinum medals in the World Beer Championships.

Ommegang’s gift shop also stocks Belgian chocolates, cookies, mustards, cheeses, buffalo jerky, appropriate glassware for each specific beer as well as Tintin and Smurf books and comics, which originated in Belgium. The brewery, named after the annual Ommegang festival in Brussels, is on Country Route 33 between Cooperstown and Milford. The scenic drive through the rolling countryside is just part of the fun.

Cooperstown has two real-life fields of dreams:

• Doubleday Field, the supposed birthplace ballpark situated on the former cow pasture where Abner drew his mythical diamond, is still used as a high school and youth-league field as well as the site of Major League Baseball’s annual Hall of Fame Game.

m Dream Park, four miles south of town, is home of the National American Tournament of Champions, a summer-long tournament that invites 64 teams per month and 700 per season. A virtual nonstop round-robin tournament in a carnival-type atmosphere runs from mid-June through August.

I took in few games as a nonpartisan observer but couldn’t help getting caught up in the spirited competition to the point where I developed an affinity for favorite teams and players. The youthful enthusiasm for the game was akin to the emotions sparked at the hall and brought the Cooperstown experience full circle.

It’s about 300 miles to fame

The route to Cooperstown, N.Y., from the Washington area is on Interstate 83, 81 or 88 north for about 300 miles to New York 28 and then about 20 miles directly to the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The best way to get around town is walking. Parking is severely limited. The Cooperstown Trolley shuttles to all points of interest in town from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and day passes are available at $2 for adults and $1 for children younger than 12.

Museums

• National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, 25 Main St., Cooperstown, NY 13326, 888/425-5633, www.baseballhalloffame.org.

The Taj Majal of baseball is open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at other times. Admission: $9.50 for adults, $8 for ages 65 and older, $4 for ages 7 to 12; children age 6 and younger admitted free.

• The Farmers’ Museum, PO Box 30, Lake Road, Cooperstown, 888/547-1450, www.farmersmuseum.org.

The Farmers’ Museum is an operating farm that also serves as a historic representation of farm life in the mid-19th century. Open during the summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, offering children’s educational programs and guided tours. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and $4 for children 7 to 12.

• The Fenimore Art Museum, Lake Road, Cooperstown, 888/547-1450, www.fenimoreartmuseum.org.

James Fenimore Cooper’s former residence is home to one of the country’s premier folk-art collections. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and $4 for children ages 7 to 12.

Other attractions

• Glimmerglass Opera, PO Box 19111, Cooperstown, 607/547-2255, www.glimmerglass.org. Glimmerglass stages four operas this summer season in its splendid setting beside Otsego Lake. Performances are scheduled every weekend and some weekdays through Aug. 26.

• Brewery Ommegang, County Route 33 between Cooperstown and Milford, 800/656-1212, www.ommegang.com.

Brewery Ommegang’s Belgian-style beers are made in its one and only location in Cooperstown and are sold all across the country. Tours are offered every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 30 through Aug. 31 and noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 1 through May 29.

• Cooperstown Brewing Co., River Street, Milford, NY 13807, www.cooperstownbrewing.com.

Cooperstown Brewing Co. has been making English-style beers reminiscent of the types produced by the English settlers who came to Cooperstown in the 1800s. Daily tours are held at 11 a.m. and 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 p.m.

Lodging

Otesaga Hotel, 60 Lake St., 800/348-6222, www.otesaga.com.

Cooperstown’s only resort hotel is noted for its service, fine dining, renowned golf course and inspirational setting. Room rates start at $355, which includes breakfast, dinner and museum admissions.

• Bay Side Inn & Marina, 7090 New York Route 80, 866/547-2371, www.cooperstown.net/bayside.

Conveniently located on Lake Otsego, seven scenic miles north of Cooperstown and a mile south of the Glimmerglass Opera House, the Bay Side offers comfortable accommodations in its 20-unit motel, smoke-free inn or fully equipped cottages.

Room rates start at $59 to $99 during the off season (May to mid-June) and from $139 to $199 during the peak season (June 15 to Labor Day). Weekly rates for the cottages are $1,150 to $1,750 and nightly from $215 to $375.

• The Inn at Cooperstown, 16 Chestnut St.-CB. Cooperstown, NY 13326; 607-547-5756; www.innatcooperstown.com. This Victorian-style 17-room bed-and-breakfast offers Old World charm just a block away from Main Street and its attractions. The large front patio is a perfect place to relax in a rocking chair at the end of the day. Room rates start at $165 with breakfast.

Dining

• Hoffman Lane Bistro, 2 Hoffman Lane; 607/547-7055.

Perhaps the most sophisticated restaurant on the Cooperstown strip (actually just off the side on a small alley-type street), a bar and grill that would not look out of place in a major metropolitan area. Dinner entrees start at $13.

• Sal’s Pizzeria, 110 Main St., 607/547-5721. Sal’s serves classic New York-style and Sicilian pizza as well as calzones and assorted casual Italian fare with a variety of imported and locally brewed beers such as the regionally famous Genesee Cream Ale.

• Danny’s Main Street Market, 92 Main St., 607/547-4054.

Fresh ground gourmet coffee, locally brewed beers, bread baked daily, full deli counter and picnic baskets made to order are part of the complete array of food available. A good place for a breakfast sandwich, cup of coffee and morning newspaper. Additional Information is available from the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, www.cooperstownchamber.org.


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