COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Editor's note: As life marches on with no live sports action and no real timetable for its return, the CLARION NEWS takes a look back at Sports Editor Ryan Pugh's 2016 visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
In my 42 years on this planet, I had never been to either the baseball or football Hall of Fame. I had always wanted to go; I just never found the time to make the trip.
Those who know me well were usually taken aback when I would disclose this information since I have been a sports nut for as long as I can remember.
Even more puzzling is the fact that I had been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum twice.
This past weekend I remedied my sports Hall of Fame vacuum by visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
I scheduled the trip a few weeks ago and I wanted to make a weekend of it for me and my girlfriend Meghan. When I attempted to book a hotel room for the weekend, everything close to Cooperstown was filled up. I eventually found a room in Utica, N.Y. At first I was disappointed I wasn't able to get a room closer to our destination but was cheerful when I found out Utica is only about 50 minutes away from Cooperstown.
We set off Friday morning for the long drive (it is about six-and-a-half hours from Clarion) and by chance or Apple's crappy GPS app on its phones (seriously, don't use Apple maps because it is an awful, awful experience) we ended up traversing through the nether regions of New York state between Interstate 86 and Interstate 90 (or the New York State Thruway as the kids like to say.)
As the gas gauge on my vehicle edged closer and closer to empty and the only things I saw for miles and miles were cattle and corn fields, I got a little nervous. The gauge on my gut was also running a little low and the restaurants in the area were about as plentiful as the fueling stations so on we marched.
Finally, we came to a little hamlet called Nunda where I happened upon a filling station, so one worry was off my mind but my stomach was still sending me urgent messages. I would have eaten breakfast but the restaurant we stopped at in Salamanca, N.Y. has seating for around 12 people and we were Nos. 15 and 16 on the list.
As we exited Nunda, we spied a little eatery named Tori's Place. The prices were a tad high, which I guess is OK when yours is the only restaurant for miles and miles. I ended up having one of the establishment's cheeseburgers with a fried egg on top (I would like to shake the hand of the person who came up with the idea of putting an egg on top of a cheeseburger because it is a brilliant, delicious culinary breakthrough. The Nobel Prize is sometimes given to the wrong people.)
Once we got on the Thruway, it was a pretty straight shot into Utica. The only issue on the four-lane blacktop was when we caught up to the rain that was heading east; traffic started slowing to a crawl. I understand a wet road isn't as safe as a dry road but it isn't "Hey, I better slow down to 45 miles-per-hour lest I die" unsafe.
The trip to Cooperstown the next morning was a lot better than the trip across the interstate. First, there are no interstate highways leading to Cooperstown and there is no straight way to get there. You can only get there by navigating your way through New York farmland which it appears hasn't changed much since the Civil War. As you drive along, it almost feels like Shoeless Joe and the boys are about to lead you on your journey, which makes the trip really enjoyable.
The route we took ended up putting us beside Ostega Lake for the last 10 miles of our trip. I have never seen a body of water as blue as Ostega Lake. As we got closer to town there was a sign beside a parking lot that read parking for Cooperstown Village trolley. Seeing as I had no idea what the parking situation would be like in town, we decided to park in the lot and take the trolley into town. Parking at the lot was free and the ride for the trolley was $2 for an all-day pass.
As we rode the trolley into town, we saw that parking outside of town was the cheaper and less hassling option. There were absolutely no parking spaces along the streets in the middle of the village. There was a parking lot located just off of Main Street that cost $12 to park for the whole day so taking the Fred Rogers express worked out.
The trolley left us off right in front of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The original Hall of Fame, which was on the left hand side of the building when we got off the trolley, opened in 1939. There have been two more sections added to the Hall over the years.
The middle building is where the entry way to the museum is located. So we walked in and ambled to the admission counter. Admission is $23 for adults, $15 for seniors, $12 for children between the ages of seven and 12 and $12 for veterans. Active or career retired servicemen and children 6-and-under are admitted free. One admission is good for all day so you can leave and reenter whenever you please just make sure you get your hand stamped upon entry.
Inside the hall
It was recommended we start our tour on the second floor, move to the third floor and finish on the ground floor so we went up to the second floor where we entered the room with lockers devoted to every major league team. Most of the artifacts in these lockers were from the 21st century. There were also signs with fast facts about each club including retired numbers and a listing of championships won. Tucked away on the side of one of the lockers was a sign reading "Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs): In documenting baseball history, the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) cannot be ignored, although a complete list of players who have used the banned substances throughout time may never be known. In this museum, you will find artifacts, images and stories of players who have either admitted to or have been suspected of using banned substances. Even though you will not always find specific references to this issue, this museum is committed to telling the story of PEDs within the game's historical context."
Which is the Hall of Fame's way of saying "We know some players did some unethical things back in the late 1990s and early 2000s but don't let it draw from your enjoyment."
The Pirates locker in this particular exhibit had the jerseys of Jack Wilson and Andrew McCutchen. I didn't look too closely at the artifacts in the locker because most of the Pirates exploits in the 2000s were bad bordering on horrible.
The next exhibit was the history of baseball in artifacts. The first relics were from the 19th century when the game was in its infancy. The exhibits moved along to the early 20th century including a pair of displays devoted to the early 1900s Pirates including a locker devoted to Honus Wagner. Wagner was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 1939.
The Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown because of a story that Abner Doubleday invented the game there in 1839. Much like the rumor that Christopher Columbus thought the world was flat before sailing off for the new world or George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, the Doubleday story proved to be less fact than fiction.
To its credit, the Hall of Fame does have an exhibit honoring both Doubleday and the guy who laid down the first rules of baseball Alexander Cartwright (even though it was more likely baseball evolved from a game called "rounders" that was popular in England in the 19th century) and explain how the myth got Liberty Valenced into truth.
Deeper into the museum there was an entire corner devoted to the life and exploits of Babe Ruth including a display of the Babe's New York Yankees uniform.
There were a good number of people in the museum as we stopped at each exhibit. I happened to look over at a pair of women who were intently concentrating on their cellphones and I happened to look down and see these two were playing Pokeman Go.
I am not trying to be a killjoy here but I don't want my path around something I have waited my whole life to see to be infringed upon by people playing a stupid game on their phones. These people were taking up space and getting in my way. How about Pokeman Go home and play?
As it got more crowded past the Babe Ruth exhibit, Meghan and I wandered over to the 1970s section of the floor. There were displays of the Pirates double-knit uniforms of 1970 (the Pirates were the first team to wear double-knits) and the Oakland A's Day-Glo yellow uniforms of the mid-70s when the A's were growing mustaches and winning World Series.
I loved the vibrant colors of the baseball uniforms of the 1970s. I guess I love the gaudy colors of 70s baseball because that was the era I started watching the game.
There were also video highlights being played on a loop on big video boards in late 20th century section. There were highlights of the Pine Tar game, Bill Buckner's error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, umpire Don Denkinger's blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series and Ozzie Smith's appearance on the "Baseball Bunch" hosted by Johnny Bench. The video of the "Baseball Bunch" really took me back because I used to watch that show on Saturday mornings. The show had major leaguers give tips to kids on how to be better players. The lessons never seemed to translate to helping me in my less-than-illustrious Little League career.
Past the 70s and 80s exhibits were displays about the 1990s and 2000s including a section devoted to the strike of 1994.
I don't know, but the game lost me somewhere after the 1980s. I can't tell if it was the labor strife, the performance enhancing drugs or I was just growing up that made me stop loving baseball as much.
On the third floor of the museum were displays about baseball parks through the years, baseball's postseason and a section about Henry Aaron. I became fascinated with Aaron's career after reading his biography when I was about 10-years-old. The only thing disappointing about the exhibit was Aaron's 715th home run ball was being restored and wasn't in the display.
The ground floor was the final leg in our journey through baseball history. On the first floor is where the actual Hall of Fame plaques are located. I walked down through each of the wings devoted to the inductees spanning from 1940 to the present day (the inaugural class was placed at the front of the room in a position of reverence.)
After seeing the Hall of Fame plaques, Meghan and I decided to explore the village of Cooperstown itself.
Toast of the town
Once we stepped outside, we thought maybe we made a mistake because the air temperature had risen at least 20 degrees since we had entered the museum. Add that to the fact the humidity was well over 60-percent and the term miserable was well in play.
To say that the village's Main Street is devoted to the baseball theme would be an understatement.
There were shops and stores catering to seemingly every baseball fan's taste. We stopped in a few places and looked around including the wax museum which was actually kind of neat.
Just off of Main Street, was a batting cage where you could take swings on a variety of pitches including the fastball, curveball, knuckleball and slider. I figured I would give it a shot.
In retrospect, this was probably a bad decision. I did well hitting of the fastball machine and did OK on the curveball machine. However, I couldn't have got good contact on the slider and knuckleball if I was using a canoe paddle.
After I was done humiliating myself, I realized how dumb athletic activity on a hot humid day really was. The sweat poured off of me in buckets. Meghan and I decided to beat the heat by going back to the Hall of Fame museum.
The Hall was holding a trivia contest called "So You Think You Know Baseball." It was like a gameshow that was formatted like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." I figured I would take a shot at it. Things weren't looking good because I had failed twice on the qualifying question (there were only three shows being held that day.) On the third question I raised my hand and answered and was brought up on stage.
I could choose someone from the studio audience to come up on stage with me so I chose Meghan even though she isn't much into baseball trivia. Hey, I wasn't sharing the stage with some schmuck I don't know.
Once I got settled in on the stage, I went into a sort of a nerd trance knowing the answer to questions before the four multiple choice answers were revealed. I got through the first seven innings without using my lifelines.
I used a lifeline on the eighth question and made it to the final round. Long story short, I missed the final question but was awarded the "big prize" of a Hall of Fame almanac by the fellow running the show. I guess my ability to regurgitate useless information impressed him or something.
Since I had gained back the dignity I had lost at the batting cages by becoming the king of the dorks in the trivia arena, we decided to go.
The trip to the Hall of Fame was enjoyable but it would have been better in the fall and much better during the week instead of a weekend. Maybe someday I'll make another visit but only when the Pokeman Go fad is dead.