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Cooperstown

Just back from a weekend visit.

Cooperstown makes you feel like a kid again. It reminds you that baseball is still a great game despite the many attempts recent idiots have made to fuck it up. And it reminds you that any game that pays such reverence to it’s own past is worth giving 2nd and 3rd and 10th chances too. The needle hanging out of Barry Bonds’ and Mark McGwire’s ass cannot diminish the sensation of walking into the hall and coming face to face with the locker of Honus Wagner, or the bat Babe Ruth used to hit his 60th home run in 1927  (The Babe swung a telephone pole….and Wagner’s glove was not much bigger than his hand).

The lifesize statue of Buck O’Neil on the first floor? Being able to sit inside Hank Aaron’s locker? Seeing how capable Ty Cobb’s spikes are this many years later of giving off huge hints of menace? And all this for less than $15 with your AAA discount. There’s no bigger bargain in sports. And the small, quaint, lovely village of Cooperstown is the perfect place for all this. If the museum were in the heart of Manhattan, or some other such mega-metropolis, I’d find it difficult to give a shit. But Cooperstown? It just fits.

That doesn’t mean that the village hasn’t gone a bit nuts, however. Tacky t-shirt shops litter every few paces…all selling the same things at the same silly prices. Greasy, overpriced food (and more ice cream parlors per square mile than anyplace I’ve ever seen). Dumpy hotels and motels gouging the visiter, albeit with a smile. No parking. Surly full-time residents who’ve clearly had it up to here with obnoxious crews of 12 year old Little Leaguers on field trips. But all forgivable surely. Better to be annoyed than ignored when it’s time to make up the town budget.

The hall itself is not overwhelming. It’s actually smaller than I anticipated. And remarkably unpretentious. They use technology, but it’s not overwhelming. To walk into the room with the plaques on the wall is as simple as it gets. The greatest names in the game. Laid out evenly. By induction year. It’s like being in church.

“There ain’t much to being a ballplayer. If you’re a ballplayer.” Honus Wagner said that. Wagner was a bowlegged Pennsylvania coal miner with huge hands who just happened to be one of the greatest players who ever lived. So good as a shortstop it’s said the pebbles he scooped up with the ball arrived along with his throws to first base. There is nothing not ordinary about Wagner. A dirt poor kid from the wrong side of town, toiling in the dark for a chance to play a boy’s game. We look at him and say….”I could do that”. We can’t obviously. But Wagner, Cobb, Hornsby. They weren’t 7 feet tall. They weren’t 275 pounds. They stick out only on a ball field. What’s missing is that immense gulf between us and them, which is why there is so much pleasure even in typing the names. Today it’s different. These guys had to get jobs when the season was over. How great is that?

I’d love to go back. I spent a lot of time thinking of my Dad while I was there. He’s gone 3 months now. Feels like 3 years on some days, and 3 days on others. Time makes little sense. Pop took me to Cooperstown 30+ years ago. I wore my Cincinnati Reds cap…being a huge fan of the Johnny Bench/Pete Rose teams of the mid 70s. Dad was a huge Brooklyn Dodger fan. He told me of Jackie. Pee Wee. The Duke. Nights of listening to Red Barber on the radio. Days soaked in sunshine at Ebbet’s Field. My Dad’s uncle managed an apartment building where some of the players lived. He got Pop a ball signed by Dolph Camilli. For years Dad kept it in his underwear drawer. I don’t know where it is now. I need to look for it.

Today when someone asks my favorite team my answer is one that disbanded in the late 1950s (Los Angeles? Please…) I guess I abandoned the Reds when they started to lose. Right now I couldn’t name a single player on the team. But I can still reel off the Big Red Machine line-up. Bench. Perez. Morgan. Concepción. Foster. Geronimo. Charley Hustle. What great names. The envy of fiction writers.

Fathers and Sons. Pop, it was a cool trip. I wish you were there. But then again….you were.

Gonna get myself an obscenely overpriced throwback Pee Wee Reese jersey for my birthday. You’d love it.

In a bit..

–tf

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