Cooperstown 25 Years Later
Summer and baseball go together like Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel and incoherent sentences—you just can’t imagine one without the other. This formula lends itself for even the average baseball fan opportunities to create memories with family and friends by taking in a game at any level, whether professional or little league, or making a pilgrimage to a favorite park or historical site. The Baseball Hall of Fame has been the catalyst for me twice now in providing me memories that only baseball can, though in two different ways.
The last time I was in Cooperstown was 25 years ago in June 1988 after graduating from 8th grade on what was the final leg of the best family vacation of my youth, on the way back to Philadelphia from Toronto after seeing the Blue Jays play in old Exhibition Stadium. Unfortunately over time, much of what I had seen had diminished from my memory as the clutter of what accompanies the exercise of becoming an adult like schooling, dating, parties, bills and establishing myself in a sustainable profession filled up the compartments in my head where this was once stored. But the one thing I always remembered was the fun that I had with my parents on that vacation and the excitement that I felt seeing a game in Toronto and spending time in Cooperstown, and after all these years that is what matters most to me.
Earlier this year my older brother proposed to me that instead of taking our annual trip together to Yankee Stadium that instead we change it up and head to Cooperstown. Needless to say I could not have said “yes” fast enough. My brother was an ideal travel companion because he appreciates the history of the game as much as I do, and would have no problem grinding out an entire day at the museum.
When taking a trip to Cooperstown you should set personal expectations of what your visit is going to be like. For instance, if you are going with kids you can’t expect to browse in the galleries, read all of the plaques and study the artifacts of the game that are on display. Chances are you are going to rip through it in maybe two hours with extensive talks on where you will be going to eat afterwards and what does the gift shop have, and that is okay. You are exposing the next generation of fans to the game and you are doing your duty by passing a love of the game on to the Seamheads of tomorrow. Now, if you go with another like-minded fan, then you can immerse yourself in all the Hall has to offer. This is when things get interesting. You can step back in time and put yourself where the players were, evaluate plays and the outcomes of games, and the impact they had on the sport itself. This trip provided me with that chance.
We arrived around noon on the Friday before Father’s Day weekend and pretty much had the place to ourselves without having to jockey for position to view things or feel rushed to move on to let others have their turn. We grinded through eight plus hours in the museum and still did not get the chance to see all of the exhibits it had to offer. Still, we made sure we got to see everything we had wanted to. I think we could have easily spent another five hours or so if we had seen everything.
Obviously with its extensive collection, the museum has something for the fan of any team or era in the game. Personally, as I have gotten older, I have developed a deep appreciation for the departed Philadelphia Athletics and the city’s place in the history of the game itself along with all the greats that have played at one time or another for either the Phillies or A’s. The one piece I would have easily walked out with was a game worn Ty Cobb Philly A’s jersey that he had worn at the end of his career in 1927-28. I liked it because Cobb is rightfully associated with the Detroit Tigers and I wonder how many fans realize that he spent his final seasons in Philadelphia as a footnote to his career, which made this uniform alone grab my attention. So there in the Hall hangs his gray A’s jersey, with Connie Mack’s symbolic white elephant on the chest just begging for me to wear to the next family function.
Seeing all of the caps, jerseys, and bats of Philly A’s legends such as Eddie Collins, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove and my all-time favorite Jimmie Foxx was another link to the players and dynamic teams I had read about over the years and a supplement to my initial visit to the now defunct Philadelphia A’s Historical Society. They had a full display of Cochrane’s catching gear which was something that I had not even considered they would have…..foolish me. Viewing the “tools of ignorance” of a man after whom Mickey Mantle himself was named left me little to do but stare in admiration.
I have a modest collection of baseball memorabilia. Included in my pieces of history are World Series and All Star Game press pins. While wandering around the “Autumn Glory: A Postseason Celebration” exhibit I came across in the middle of the floor underneath a glass case all of the press pins from the World Series that have been played. I all but climbed on top of the case to study the various years and match-ups that would determine the game’s ultimate prize as I had never seen an entire collection together before in one place. The pictures I have seen while trolling e-bay and various auction houses did not do seeing them in person justice. Seeing how the designs have evolved through the years was fascinating. In looking at more recent ones you get the impression now that they are made more with the end user or the collector in mind, which is probably true. I will argue that nothing beats the genuineness or innocence of any collectible when it is first produced before it becomes a “collectible” and made for that specific purpose in mind once it gains the hobby industries attention. I found myself looking at each series, but not thinking back to whom won each, or even the stories that each generated, but instead what series produced the best looking press pins. It was a fun and different way to look at the World Series and a re-enforcement of just how dominant the Yankees franchise has been in winning 40 pennants and thus having a pin representing each.
In the end, though, it is about the memories, whether it is spending eight hours in the Hall of Fame or two hours at a game with your family where you leave and realize you only watched two-thirds of an inning, but your kids can’t stop talking about how much fun it was. One day I may forget about all the things I saw, or at least the vividness of it all will fade, but what I won’t forget is the time I spent with my brother, laughing at old family stories, or with fourteen years of age between us, hearing about the players he saw growing up. It is selfish to keep something like baseball to yourself. Reach out and share it with someone and you may get more out of the game than you ever put in.
- In the June draft the Texas Rangers selected in the fifth round (160th overall) Joe Jackson from The Citadel, and yes he is related to THAT Joe Jackson. The Rangers’ selection is the great-great-great-nephew of Shoeless Joe himself.
- 2013 Topps Pro Debut cards came out at the end of June and are composed of minor league players with a price range targeted to low- mid-end collectors for a box. Because of the minor league theme it is always one of my personal favorite sets of the year.
- Saw Phillies top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle in a game at Reading in June. From what I saw the kid looked sharp, could ease the pain down the road if they trade Cliff Lee away.
- Attended my first Division 1 college baseball game back in April, watched Maryland take on the University of Miami in College Park, MD. Great time, small crowd and quality baseball from the ACC which means I’ll be back for more next year. If you have a chance to catch a college game between teams from a high powered conference I highly recommend it.
Matt Aber is a baseball enthusiast who is still trying to figure out how to make it onto his own baseball card and get enshrined into the Hall of Fame as a player. At almost 40 years old this is not looking good. He is an advocate of the national organization called The Miracle League which allows special needs children to play baseball and encourages you to support this worthy cause and learn more at www.miracleleague.com
Be sure to follow Matt on Twitter @MLBOutsider.