Ten years ago, prior to my grandmother’s 90th birthday, our parents took a cross-country road trip and stopped to visit the Hall of Fame before getting to Rhode Island, where most of my family resides. The original plan was my brother & I were going to meet them in Syracuse or Albany, drive with them to the Hall of Fame, and then all drive together to Rhode Island. Unfortunately I couldn’t get enough time off of work to make that plan happen.
The day my parents arrived in Cooperstown, I got a phone call from my dad, who merely asked, “Guess where I’m standing right now?”
I immediately hung up on him.
He was standing outside the Hall of Fame, about to go in. I knew my dad was going to brag, and I didn’t want to hear it.
This year my grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday and the four of us planned to be back there for a full week. Our parents surprised me & my brother by suggesting the two of us take a couple of days to go to Cooperstown before flying back to San Diego. We happily took them up on the offer.
Our plan was to take a day to drive from Warwick, RI, stop in Hartford, CT to do some touristy things, stay the night in Troy, NY, then drive to & from Cooperstown on the second day, stay another night in Troy, and fly out of Albany on the final day.
And that’s what we did. This is that story.
We left the hotel in Warwick at around 8:30am. After stopping at a local fast food establishment for a quick breakfast to eat on the road (We had had more than enough of the Rhode Island hotel’s never-changing complimentary breakfast at that point) we set Google Maps to avoid toll roads and for directions to the Mark Twain House. Google sent us on the southern route via I-95, turning northwest after we reached New London, CT. We pulled up to the Mark Twain House parking lot at around 10:30am.
The Mark Twain House and Museum
I’m going to be honest, I did not enjoy the Mark Twain House as much as I thought I would. The tour guide was not very engaging and there was a group of young kids (all sisters, there with their mom) who kept interrupting the tour guide to ask weird questions. (Example: When the guide was telling a story about how Mark Twain’s youngest daughter, Jean Clemens, drowned in a bathtub after having a seizure at age 29, the oldest girl commented, “I find drowning in a bathtub to be very humorous.” What the Hell?) The kids were distracting and the tour guide seemed to rush through the house just to get away from them as soon as possible. And you can’t explore the house without the tour guide, which I completely understand.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
Other than the tour being disappointing, the rest of the museum and the neighboring Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (whose visitors center was closed but the grounds & gardens were open) were quite enjoyable. Stowe was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, among other works, and moved into this house in Hartford in 1873 along with her husband and their two adult daughters.
When we were done with what we wanted to do in Hartford, it was back to the car and the road. Google estimated at least a two-hour drive to get to the hotel in Troy. Because we were avoiding toll roads, Google had us take the most backroads route I’ve ever experienced. We went from a nice, four-lane highway to two-lane country roads in a blink of an eye. Once you get up into Northwest Connecticut/Southwest Massachusetts/Eastern New York, and you’re not taking the expressways to avoid the tolls, you find yourself driving past a lot of farms at a speed limit of 25-35 miles per hour. We finally reached our hotel at around 4:30pm.
The view didn’t really matter in the long run. We weren’t planning on spending that much time at the hotel anyway.
After settling into our room for a little bit it was time to get some dinner. My pre-trip research revealed a place within walking distance called Slidin’ Dirty. As the name would imply, they specialize in sliders — chicken, pork, hamburger, BBQ — you name it they make it, in slider form.
On the walk to & from the hotel, we passed by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Troy. It was dedicated on September 15, 1891 to honor those from Rensselaer County who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.
We got back to the hotel and settled in for what we hoped was going to be a good night’s sleep in preparation for the next day’s adventures.
We started out from the hotel in Troy on at 8:30am. A quick stop at a nearby Dunkin’ for some coffee and we were on our way. Most of the drive was on US Highway 20. So the trip was supposed to take about an hour-and-a-half, barring any restroom stops.
The weather was overcast with the occasional shower along the way. The scenery in Upstate New York is very different than Southern California, mostly because everything is green. The trees. The fields. The farms. Everything.
An hour and 45 minutes later, we had arrived in Cooperstown. Our route to our planned parking spot* took us directly past the Hall of Fame and right down Main St. To say Cooperstown’s entire economy revolves around the Hall of Fame would be an understatement. Every storefront seemingly has a baseball theme in their front windows, almost to the point of being obnoxious. But we’ll get into that a little later.
*A little tip: If and/or when you go to Cooperstown, park at the Cooperstown Trolley Red Lot. It’s about half a mile east of the Hall of Fame off of Main St, so it’s a really easy walk and you get a real sense of the tininess of the Village of Cooperstown. It’s free to park there all day, too.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum
After a short walk, we had arrived at our destination. I had already purchased tickets online, so it was just a matter of showing the admissions desk the tickets on my phone. The Hall offers to stamp your hand for re-entry when you first get there, so we did that just in case we wanted back in after getting some lunch (No food or drink is allowed or sold in the Hall, although I did see some people walking around with water bottles).
One of the Hall workers was stationed right inside the entrance and gave us a quick recommendation on where to start, which was the 16-minute film, “Generations of the Game” in the Grandstand Theater & the exhibition halls on the second floor, followed by the exhibition halls on the third floor, and then going back down to the first floor & the Plaque Gallery.
The Second Floor
Picturing America’s Pastime
As we ascended the stairs towards the second floor, the audience for the current showing of the film emptied out of the theater and into the exhibition areas. We were trying to keep away from the mass of (mostly mask-less) humanity that was filing through the entrance to the second floor exhibition halls for a little bit. So we just hung out in the “Picturing America’s Pastime” exhibit, a collection of different photos spanning baseball’s history that also serves as the entrance lobby for the Grandstand Theater.
A sidenote on the crowd that day. It turns out that going at or around the same time that the Little League World Series is being played in Williamsport, PA isn’t the greatest of ideas. Most of the people in attendance seemed to have something to do with a Little League team; players, coaches, and/or parents. It’s a three-and-half hour drive between the two towns, so of course people would take advantage of the opportunity. However, please don’t view this as me complaining. We did not plan for that at all. The dates available to us were very limited. So it was what it was and we made the best of it, I think.
We had decided to watch the film later, so as the crowd started to dwindle, we made our way into the first exhibition hall.
Taking the Field: The 19th Century
The game’s origins and early development in the 1800’s are explored in this exhibit.
This section highlights some of the legends of the game and how the game changed as they’re careers intersected. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Lou Gehrig are just some of the players featured here.
They have a display dedicated to the legendary “Tinker to Evers to Chance” double play combination for the Chicago Cubs.
Babe Ruth: His Life and Legend
You better believe Babe Ruth plays a big role in the Hall of Fame. Along with being the all-time home run record holder for years, he was also part of the inaugural class of inductees in 1936, and this section explored his entire life.
Ideals and Injustices: A Chronicle of Black Baseball
This exhibit featured photos and artifacts from the pre-Negro leagues era, the Negro leagues themselves, baseball’s eventual integration, and beyond.
Diamond Dreams: Women In Baseball
Women have been a part of baseball since the 19th Century, and their roles in the game are only getting bigger. This section explores that aspect of the sport. It includes a small mention of Joan Kroc as the owner of the Padres.
Of course, you can’t have a “Women In Baseball” exhibit in the Hall of Fame without looking at the real-life inspiration for the movie and new series on Amazon Prime, “A League of Their Own.”
I was amazed at how close to accurate the costume designs on that film were compared to the real thing. But we’ll talk more about that film and some others later (This is called a “tease” in the business. I guess. I’m not in the business).
This section highlighted baseball’s impact on the Caribbean nations and the influence Latin American players made & make on the game, much as the previous sections do for Black baseball and women. This is the one section we didn’t get to explore. When we got there it seemed to have a lot of the people inside that we had avoided at the beginning. Could we have come back later? Yes. Did we? No. Do I regret it? Yes, very much so.
Whole New Ballgame
This display focuses on the last fifty years or so of the game and it’s continuing impact on society.
There was an old friend keeping watch over everything right at the beginning of the exhibit.
There were a few displays for specific players like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and, of course, San Diego’s own Ted Williams. San Diego and the Padres have more representation in this exhibit than the previous ones, given that it more or less covers the entire time of the Major League team’s existence.
One of the things that grabbed my attention was in a case highlighting in-game safety gear improvements & innovations. Right in the middle of the case was the isoBLOX cap that Alex Torres wore on June 21, 2014.
Towards the end of the “Whole New Ballgame” section was a display about the 1994 season. Once again, the Padres were well-represented in this one.
That’s Tony Gwynn‘s 1994 jersey on display, along with a copy of the April, 1995 Padres Magazine game program with Padres legend Ray DeLeon on the cover. I’m not even sure that issue ever saw the light of day in 1995.
Here we take a closer look at where the game of baseball was and is played: The stadiums and ballparks that teams have called home over the years.
Keeping watch over this exhibit was the Phillie Phanatic.
It’s here where I started to notice a little more of the interactive displays showing up. They had a four-sided display right in the middle of the exhibit. One side had different versions of “Take Me Out To the Ballgame,” another side featured different songs that prominently feature baseball (“Centerfield” by John Fogerty), a third side displayed organ standards (“Star-Spangled Banner”) and the fourth side featured songs that some teams play as a mid-game tradition (“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond in Boston). You could hit buttons to listen to whatever songs you wanted to. I’m guessing that it can get a little nuts when there is a person at each station at the same time and all of them are hitting buttons.
They also have a display of different fan giveaways. Once again, the Padres are well-represented here.
Hank Aaron Gallery of Records: Chasing the Dream
Like the Babe Ruth part of the museum we saw earlier, this was all about Henry “Hank” Aaron. It was very detailed and very interesting to stop, look, and read about Aaron. They have a piece of the home he grew up in, which was built by his father piece-by-piece from spare lumber & bricks. They had pictures and memorabilia from his short time as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro leagues and his two years as a (then) Boston Braves minor leaguer.
And, of course, they had his career home run record memorabilia, along with the bats from his 500th & 600th home runs and 3000th hit.
Again, watching over the entire exhibit, Aaron’s uniform from the game when he broke the career home run record.
One for the Books
Now we moved into a exhibit highlighting records and milestones in baseball. In case you forgot how good Ichiro Suzuki was, you’re going to be reminded of that fact by this section.
This exhibit had a lot of interactive displays, too. There was a giant video wall that played video highlights of things like final pitches of no-hitters & perfect games, record breaking hits, and other accomplishments. Rickey Henderson’s 3000th hit (a game I was at, because it was the day Tony Gwynn retired) was among the videos. The display played all the highlights in a loop or you could scroll through the menu and select which one you wanted to see.
Autumn Glory: A Postseason Celebration
Artifacts from historic World Series moments, rings from championship teams through the years, and highlights from the most recent Fall Classic.
I didn’t take any photos in this part. Mostly because, you know, there wasn’t really anything to take photos of as far as the Padres were concerned. Which is factual, but sad nonetheless.
Baseball cards. Baseball cards. Baseball cards. That’s what this exhibit was all about. They seemed to have all the famous cards, too. The 1988 Donruss errors & variations and Ken Griffey Jr.‘s 1989 Upper Deck rookie card, to mention just two.
Another section I didn’t take any photos in. Not sure why. Maybe because the things I would have taken photos of — a Honus Wagner T-206 and a Mickey Mantle rookie card — were in a display that kept them in the dark until you pressed a button to illuminate them. It was very awkward as it was and trying to take photos at the same time would have been too much for my brain to compute.
Your Team Today
Here they have 30 lockers, one for each current team, lined up alphabetically, with memorabilia representing things that have happened in the past few years for each team. The Padres’ one was pretty much what you would expect, but there were a few surprises in there. Good and not so good.
You can see the retired numbers at the bottom of the locker, which is pretty much the one thing that every team’s locker has in common. The 1983 jersey was Bud Black‘s that he wore on July 14, 2011 when the team honored the passing of former manager Dick Williams.
And don’t get me started on that logo above the retired numbers or the chair.
But let’s break down some of the unique things in the Padres’ one, starting at the top.
That’s a photo of AC/DC guitarist Angus Young wearing a Trevor Hoffman jersey during their concert in Petco Park. Next, it’s a Trevor Time alarm clock giveaway, and Jake Cronenworth‘s bat from the game in which he for the cycle, July 16, 2021, against the Washington Nationals.
On April 9, 2021, Joe Musgrove pitched the first no-hitter in Padres’ history, so of course there’s something in the Hall of Fame to represent that feat.
Now we’re getting into the questionable territory. “Pitch?” Really? Wil Myers‘ or Matt Kemp‘s cycles were in that same period, but they went with the TV show that only Nick McCann and I watched? The Bud Selig Hall of Fame Plaza fiasco might have been a better selection. I don’t want to tell the Hall of Fame how to do their jobs, but whatever. I guess we should be glad it’s not a Johnny Manziel jersey or something.
Sorry. Sorry. I’m trying to delete it. Hosmer had been Boston’s problem for just a week at the time of this photo so I hope they replace this, if they haven’t already. I truly dislike that man.
This year’s inductees have their own memorabilia displays in the last section of the third floor.
Grandstand Theater: Generations of the Game
Since we skipped the film at the beginning, we went back to the second floor and got in line in “Picturing America’s Pastime.” After a few minutes, the doors opened and we took our seats in the Grandstand Theater.
“Generations of the Game” is a 16-minute film that includes a dozen or so Hall of Fame inductees, like Ken Griffey Jr., the late Henry Aaron, and Dennis Eckersley. The inductees give you a glimpse into their thoughts about playing baseball and what it felt like to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I can see why they recommend you start with it before beginning your tour, because it was very poignant and a nice way of introducing you to what you’ll see.
The Art of Baseball
In this exhibit they had paintings and sculptures that all had something to do with baseball. I quickly recognized a Norman Rockwell illustration for The Saturday Evening Post that I remember my old dentist had framed in his office way back in the day.
This was a small anteroom in the hallway to the Plaque Gallery that had large photographic displays of the current inductees. Not really anything fancy and it was kind of repetitive given how we had been through the New Inductees exhibit just a few minutes earlier.
Now we’re at the meat and potatoes, the Hall of Fame plaques. First, let’s look at some of the legendary players found here, with their induction year included. You’ll notice some of them include a medallion underneath their plaques. These signify service in the Armed Forces and/or service in a war.
Now we’ll look at some of the plaques of players I know I saw play at some point in my life, whether in-person or on TV.
Now, how about some plaques for players who were on the Padres at some point of their careers?
Now, in the process of writing this, I came to the realization that I had completely forgotten to look for and take photos of a few plaques, most notably Rollie Fingers (1992) and Gaylord Perry (1991). I would have liked a photo of Perry’s plaque just to see every single team he played for listed. Luckily, the internet exists, so I can cheat.
Now we come to the first player to have himself depicted wearing a Padres hat on his plaque (Which never should have happened, by the way, and I will take up that cause until my dying breath.).
And, now, to wrap up this little sampling of the 340 members (as of 2022) of the Baseball Hall of Fame, we have the two REAL Padres inductees. And, quite frankly, the only two things I HAD to see. Everything else in this post is just bonus material, in my opinion.
There were also a pair of carved wood statues of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, sculpted by Armand LaMontagne of Scituate, Rhode Island (Hey! I know where that is!).
It’s difficult to read in the photo, but there’s a note on the sign that states that Ted Williams posed on multiple occasions at LaMontagne’s studio in Scituate, resulting in the exquisite detail depicted of Williams’ swing. Each statue weighs around 300 pounds and took approximately 1,200 hours to create.
Scribes and Mikemen
We then walked through what I can only describe as an airport jetway (I might have been slightly loopy at this point. I walked through a lot of airports on this trip) into the Library Building and came to the section that honors the winners of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters and the BBWAA Career Excellence Award (formerly known at the J. G. Taylor Spink Award*) for baseball writers. There were two names in particular I was looking for.
Dick Enberg (2015) is also a Frick Award winner. Eduardo Ortega, the Padres’ Spanish-language play-by-play broadcaster, has been nominated twice (2013 & 2014), but has not yet won. Here’s hoping Ted Leitner gets his name called someday soon.
*In February 2021, the BBWAA voted to remove Spink’s name from the award “due to Spink’s troubled history in supporting segregated baseball.”
Baseball at the Movies
There have been a considerable amount of movies whose plots revolve around baseball. Not all of them good. But they’re pretty much all represented here in some form.
The “42” display has the late Chadwick Boseman’s jersey & hat, along with a hat Harrison Ford wore as Branch Rickey, and a Sporting Life Magazine prop from the movie. A fun fact about this display, all of the props were donated by one of the film’s producers, Thomas Tull, who was interested in buying the Padres after the Jeff Moorad Layaway Plan was rejected by MLB owners.
“A League of Their Own” featured Tracy Reiner’s (Betty Horn) Rockford Peach costume. Compare that with the real one from the “Diamond Dreams” exhibit. The attention to detail is amazing to me. There’s also a number of hyper-accurate props such as the LIFE Magazine cover, a popcorn box, a game program, and a baseball card with Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan.
As you can see, the Hall pretty much gave a couple of movies their own displays. In the rest, they combined different movies that occurred around the same time. In the one with Tim Robbins’ “Bull Durham” costume, there is a little “Field of Dreams” in there, some “Rookie of the Year” stuff, and “Angels In the Outfield,” too. I didn’t get a photo of it, for some reason, but I’m pretty sure that jersey barely visible on the right side is one from “Major League.”
The Museum Bookstore is just a little alcove of the Library Building. But they have a fairly decent selection of any book you could possibly want about baseball.
However, on this particular day, I noticed one glaring omission.
As we looked around the bookstore, the clerk noticed and made a nice comment about my Fort Wayne TinCaps hat (Shoutout to MadFriars‘ John Conniff). If there is anywhere in the world that isn’t San Diego or Fort Wayne where a total stranger would be able to recognize a TinCaps hat, it’d be the Hall of Fame and Cooperstown, NY.
Adjacent to the Museum Bookstore is the entrance to the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center. The bookstore clerk happily gave us a brief description. If you happen to have a relative or descendant who you know played professional baseball at some point in their life, you can make arrangements to go in and look through the Hall’s vast records to try to get or confirm details. It’s free to anyone who needs or wants to use it, according to the bookstore clerk, however it’s not open to the general public without an appointment.
The Museum Store
We walked back through the Plaque Gallery (where I snapped a few more photos) and headed towards to the Museum Store. The Museum Store is pretty much the last stop inside of the museum. They have all the usual souvenirs: t-shirts (one of which I purchased), hats, mini-bats (one of which I purchased for a friend), keychains, and everything else you could probably think of.
They also sell postcards of each plaque of every Hall of Fame inductee. My parents bought me a Gwynn postcard ten years ago, and a friend of my mom’s went to Hoffman’s induction & picked one of those up for me as a surprise in 2018. They even have sets of them based on team, so a completist doesn’t have to root around all of them looking for them all. Which, if you happen to be a Yankee fan, I could imagine might get pretty time-consuming.
You can also buy exclusive memorabilia. Custom-made bats are available to order. They have jerseys and shirseys. Also, more books.
Right in the entry way, in a glass case, they had a piece of memorabilia for sale that really tickled me. If you know, you know.
Right next to the Hall, in an courtyard between the museum and Library Building, there is the Sculpture Garden.
To get here, you can either exit though the library or the main lobby, but the library exits don’t have reentry doors. So if you go out through the library, and haven’t seen everything inside yet, make sure you A) have your hand stamped and B) go around to the main entrance to get back in.
That’s it for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. We were hungry at this point, and a little tired, so we decided to go get some lunch and explore the village before driving back to Troy.
Right across the street from the Library Building and the Sculpture Garden is Cooper Park. Cooperstown was founded by William Cooper in 1785. You may know Cooper’s son, James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans.
As arguably the most famous former resident of Cooperstown, there is a statue of James Fenimore Cooper located in Cooper Park.
The Cooper estate is now the Fenimore Art Museum, which has a collection of landscape paintings, Native American artifacts, folk art, and more.
Off the nearest cross street, there’s an alley that has a small restaurant, the Pioneer Patio. The menu has a variety of options. A little bit of standard fare, some unique items, and a halfway decent beer selection. And the prices are reasonable, especially for a tourist-based economy like Cooperstown’s.
We chose this spot because it wasn’t on Main St and the menu had more of a variety than other places we looked up. Fair warning, though, they’re really popular with groups. There was an 80-person party that had reserved the lower patio at the time we showed up. But the upper patio had plenty of tables and we were told tables inside were also readily available.
I would link to their website, but they don’t have one. Only a Facebook page. And ain’t nobody got time for that.
After lunch, we walked over to Doubleday Field, the “Birthplace of Baseball,” according to the dedication plaque near the entrance.
There was an actual game being played as we walked up and in. A couple of adult league teams were playing. We didn’t stick around for long, though.
We then took a stroll down Main St, stopping in a couple of the multiple souvenir shops. The one thing I noticed about these souvenir shops: Not one of them had anything that said “Baseball Hall of Fame” on it. Everything was “Cooperstown, NY” with “Home of Baseball” or something similar on it. I’m sure it has something to do with the Hall of Fame and licensing.
And, with that, we decided we had seen all we had come to see. It was time to walk back to our car and depart.
Now, I could tell you all about the drive back to the hotel in Troy, during which nothing of note occurred. Or about how I literally stayed in the hotel room until the next morning.
Our excursion the next day to Saratoga National Historical Park and Cohoes Falls before catching our flights back to San Diego yielded a couple of good pictures, but nothing worth discussing.
That’s it. That’s pretty much the story. Yeah, there was some stuff we missed and/or passed over. But the Hall of Fame is constantly in a state of flux, what with new inductees to enshrine, new memorabilia to be added, and different artifacts to display. So if there is a next time for me, I’m sure it will be a new experience.
Who knows? My grandmother’s 110th birthday is less than 10 years away now. It’ll be here before I know it.
Oh, and for those who might be curious, here’s Grandma on her 100th birthday and an article from the Warwick Beacon about her birthday parties. That’s right, I said parties. Plural. Grandma is kind of a big deal.