Shrine of America's Pastime

By Turner-Yamamoto, Judith Bell | The World and I, December 2007 | Go to article overview
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Shrine of America's Pastime

Turner-Yamamoto, Judith Bell, The World and I

The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York

For baseball fans for whom 165 regular games and the World Series are not enough--and my husband and twelve-year old son definitely fit the profile--there is, thankfully, always Cooperstown. Last fall, driving south after a stay in the Hudson River Valley, we made a long detour to reach this little rustic town located two hundred miles northwest of New York City on the southern shore of Otsego Lake.

Cooperstown's connection to baseball begins in 1839 when Abner Doubleday, a future Civil War general, is said to have devised the modern game of baseball. One hundred years later, The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was established to honor the game's heroes and to present the history of the sport. Elections held each year choose new members to the Hall of Fame. Of the 14,000 players participating in the sport at the major league level, only 1% has been elected, along with a number of coaches, referees, umpires and managers.

Located on Main Street of this small quiet town (population 2,300) where flower baskets decorate street lamps and window boxes adorn storefronts and homes, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum draws 300,000 visitors each year from every state in the Union.

Four floors and a lower level of this brick building whose facade resembles a quaint school house are devoted to the sport's heroes and recollections of the greatest moments of the game as told through artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia. We started our tour at the two hundred-seat theater that features a twelve-minute introductory multi-media presentation recreating the experience of an old-time ballpark. This memorabilia travelogue traces the American experience of baseball from the sights and scenes of little league games all the way to World Series games and some of the most spectacular moments in the sport. Watching the film, the favorite T-shirt belonging to my son's baseball coach, a twenty-year Little League veteran, flashed in my mind: "Baseball is Life." Clearly, we and the other visitors were now primed to experience something very like that.

"Baseball is an integral part of every child's background, it's something that transcends our culture," says Mary Bellew, assistant registrar. "The museum is really a conduit for the passing on of personal and collective history. Grandfathers with small children point to the plaques and explain who these people are and what they mean to them. It's an experience they both share and a bonding you can actually see."

Touring the museum, I saw Bellew's words in action. Central to the museum is the hall of fame itself. Here, in almost sepulchral fashion, each inductee is represented by a bronze plaque featuring their likeness and a summary of their career highlights. The noses and caps of favorites like Lawrence P. Yogi Berra and Mickie Mantle have been worn bright from repeated touching. While my husband guided our son through the stars of his childhood, I focused on the objects in a glass display case near the entrance to the hall. Dedicated to showcasing objects on loan from new inductees, the exhibit featured 1997 inductees Jacob N. Fox, Thomas C. Lasorda, Philip H. Niekro, and Willie J. Wells and included Fox's jacket, Wells' shoes, and a jersey from Phil Niekro. Dodger Tommy Lasorda's faded scout notes on Hall of Fame 1992 inductee Tom Seaver, a player who went on to become a power pitcher, member of the 3,500 strike out club, and a Hall of Fame inductee were particularly haunting: "This boy showed a real good fast ball with good life, has real good command of point of release, should improve. Has good arm action and should be able to come up with a good curve. Boy has plenty of desire to pitch. Definite prospect."

In the Cooperstown Room, also on the first floor, IBM video presentations give us access to every major league leader and hall of famer. Joe DiMaggio, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson were a dial away.

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