Sunday, May 06, 2012

"Best Day Ever"

The above quote (the title of this post) comes from the mouth of a ten-year-old.  Yes, it is hyperbole, but given the particulars, I'll take it.

I bought two adult passes to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY last May from a website that gives bargains on various special deals (like Groupon).  It was a bargain for two adults (not so much for an adult and child).  Then the passes sat and waited...and waited..and waited, until I realized that they were getting ready to expire.  I asked around - did anyone want to come along? - but alas, no takers.  All along, I had planned to take Sean.  But I knew that he would be slightly resistant.

Let's just put it out there: Sean is not a big baseball fan.  He doesn't watch games, doesn't play catch, doesn't concern himself with the standings.  He'll go with me to games and talk with me about it.  Still that's about it.  So, really, would he want to look at old tickets, bats, gloves, and laundry?  Would I bore him to death?  Would he whine about wanting to go home?

First and foremost, he dreaded the drive.  Hell - I dread that drive.  There's no good way, and I've tried them all.  Taconic to 84 to 87 to 28.  TSP to 90 to 5 to 80.  17 to 206 (via 30) to CR 21 to 357 to 88 to 28.  Ugh.  Those are just a couple.  I put my faith in - GASP - my GPS.  Under three hours, maybe.  Sean was armed with two DVD's (he's all about Ironman and The Avengers right now), his game system and his goofy stuffed cat Pillow Pets.

For the record, road enthusiasts, we took the Taconic to 82 to 23 to 145 to 88 to 7/10, used a cut through to go back on 10, to 165 to 166 to county road 52.  The drive took just about three hours, including time for breakfast, gas, and a quick restroom stop.

I was concerned, because I had read that the Hall was hosting "Fenway Day", honoring the great field of dreams in Boston.  I figured, given the proximity to Massachusetts, that plenty of Hub loyalists would be on hand to drool.  But, no.  While there were handfuls of Sawx fans (and a few obnoxious one at that), it was otherwise a shockingly quiet day in the peaceful village.  In fact, it felt almost like we had the place to ourselves!

Lou Gehrig statue, in the entrance atrium.
The Hall of Fame has changed quite a bit since my first visit as an over-excited kid in 1974.  More changes have occurred since my last visit, about eight years ago.  There is a more elegant entrance now than ever before, and upon being handed our tickets (in gleeful irony for some, our tickets featured Tom Seaver's jersey on it), we were whisked to the Grandstand Theater.  There, Sean was dazzled by the small model of the old Comiskey Park exploding scoreboard, and we began our scavenger hunt (a way to keep kids occupied).

I had to remind myself to watch the pace of the day.  I couldn't stop and look at everything.  I needed to hit the highlights and educate - but not overwhelm or bore - Sean.  If I can allow for such a statement, I'm kind of proud of myself.

We didn't short-change our trip - oh, hardly.  We saw it all: lockers belonging to Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio.  The tribute to the 27-time World Champions.  A few trinkets from Alex Rodriguez* and Derek Jeter.  Yes, we saw items from other teams, but highlighting the Yankees stuff was the best way to keep Sean into it.

*Let me deal with A-Rod for a moment.  Sean has liked A-Rod since he was two.  Yes, seriously.  He knows the bad things Alex has done.  We just talked about it the other night, and he reminded me that he would remain loyal.  A-Rod is his guy.  He even wore an A-Rod T-shirt for our trip.  We adults can debate the things that Rodriguez has done, but I have a soft spot for him, due to Sean.

In all, we spent almost three hours in the Hall of Fame, which is a very good amount of time to be there.  I could tell, by the time we hit the church-like atmosphere of the Hall of Fame Gallery, that we needed to take a break.  We needed lunch.

A few quick Hall of Fame things - for one, it is easy to be a snob about the Hall, given their attitude towards both Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose.  It is undeniable that both of these men deserve enshrinement, but are denied due to their ties to gambling on the sport.  I'm pro-Jackson (third highest batting average ever, etc) and feel that Rose should be in, but with no honor of delivering a speech.  Put a plaque up and state that he was banned for betting.  There.  Done.

The Hall is magnificent but has areas that are long in the tooth.  The Grandstand Theater show is the same one (with pictures of more modern players) that I've seen about seven times since 1990 or so.  The Scribes and Mikemen area  - very near and dear to my heart - also needs a touch-up.  But I'm also of the belief that certain broadcasters and writers deserve a plaque in the Gallery.  I mean, who is more important to the history of Los Angeles baseball than Vin Scully?

After strolling the gift shop, we hit Main Street to see the shops and grab a few slices of pizza (very tolerable by Cooperstown standards).  We walked over to the batting cage for the ritual known as Daddy Tries to Hit and Not Embarrass or Hurt Himself.  We picked the 55 MPH knuckleball machine as my opponent (55?  Get it?).  After a 43 year-old veteran found his swings, finishing the hitting round hitting a rope to right.  Truth by told, I was late on the first few pitches and way early later on.

At one point, I saw the Hall tweet that "Barry" was enjoying his first trip to Hall.  Barry?  Barry who?  Bonds?  No...way.  Then I saw a picture - one of the newest Hall of Famer (after his induction this July) - Barry Larkin.  I didn't think too much of it, other than to say "oh well" and assume it was a missed opportunity.

Amazing, in fact.  I had my head down writing down Sean's scavenger hunt answers when a group with microphones and cameras went by.  Yep.  That was Larkin and I didn't see him.

We had unfinished business as the late afternoon shadows descended on Cooperstown.  Sean wanted a souvenir, and I was willing to comply.  The Main Street shops came up empty, so we opted to return to the Hall, where Sean chose to add to his collection of miniature baseball bats (a Yankees one, at that).  Indeed, my first souvenir in '74 was a mini Hall of Fame bat.  Love the symmetry there.

We began to make our way out when I glanced back into the Hall of Fame Gallery, and what did my wandering eye spy?  A small group...a camera...a microphone...and Barry Larkin.  Sean's jaw dropped.  We went back in.
Larkin concluded his Q&A and stepped up to shake hands with each person there (as the museum was getting ready to close, the crowd was barely 20 people).  I called Sean over, and Larkin greeted him with a boisterous "Hi buddy!" and a handshake.  Then Larkin - Hall of Famer, former Cincinnati Red - glanced down at Seans' hoodie, adorned with the interlocking NY and said, "What is that?"  Laughter broke out everywhere.  Larkin and I exchanged a hello before he moved to talk with a Reds fan standing next to us.

A short exchange, but Larkin made two fans for life.  Even if Sean can't remember his name.  I did go get him a Larkin baseball card that he is preparing to show off to his classmates.

This is the - CLICHE ALERT - stuff you can't put a price on.  The pride and surge of emotion I felt all day was tangible.  The bond of father and son was proven to be so strong.  By striking the right balance of fun and facts, we made Sean's first visit to the Hall of Fame one that he will remember.

One that he wants to do again.

One that, of course, I want to do again.

Maybe, in the end, it was meant to be that we should go alone (two adult tickets be damned).  It won't always be that way but for our first trip, it all worked out just fine.

He said it was his best day ever.  I think - and I'm fairly sure - that it was my best trip to one of my favorite places in the world.  I went twice with my dad.  Now, finally, I've been with my son.

In a month that will have me traveling every weekend (up next?  Philadelphia), we are off to one great start.

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