Cooperstown, Day One: Around Cooperstown

NOTE: The initial part of this post was written yesterday evening, but due to hotel internet being shakier than a greyhound in the snow, the remainder of the post had to be written after we were back in Bennington, VT from Cooperstown; so I am finishing it up now.

So I am currently holed up in the Cooperstown Best Western at nearly 4pm this not-so-fine December Tuesday. It is raining out, with the threat of a 2″ snowfall within the next 24 hours. It’s funny to think that as I start this post, it is nearing only 1pm back home, and due to the fading light and Cooperstown’s winter hours being what they are, my day is pretty much over, while my friends back home still have a good chunk of their days left. I have an open Yuengling, a really awful internet connection (by the time I post this, I am guessing at least an hour will have elapsed), and I have already crammed quite a bit into today (including a visit to the bountiful greatness that is Price Chopper), so let’s get started…

Between a multi-hour nap I took yesterday afternoon, my teething niece upstairs, the heat in the room we were sleeping in, and a cat that decided to use the bed as home base for a one-sided game of tag, I did not sleep well last night. I don’t think I’ve been able to deal with jet lag well at all this time around coming out here, and even though our bed is comfy and my sister-in-law’s house is awesome, I think I’ve got a bit of that ‘it’s not home’ thing. I was of course quite excited about our trip today, so with everything piled on, I just didn’t sleep much, if at all, and time has just sort of stood still today.

Tom and I got up and were graciously driven into town by my sister’s boyfriend Jeff, where we procured this sort of red station wagon-looking vehicle from the car rental place. We had originally tried to get a smaller car, but the two guys there ‘upgraded’ us to this one. I’m not sure why larger is an upgrade, but I wasn’t in the mood to argue, either, so we got the run-through on our new ride, hopped in, and after a few awkward turns, made it on our route towards Cooperstown, New York.

The drive here from Vermont is not terribly exciting. If you’re from Oregon, picture the stretch of highway between Eugene and Grants Pass, flatten it out a bit, and remove all the evergreens. Throw in a bunch of don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-them “towns”, and plenty of old weathered farmhouses, barns and sheds in such states of disrepair that they must surely be declared a health and safety hazard, by someone, somewhere in the state of New York. It’s a photographer’s dream for sure, but that was not why we were on the road. Some other time, perhaps.

We were afforded a little blue sky here and there, which made us think that we would escape what is currently going on and about to go on outside the hotel as I type this (rain, snow).

And after what seemed like forever (but was in actuality maybe an hour and change)…

The reason that the sign says “Museums” is because there are several here. Along with the Hall of Fame, there is also a farmer’s museum and an art museum. Both of these are larger individually than the building that houses the Hall of Fame. There is actually a country club here that is twice the size of the Hall of Fame. In fact, as Tom and I drove past it, I mentioned to him that the country club’s facade was more or less what I had expected of the Hall of Fame. But I won’t judge, because I have not yet set foot into the Hall, and I guessing that despite its smaller stature, it will still be worth more bang for my personal buck than both the farmer’s museum and the art museum combined. You may scoff, but I am a big fan of museums.

Seventeen miles of winding country road and several more small burgs and dilapidated farm structures later, we were driving past Cooperstown Hot Dog. Tom noticed that it looked closed, but since we had missed the driveway, we figured that we’d at least drive back and see what the hours were. Keep in mind, I just checked their website this morning. It is still up and running, and nowhere on the site does it give any indication of this:

Now, I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure that sign means they’re not coming back. This was a setback, of course, as I had been planning on making this my first meal in Cooperstown for at least the last week. But I have also been prepared for seasonal closures, and the fact that not everything might be as I had imagined it or wanted it to be. So I committed to flexibility, and we continued on downtown, to see what we could see.

This is the Cooperstown Bat Company, obviously. I knew it was going to be closed so it wasn’t a big deal, but after being able to look through the windows on my own, I really do wish it had been open. I was only in the doorway long enough to take this picture, but the store is really, well, full of bats. More colors, brands, and patterns than I figured existed. I would not have been able to afford to buy one, but I still would have loved to be able to go in and look. Maybe there will be another time.

After I took these pictures, we decided to find some lunch to fill the hot-dog-shaped holes in our stomachs, and Alex and Ika was open, so we wandered into it after slowly poking around the windows of some of the other closed shops. I had a Boddington’s and a sandwich called a B.A.T (see what they did there?) which was a bacon, arugula and tomato panini with a honey mustard sauce on it. It was delicious, but after that and the beer I was much more stuffed than I wanted to be. The staff was nice (we were the only two in there, aside from two women who came in as we were finishing up), and the food is good, so if you ever visit, check it out.

This is one wall in the restaurant. You can see me taking the picture in the mirror down below. Tom is probably messing with his iPhone.

After lunch, we still had some time to kill before being able to get into our hotel room, so we decided to see what was open and do the tourist thing. Main street had a few people walking around on it, but for the most part, the town was pretty calm. I have to think the difference between winter and summer is night and day there. Doubleday Field was right around the corner from the restaurant, but it was closed and tarped up of course. I got what photos I could.

You can see snow on the ground in the third photo. There has been a thin veneer of snow pretty much everywhere between here and Vermont. I wish I could have gotten better photos, but you have to roll with the punches. Even in Cooperstown, there is an offseason.

The next stop was the Cooperstown Wax Museum. I didn’t expect a lot going in, and I didn’t technically get it, but for a small-town wax museum on one specific subject, this one isn’t terrible. The whole place was empty (we were the only ones there), and it was run by an elderly gentleman who complained about the cold when we came in the door. Entry fee is $9.95 for adults, which I happily paid for both myself and Tom. You get a token resembling an extremely shiny quarter, and are sent in to a turnstyle, and up an elevator to the third floor, which is where everything begins. From the third floor, you walk down two small flights of stairs to the second floor to finish up the tour, which is self-guided. I don’t know how much fun this would be for children; there aren’t really any interactive exhibits, and a lot of it is more informational than stuff to look at. But I consider myself good with reading, and I haven’t been a child for a while, so I liked it just fine. Also, it smells like cigars when you get to the top floor. I took photos of the better wax figures (I find wax figures to be a little hit or miss sometimes – Joe DiMaggio could have been standing on some stairs with Marilyn Monroe, or Gwen Stefani), and am quite sad that my picture of Ted Williams didn’t come out, as it was the best in the bunch. I will not be so careless at the Hall.

Not everything was baseball, some of it was just baseball-related.

NOTE: It was around this point that I had to stop trying to upload photos, or I was going to risk not being able to go to bed at a decent hour. From here on out, I am back at my sister’s house, so if the tense or editorial sounds odd, it’s because these photos were taken yesterday. So onto the rest of it:

I have a strange fascination with Honus Wagner; I don’t know much about him other than that his baseball card is ridiculously expensive, but for some reason I just like him.

This was not a terribly great wax figure setup, but it came with a story that I didn’t read because I was taking pictures of a few other things in the immediate vicinity; after being blackballed from the majors and supposedly playing some minor league games, Joe Jackson retired to owning and working a liquor store. Ty Cobb apparently came in once to purchase from him, and Jackson did not acknowledge him as anything other than a customer. When Cobb said ‘What’s the matter, Joe; don’t you know who I am?’ Jackson replied, ‘Sure I do, Ty; but I didn’t think anyone wanted to talk to me anymore.’ Tom read this and related the story to me last night at dinner, and it made me tremendously sad. I find Jackson to be a very sympathetic character, whether he actually took part in the Black Sox scandal or not. Not being able to read or write your own language in an increasingly developing world, and working in a somewhat corrupt industry must have been very difficult for anyone, let alone a guy who got caught up in something so much beyond his control.

I saw the photo that this was modeled after today in the Hall of Fame.

I tried to get some forced perspective for this shot of a wax Catfish Hunter, and his intended target, painted on the wall next to “him”.

Randy Johnson and Eddie Gaedel. Randy is not John Rauch, who is the tallest player ever in baseball, but I’m maybe they don’t have enough wax to make a Rauch? Maybe the extra few inches causes the wax to collapse? Who knows. The figures look like both men, so I’m not complaining.

These are not all the figures in the museum, but they are the ones I found most interesting, personally. If you’re a baseball history buff, this place probably won’t tell you much that you don’t know already, but it is part of the Cooperstown experience, and worth my ten bucks and 45 or so minutes to walk through.

After the museum, we walked down as far as the Hall of Fame, and I decided not to walk up to it; that would have to wait. Instead, we crossed the street and went into a few memorabilia stores. With all apologies to Mets fans, with whom I hold no grudge, I found this funny:

I also found an autographed Justin Smoak ball, which I had posted on Twitter:

In this same store, in a massive glass case with hundreds of others, was an autographed Babe Ruth ball, the price of which was some $16,000.00. Yes, that decimal is in the right place. I stood and stared at it for a few seconds, and Tom and I traded shocked remarks on the item before purchasing some small gifts for friends and leaving the shop to go in search of other adventure.

Other adventure, it turns out, was driving to find the Ommegang Brewery.  After some fighting with the GPS and a few wrong turns, we found it, and went inside…to a massive crowd of people. Cooperstown was nearly a ghost town, but this place was packed. We stood for a bit waiting to see if we had a chance in Hell of making it in to get a place to sit and have a pint, but there were already people standing up to drink in the very noisy room. We looked on the shelves for a bottle to maybe take home, but couldn’t decide on anything; so we wandered into what turned out to be the tasting room, and were told that we needed a glass. Since there were only five or so people there, we thought that might be a good idea – but the second we turned around, about 15-20 people had started to fill the room in behind us, so it was silently determined between both of us that Ommegang would simply have to be had back home, from our local beer store. The tour wasn’t even an option, as one had just left, and it would have required two very tired people to wait for 45 minutes for the next one.

So we drove back into town, and then thought maybe we’d try the Fly Creek Cider Mill. I thought I’d remembered something about it being closed for the winter, but what else did we have to do? Drive the four miles out there and find out that it was indeed closed, that’s what.

Exhausted and beer- and cider-free, we figured the hotel would probably have to let us in, because who else would be clamoring for a room a few days after Christmas in a town whose tourism revolves mainly around the summer season? So there was checking in, and a few sombre hours of just sitting in silence and trying to get photos uploaded and working on various website projects between the two of us, on an internet connection that was slower than dirt. After a bit, we were hungry and took off in the rental car and pouring rain to a place closer to town called Bocca Osteria. As far as I can figure, this is a fine-but-casual dining place, or it would be if it were in Seattle. In Cooperstown, it almost seems fancy. The food is amazing, and the word amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s incredible food. But the prices are absolutely criminal. One should not be able to get a bowl of seafood bisque for $5, and especially not the kind of seafood bisque that is on the menu here; it is absolutely delicious, and there is a lot of it, with bay scallops and prawns nesting at the bottom. I could have easily eaten my weight in it. The salad and pizza that we also had was wonderful, but I don’t think I will ever forget this bisque. Our entire meal was $36, and it was a STEAL at that price. If you ever find yourself in the area, and this place is open, I highly recommend you go.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel, settling in to ABC Family’s broadcasting of both older and newer versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and then sweet, blissful sleep.

Tomorrow, I tackle the actual Hall of Fame visit. I took over 200 pictures today, so tomorrow’s post is going to be a big one. Hope I have been able to bring my trip to life for anyone reading as much as it was a lively trip for me.


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1 Response to Cooperstown, Day One: Around Cooperstown

  1. Larry Rank says:

    Fun update! Thanks for the details and photos. Keep ’em coming.

    Go M’s!


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