When it comes to must-visits involving professional sports, the list is a mile long and ranges from Wrigley and Lambeau Fields to Lake Placid. Each destination depends on personal preference and each holds a special place of honor for a variety of reasons.
However, for baseball fans, I think one of the must-visit destinations is Cooperstown, N.Y. And while a visit there in general is great any time of year, the experience is that much more special during the Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, held this year on July 24-27, with the actual induction taking place July 26 and featuring Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and Joe Gordon among the players.
As a grade-schooler, I always vowed that if Robin Yount ever made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I would make the trek somehow and be among the thousands in attendance to hear his acceptance speech.
When the announcement came in early 1999 that Yount would join Nolan Ryan and George Brett into the Hall of Fame, I immediately began plans to attend. I was still finishing up college, so this trip was going to be on the cheap, if that’s possible when you need to get to Upstate New York from Wisconsin.
I found a friend to help me with the 16-hour driving duties, and my mom and sister stowed away in the backseat of my 1988 Olds Tornado. It was a comfortable ride, but there was one glaring problem that I probably couldn’t handle today – the air conditioning didn’t work. I distinctly remember sitting in gridlock in the abomination called Chicago traffic and watching the outside temperature gauge read “100 F.”
But nothing could stop me from my goal and we pushed on. Heading into Cooperstown the day before the induction, I admired the beautiful landscape, and once in town, I was immersed in sports collectibles heaven. On one corner was Pete Rose signing autographs. Walking along across the street was Leon Spinks. Athletes mingled with fans in a celebration of all things baseball.
I walked up to Doubleday Field. There’s something quaint about that stadium. It reminds me of an old minor league ballpark.
And then I toured the Hall of Fame, which meant waiting in line because, after all, the town was bursting at the seams. I don’t think I need to go into detail as to the virtues of the Hall of Fame. It’s the best sports museum in the world, period. I hope to visit it again during a little quieter time so I can spend hours looking at the artifacts.
When it came to induction day, the walk from “downtown” to the fields where the stage is set up was rather quaint. It reminded me of a walk through an “up north” vacation town and we were all migrating to a festival outside of that town.
We went early to try and get reasonably close, which meant you still relied on big screens to see the action on the stage. It didn’t matter. I could hear everything perfectly and patiently waited. I waited to hear Yount’s speech and when it came, I looked around me and felt special I was among the thousands in attendance to hear it in person. It remains a highlight in my life.
Of course, being out all day in the sun and the eight-hour drive that night to Cleveland dropped me in bed for about 14 hours, but I’ll never forget the trip.
I can imagine a similar scenario will play out for some fans of Henderson, Rice and even Gordon in the weeks ahead.
If I could make one small suggestion, aside from making sure you grab some loot to commemorate the occasion, it would be to make sure you check the car’s air conditioning first.