Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cooperstown in the offseason

The blog author at the main door of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, all decorated
for the holidays.
I have been to Cooperstown twice, at drastically different times of the year.

The first time was Induction Weekend of 2001, when Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield (and Hilton Smith and Bill Mazeroski) were inducted. The little village was packed with thousands of visitors; it wasn't easy to move about on Main Street or in the Hall of Fame building.

The second time was the week before Christmas. There were some visitors, but there was never a problem getting a table at lunch time at the Doubleday Cafe. Many of the memorabilia shops and restaurants that dominate Cooperstown's Main Street were closed — there's something odd about seeing a sign in a retailer's door that says Closed until after Christmas, but so it was.

Winter is the offseason for Cooperstown's tourism for cause, of course. But to a large degree, I came away from this trip convinced that if one's motive is to absorb as much about the game of baseball as the Hall has to offer, the offseason is the time to go.

Here's the thing: There's too much there to grasp in a day, or two days. My wife and I went to the Hall five days, and each day I noticed things that had eluded my attention previously. Yes, one can rush through the three floors of the museum — not to mention the plaque gallery — in a day, but understanding what's there is another matter. I found that  after one floor, my brain was numbed.

Go there in the summer, and the crush is on. Hundreds of people are trying to see the same stuff you are. Go in the winter, and you can dawdle and study without blocking somebody else's view of Honus Wagner's bat or Mariano Rivera's muddy spikes. You can take a lengthy pause at the broadcast exhibit and wait to hear Herb Carneal's call of the last out of the 1987 World Series (yes, it plays in rotation).

There are drawbacks to going in the winter. We had vague plans to visit the research library and perhaps investigate the connection between Mankato and Deacon Phillippe, a pitcher who starred in the first NL-AL World Series. But the library operates on very limited hours in the winter (and even if it had been open, they prefer a couple weeks notice to line up the material). The support businesses around the Hall are limited. And, while we were on the whole fortunate with the weather during our visit (it was 55 degrees on Sunday), winter in the Catskills can be pretty heavy on the snow.

The trip and its timing could have backfired. It didn't. And I got more out of this longer, leisurely visit that I did out of the more frenetic one a dozen years earlier.

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