Amid all the money, egos and HGH, it's easy to forget that baseball was once an innocent game. A little museum upstate helps us remember.
Wed Mar 5 2008
A veritable mecca for devotees of America’s favorite pastime, Cooperstown isn’t known for much besides its famous hall of rawhide ephemera, old pine tar–stained lumber and October memories. For the large number of folks who don’t care a lick about baseball but are forced along for the ride, though, a weekend focused on baseball minutiae sounds about as thrilling as a DIY colonoscopy. Fortunately, there is more than Major League history to be found at this single-stop-light village (population 2,000) on the shores of Lake Otsego. A scant four hours from Manhattan and originally settled by the father of 19th-century novelist James Fenimore Cooper, the area’s wooded hills indeed look like something out of the Leatherstocking series and are a welcome respite for those who would like nothing better than to take a Louisville Slugger to the head of their baseball-obsessed companions.
Check in at The Inn at Cooperstown (16 Chestnut St at Main St, 607-547-5756; from $121 on weekends) and request a room on the recently renovated third floor. Four-poster beds, afternoon tea and a smoldering fireplace provide a cozy backdrop for the seemingly endless array of board games. If you’re looking for something a little more swank, stay at the grand lakeside Otesaga Resort Hotel (60 Lake St at Pine Blvd, 800-348-6222; from $390; opens for season April 23) and play a round on the par-72 golf course.
Just three blocks away, The National Baseball Hall of Fame (25 Main St at Fair St, 888-425-5633; $16.50) draws approximately 300,000 visitors a year. The actual hall is exactly what it claims to be: a corridor full of plaques. So the museum is the real diamond here. A time line—from Abner Doubleday’s first layout of the game in 1839 to Barry Bonds’s historic (and much-disputed) eclipse of Hank Aaron’s home run record last season—provides some context for the goods. You’ll see everything from Babe Ruth’s actual locker to hate mail sent to Jackie Robinson in 1951 to the glove worn by Willie Mays when he made his 1954 World Series basket catch.
Local shopping is devoted primarily to baseball, so if you’re looking for vintage memorabilia or limited-edition collectibles, the Cooperstown Bat Company (118 Main St at Chestnut St, 607-547-2415) is worth checking out. The shop laser-engraves bats with so much precision they can etch an entire team’s roster on the face. It’s never too young to invest in your child’s sporting future: The CBC will even do your baby announcement on a bat.
For a dose of history that has nothing to do with sports, take a walk through the Christ Episcopal Churchyard Cemetery (46 River St at Church St, 607-547-9555). Spread out like a field of macabre bases, the graves of the Cooper family, including the august novelist, are laid out for visitors to view (but not slide into). And if you thought an extra-inning game felt long, pay your respects to Sam Griffin, who’s been interred at the cemetery since 1792.
Make a pit stop at the Doubleday Café (93 Main St at Pioneer St, 607-547-5468) for some good American grub before heading to the Brewery Ommegang (656 County Hwy 33, 800-544-1809) for a boozy seventh-inning stretch. Set in a Belgian-style farmhouse, Ommegang brews five award-winning Belgian ales ranging from the light and citrusy Witte Ale to the unusually strong and chocolaty Three Philosophers. You can see how the whole process works at the 136-acre farmstead. If you didn’t get your fill of suds and hops, the Cooperstown Brewing Co. (110 River St at E Main St, Milford, NY; 607-286-9330) offers tours on the hour and informal tastings of their porters and stouts.
Although all this baseball may leave you wanting nothing more than a hot dog or some nachos, treat yourself to an intimate dinner at Alex & Ika (149 Main St at Chestnut St, 607-547-4070), where hostess Ika Fognell and chef Alex Webster serve up an international twist to your weekend of Americana, with creative dishes like spicy habanero shrimp cake and sake-seared salmon (since the Japanese also love baseball). Top it off with a nightcap at the local dive, Cooley’s Stone House Tavern (49 Pioneer St at Main St, 607-544-1311) a beautifully restored tavern that dates from before the Civil War.
On your way out of town, stop at Howe Caverns (255 Discovery Dr, Howes Cave, NY; 518-296-8900), located between Cooperstown and Albany. Don’t get lost in this vast complex of underground caves made from limestone deposited hundreds of millions of years ago. The highlight is Lake Venus, hidden 156 feet below the ground and open for boat rides. Finally, a trip that appeals to both baseball aficionados and spelunkers alike.
Two nights, one person
Car rental (with gas) $190
Take I-87N to I90 to exit 25A. Take I-88W to exit 24. Follow Route 7 to Route 20W to Route 80S to Cooperstown.
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