About Me

My photo

Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Cooperstown and the Fulfillment of a Childhood Dream

The Babe
Copyright © 2013 by Ralph F. Couey
I have always been cursed by that nomadic condition popularly referred to as "itchy feet," meaning every so often a feeling of irresistable restlessness overcomes my sense of duty and responsibility.  The only cure for this condition is a road trip.  On a motorcycle.

For the last several weeks, I have been flipping through road atlases and trying out various destinations on Google Maps.  I had initially decided to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway down to its Cherokee, NC terminus, then a quick trip over to ride the Dragon at Deal's Gap and home.  Two problems arose.  First of all, time.  Such a sojourn would require, if done right, at least 5 days.  That means five nights in a motel, five days worth of meals, and five days (and 1,200 miles) on a motorcycle.  In the past this hasn't presented much of a problem.  Things have changed.

Due to Lap Band surgery and a lot of effort I've lost 176 pounds over the past several years.  Thank you.  While I'm delighted at the results, I still have about 40 pounds to go before I get to what the Doctor says should be my ideal weight, so now is not the time to rest on my laurels.  The lost tonnage has left me with a surfeit of skin, which when I sit down naturally bunches up like an off-the-rack suit.  I can tolerate most seats, but for some reason, the deeply-dished cruiser seat on my Vulcan 900 is particularly painful after only a couple of hours.  Plus, the old man's curse (prostate) is beginning to take effect, forcing me into restrooms at frequent intervals.  Adding those two limitations together, I could only hope to endure 5 or 6 hours in the saddle, translating to less than 300 miles per day.  I had planned to take such a trip while my wife was visiting her family in Hawaii, but there is a lot of rain forecast for the entire eastern side of the country for the time she will be gone.

Faced with those hurdles, I scaled back my plans a bit and thought more about a shorter trip. 

One evening, I was listening to an internet broadcast of my favorite team, the woeful, hapless, helpless and eternally frustrating Kansas City Royals.  My mind was drifting a bit, and I thought about how I had always wanted to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.  Checking the distance on Google Maps, I saw that it was about 375 miles, one way from Northern Virginia.  I made the decision right there.  I was going to the Hall.
I moved the departure date up a week to accomodate the forecast and on Monday morning, once the DC rush hour had subsided, I hit the road.

I headed north on US 15 towards Pennsylvania, crossing the Potomac and flying by Gettysburg.  It was a beautiful day, perfect for a road trip.  As I anticipated, I had to stop every two hours or so, in deference to my physical limitations.  But traffic was mercifully light and construction zones were few.  The verdant hills of Pennsylvania flanked the roadway as I whistled up I-81 from Harrisburg, through the twin cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.  I crossed into New York just south of Binghamton.  The mountains seemed to be more numerous in the Empire State, all completely shrouded in trees.  I turned east on I-88 for about 70 miles, before veering north on NY28 at Oneonta.

Once north of the Interstate, I glided into a valley that could have been the inspiration for any number of art works.  The tree-covered ridges flanked an area of picturesque farms that might have come right off a Rockwell canvas.  I arrived at my lodging, a small '60's style motel south of town.  Once I parked and emptied the bike, it was time for dinner.  Fortunately, there was a barbecue place a few hundred yards up the road.  I could have ridden the three miles into Cooperstown, but I was very sore from the day's ride, so I decided to walk.  The food was good, the atmosphere relaxed, and thus sated, I returned to the motel and went to bed. 

The next morning, I headed into town.  Cooperstown is a small village, population about 1,800 which was founded in 1785 by Judge William Cooper, father of author James Fennimore.  The entire Cooper clan has lived and have been buried in a single plot adjoining a church just north of the Hall of Fame.  Main Street, part of the historical district, has converted to exclusive servicing of the people visiting the baseball museum.  There are about a dozen or so shops, all selling the same souvenier merch, a number of small restaurants, and a few other artsy boutiques and antique stores.  Strolling around town is a delight, especially if you're a fan of Victorian architecture, which I am.  There are dozens of spectacular homes, all preserved in their turn-of-the-century glory along the tree-lined streets.  The people are friendly and seem genuinely glad that you've stopped by. 
The main entrance
 But on this morning, my desires, harbored for a half-century, led me to a brick-fronted complex of buildings  at the east end of Main.  I had to park a couple blocks away, since the spaces in front are limited to two hours.  Entering the building, I was met by three statues of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente. 

Walking through the museum is like taking a trip back in time.  Starting from it's earliest recounting (did you know the ancient Egyptians played a game involving a bat and ball?) through the false parentage of Civil War hero Abner Doubleday.  Actually, the game, or at least the American version, was invented by Alexander Cartwright.  As I walked past the displays, I saw vintage photographs from the late 19th century, bearing images of men who were giants of the game back then, but whose names wouldn't elicit much response today.  I moved through time, finally seeing some names I recognized.  Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and then the Babe and Lou.  Joe D and Eddie Matthews, Gibson, Brock, Yount, Ryan, and Brett.  Bats, balls, gloves, uniforms, and even ticket stubs...the whole history of the game and the people whose actions and accomplishments provided the historical narrative of what is still felt to be our National Pasttime. 
Jackie's uni.

Mail from some of his devoted fans.

Lou Gehrig's togs.

At the end is a long hall with a brilliantly sunlit atrium at one end.  This is where the plaques are hung, honoring those who have been elected as the best who ever played the game.  In the atrium are two statues of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, so carefully executed and life-like I almost expected them to speak.

The Splendid Splinter
All in all, I spent a good 5 hours in the building, making sure I saw everything.  In the gift shop, I bought a Brooklyn Dodgers ball cap and a biography of the Bum's legendary first sacker Gil Hodges.  I could have bought much more, but a motorcycle's saddlebags are only so big.

Afterwards, I spent a few more hours walking around the village. I visited Doubleday Field, where legend says the first organized baseball game was played in 1839 on what was then a humble cow pasture.  Eventually, the day wound down.  The air turned chilly and I went back to the motel.

I had dinner that evening at a Chinese place, chowing down on some really good Moo Goo Gai Pan.  I reflected on my day in Cooperstown.  I had indulged some sweet memories and relived some great moments from the past.  And I made one more checkmark on my bucket list.

The next morning dawned not just chilly, but downright cold.  There was, in fact, frost in some places.  But I loaded the bike, putting all my gear on for warmth, and motored south.  I had originally planned to tour along some roads in the Catskills, around Delhi (which I discovered is pronounced "Del High") but my trials with butt and bladder on the way up forced me to choose the shortest route home.

It was a good trip, even with the physical problems.  The weather was perfect, the machine performed flawlessly, and I fulfilled a childhood dream. 

I always hate to end a trip like this, forcing myself from fantasy back to reality.  But the memories thus made are filed away, always ready for instant recall and reliving.

And isn't building memories what traveling is all about?
Post a Comment