September 14, 2003

PHOTO ESSAY:  Cooperstown, N.Y. - 2003
by Steve Lombardi

My wife, 15-month-old daughter and I visited Cooperstown, New York, from September 9th through September 11th of 2003.  What follows is an essay of our experience there and some related pictures.  All photographs shown herein are my own and were taken with the family Canon ELPH 370Z camera.

The trip there was beautiful.  The weather was perfect.  It was clear and the temperature was in the 70’s.  In fact, the weather the entire time we were there was consistently in this range.  It was nicely fitting that we had perfect baseball weather for the ideal baseball vacation.

It took about 5 hours to drive there – including a half-hour stop half-way through the journey for a lunch break.  The scenery surrounding the outing (mountains and farms) was very impressive.

When we first arrived at Cooperstown, the vacation quickly started off on the wrong foot – although it was corrected by us just as fast.

In April of this year, I had made reservations for us to stay at “The Inn at Cooperstown.”  According to their 2003 brochure, the rate for a “Premium Suite” during “mid-week” was “$170” – “For 1-3 Guests.”  This is what I had booked for our stay.  Later, on April 25th, I received a letter from “The Inn at Cooperstown” confirming the dates and the nightly rate of “$170.”

On August 31st, I sent “The Inn at Cooperstown” an e-mail to confirm our reservations.  They wrote back, validating the information in the letter of April 25th. It was also at this time that they alerted me that their ownership had changed hands in May (after the letter was sent) and that I was no longer dealing with the person I spoke to in April.

When we arrived at “The Inn at Cooperstown,” and we were presented with our room, it was clear that we were not in a “Premium Suite.”  The room did not match the description in the brochure which stated that we would have a sitting room, refrigerator, and coffee maker (among other items).

I asked the Manager (Bruce) why we were not in the “Premium Suite” which we had booked.  He pointed to the “2003 Schedule of Rates” in the brochure and said that the “Premium Suite” would cost $325 per night, not $170.  He said that the $170 rate was for one person, not three.  This was extremely confusing to me as the schedule clearly read “Premium Suite, For 1-3 Guests, $170 Mid-week, $325 Weekend.”  So, I asked to speak to the owner.

The Owner (Marc) had an entirely different story than Bruce.  He pointed to the same “2003 Schedule of Rates” and said that the $170 rate was for a “Standard Room” not the “Premium Suite.”  This was even more confusing than the previous excuse. 

The “Standard Room” information on the schedule had Mid-week and Week-end rates broken down for various periods of the year.  None of the rates listed there were for $170 a night. 

Accordingly, I asked Marc “If I’m not booked for a Premium Suite, why am I paying $170 for a Standard Room when none of the rates for a Standard Room listed is $170?”  He looked at me and said “Well, the rates listed there are more of a range, a high and low of sorts, than an exact price. It all varies.”

For the record, no where on the brochure or the schedule did it state what he was claiming.  At this point, I knew for certain that we were getting the runaround at “The Inn at Cooperstown.”  They were not providing the accommodations for the rate I was promised and therefore they broke our reservation agreement.  I informed Marc of this and told him that we were leaving.

Immediately, across the street, was “The Cooper Inn.”  We walked up to the desk and asked if they could accommodate us on the spot - which was tricky considering our needs with a 15-month-old in tow. 

Luckily, they had a suite and a crib, and we had a deal.  In actuality, the rate was only slightly higher ($199) than at the “The Inn at Cooperstown” and the staff and facility at “The Cooper Inn” was head and shoulders better.  In baseball terms, comparing “The Inn at Cooperstown” to “The Cooper Inn” is like comparing Rob Deer to Babe Ruth.  No contest.

Coincidently, I had stayed at “The Cooper Inn” 23 years ago, when I first and last visited Cooperstown.  It was exactly as I had remembered it.  First class, all the way.  In retrospect, it was utterly silly on my part for not booking with “The Cooper Inn” in the first place.  What was I possibly thinking?  I had a belt high BP fastball “cookied” up to the plate for me and I fouled it off.  Fortunately, I got that second chance to right that wrong, quickly, and the vacation was back on the right track.

Post travel time and having completed the “Inn” shuffle, it was just past 4 PM on Tuesday, September 9th, and time for us to find something to eat.

We went to “TJ’s Grill” on Main Street for dinner.  It was casual, kid friendly, and they had a nice selection of choices.  The food is what I like to call “real food.”  You order a turkey dinner and you get “real” turkey – not turkey cold cuts with some gray on top of it.  We enjoyed the meal so much that we went back to “TJ’s Grill” on our last day there (Thursday) for breakfast as well.  The breakfast food was just as good as dinner – “real” food, again – and the portions were huge.

After dinner on Tuesday, we decided to stroll over to Lakefront Park to see Otsego Lake as our first Cooperstown vacation activity. 

Otsego Lake is both pristine and picturesque.  In baseball terms, it is the Wrigley Field of lakes.  Lakefront Park is also home to some of the friendliest ducks around.  Not shy at all, they will come right up to you and follow you around.  We spent only about 30 minutes there; but, the residual relaxation benefits of that brief visit stayed with us much longer into the night.

Closing our first night out in Cooperstown, we strolled around the village for an hour or so - and, when I say “stroll,” again, with a 15-month-old, I mean it literally, as in “stroller.”  While most of the shops had closed already (as it was past 5 PM in the off-season) the stroll was useful (as it allowed us to become familiar with the layout of the village) and entertaining (as there are numerous stunning historic homes in the community well worth seeing).

It was also during this stroll that we first visited Doubleday Field.  I say “first visited” as we actually ended up stopping by Doubleday Field on each of the three days we were in Cooperstown.  On Tuesday, it was just to check it out – walk around the park, experience all the sight lines, etc.  On Wednesday, it was to take some pictures and video of the park and field.  On Thursday, there was a game on the field – an Orioles Fantasy Camp.  We stopped there just before leaving Cooperstown to catch a quick glimpse of the game – maybe about a half-inning.

Why visit Doubleday Field each day?  It is sort of like the line Louis Armstrong offered about the essence of jazz music:  “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”  Walking up the entrance ramp to Doubleday Field, into the stands, and seeing that playing field, is like using a time machine to go back to 1939.  The ballpark is in great shape, clean, and almost looking new – but, new for 1939.  There is just a feel about being there that is hard to describe in words.  Watching the game on Thursday helped focus the feeling somewhat.  Being at Doubleday Field is like being at a real life “Field of Dreams.”  There is a tremendous old time baseball aura at Doubleday Field.  For whatever reason, it is there.  At least it was there for me.

Wednesday, September 10th, was the only “full day” that we had scheduled for our Cooperstown trip and therefore that was the day where we would visit the “National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.”

Unknown to us at the time we planned our trip, a renovation project was underway at the Museum at the time of our arrival and approximately one-half of the Museum’s exhibits were now temporarily closed.  Score this one as “E” Steve Lombardi on your scorecards as I should have been aware of this situation given the information was readily available at http://www.baseballhalloffame.org (if only I had checked).  But, in the end, this error had no impact on the outcome of our “game.”

To begin with, the Museum positively compensated you in return of any inconvenience.  They provided us with complimentary copies of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Yearbooks for 2002 and 2003.  The value of those two books alone more than offset the price of our admission.  Further, the Museum had us fill out a card so that we would be invited back to the Museum in the Spring of 2005 for a rededication ceremony that will be free of charge. 

More importantly, to me, there were still more than enough exhibits currently available to keep one busy.  There genuinely was so much to see at the Museum that day.  All told, we must have spent over four hours inside the Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday.

In truth, I probably did not see everything there that was available to be seen.  Because the Museum had such a marvelous amount of baseball artifacts available, a “kid in the candy store” effect occurred over me.  I wanted to see it all and subconsciously, as I guess is human nature, I began to impatiently scuttle from exhibit to exhibit.  I wanted to see what was next so badly that I quickly ran through what was in front of me.  I was so overwhelmed by the forest; I missed so many of the trees.  Afterwards, my wife confirmed this by noting that I seemed to be rushing instead of carefully examining and savoring what was there.

Just imagine how crazed I would have been if all the exhibits were accessible!

The point here, again, is that even with the renovation work and some exhibits being temporarily closed, the Museum was brimming with exhibits and there was more than enough to see there.

I will always remember this trip to the Hall of Fame and Museum for many reasons.  The causes range from as small as seeing the bat Matsui used to hit his Grand Slam on Opening Day earlier this year (when my Dad and I were there at Yankee Stadium, freezing in the cold) to the immeasurable amount of joy I received from simply watching my wife and 15-month-old daughter walking together around the exhibits and enjoying themselves.

There are two reasons in particular which were entertaining in some ways and worth sharing in more detail.

First, during our visit to the Hall of Fame and Museum, I had the chance to personally meet Bruce Markusen, the Manager of Programs at the Museum, and introduce him to my family. 

Back in February 2003, I had interviewed Bruce, electronically, for NetShrine.com.  It was satisfying to finally be able to put a face on the name, shake his hand, and thank him personally (albeit belatedly) for the opportunity back in February.  Bruce took a decent amount of time out of his day on Wednesday to talk to my wife and I – which was appreciated by us - and it was a great deal of fun to get to know him better, in person.

Secondly, there was one of the programs which Bruce runs at the Museum, “So You Think You Know Baseball,” in which I ended up participating (at the urging of my wife).

“So You Think You Know Baseball” is a trivia contest held in the Museum’s “Bullpen Theater” on Wednesdays and Bruce is the master of ceremonies.  The contest is similar to the TV show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” where you get two “lifelines” to help you with the contest questions.  In “So You Think You Know Baseball,” when you are in the “hot seat” you must answer questions correctly for nine “innings” in a row to win.  The questions get tougher as you proceed.

I was the leadoff contestant in “So You Think You Know Baseball” having been the first to correctly answer in the preliminary qualifying question.

I literally “ran the table” for the first eight questions that followed.  I nailed each of them on my own – no need for a lifeline at all.  It was exciting.  There were probably about 15 or 20 people in the theater applauding each answer after it was confirmed I solved the question – including my wife and daughter (who seemed to be getting a big kick out of “Daddy” sitting in the front of the small auditorium with everyone clapping after every time I got one right).

Then, Bruce made a disclosure to the audience – and me.  In the somewhat short history of the “So You Think You Know Baseball” contest held at the Museum, no one (to date) had ever won without using at least one lifeline. 

If I could answer the ninth and final question without asking to show what the audience thought was the answer or having the possible answers reduced in half, I would be the first ever to go the entire distance without help.  When I heard that, I thought to myself “Go for it.  No guts, no glory.  No matter what – do not ask for a lifeline.” 

The final question was “Who after Mike Schmidt has hit the most homeruns in Philadelphia Phillies history?”  I said “Chuck Klein.”  And, Bruce asked “Is that your final answer?”  I thought for a second, and said “Yes, that’s my final answer.”

Well, just call me the Armando Benitez of baseball trivia contests.  I choked in the end.  The correct answer was “Del Ennis.”  Chuck Klein has the third most after Schmidt and Ennis. 

From this day forward, whenever I hear the name “Del Ennis” I will surely break into a “Niagara Falls, Slowly I Turn, Step By Step” routine, that is for sure!  Much later in the day, while we were in the Museum gift shop, an unknown fellow came up to me (seemingly out of nowhere) and he just said “You should have used that lifeline!”  I thought that was hilarious.

I am so glad that I let my wife talk me into going out for “So You Think You Know Baseball.”  We will reference this story whenever we talk about our daughter’s first trip to the Hall of Fame and Museum. 

Also, when I was first called into to “hot seat” and introduced to the audience, Bruce mentioned to those attending that I was the webmaster of NetShrine.com and said some nice things about the site.  Clearly, he did not have to do that.  It was very kind of him and very much appreciated.

After our visit to “National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum” we decided to visit the “Where It All Began Bat Co.” where we had a Doubleday Field mini-bat personalized for my daughter (with her name).  Along with the bat, we purchased a wall plaque bat holder and had “Cooperstown 9/10/03” inscribed on to the holder.  Combined, the cost was under $30 for the pair (including the inscriptions) – which is a great deal for a quality keepsake, in my opinion.  Within 36 hours after arriving home, I already had it mounted in my daughter’s room.

For dinner on Wednesday, we chose to eat at “The Doubleday Café.”  I found it to be more of a “Bar and Grill” than a “Café.”  Perhaps “Grill” is not fair – their menu was more impressive than a ‘run-of-the-mill grill.’  Make that more of a “Bar and Restaurant” than a “Café.”  The food was good and they indeed were kid friendly there.  The staff who waited on us were very sociable and interacted quite a bit with my daughter (which is always fun when you are 15-months-old).  I thought that the T-Shirts worn by some of the staff (and available for sale) were very original.  The shirts had “The Doubleday Café” on the front and on the back it read “Cooperstown:  A drinking town with a baseball problem.”

We closed our second day in Cooperstown by strolling the shops on Main Street again.  However, as it was past 5 PM, many of them were closed. As we were in one open shop, “Legends Are Forever,” my wife noticed that it appeared the owner wanted to close up.  I asked the owner “You about to go home?”  He said yes and took out a business card and wrote “10%” on the back of it and signed it.  He then handed me the card and said “Come back tomorrow and give me this and I’ll give you 10% off whatever you purchase.”  Talk about smart customer service!  Without question, I was heading back there the next day.

We started Thursday, September 11th (our last day in Cooperstown), with breakfast at “TJ’s Grill” and then we went back to the “National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum” gift shop (to finish up on our shopping there). You cannot beat the quality and assortment of the items that they have at the Museum gift shop. The staff there is also very helpful and forthcoming.  Between Wednesday and Thursday, we purchased over a dozen items (mostly shirts and refrigerator magnets – the latter being one of my daughter’s favorite play things) at the Museum gift shop.

Because Thursday was “Getaway Day” for us, we had decided going into the vacation that what time we had that day would be dedicated mostly to shopping.  We entered just about every shop on Main Street and made purchases at five stores.

At “National Pastime” we bought shirts for my wife and daughter.  The one for my daughter had a nice “Girls of Summer” design on it.  At “Cooperstown Gear,” I purchased a fashionable long sleeve T-Shirt for myself and a sweatshirt for my wife.  We stopped at “Cooperstown Christmas” where my wife picked out three very interesting and unique Christmas tree ornaments to serve as souvenirs from our trip.   In “Mickey’s Place,” I got an incredible bargain on a Charlie Gehringer autographed baseball - which my wife treated me to, as an early birthday present.

Of course, we did stop back at “Legends Are Forever” to take advantage of the discount offer from the night before.  Continuing with the early birthday present theme, my wife treated me to a Yogi Berra – Don Larsen co-signed ball with the date (10/8/56) of Larsen’s World Series Perfecto on it.  (What can I say?  I have a great wife!)

Also at “Legends Are Forever” I saw something that, once I saw it, I knew that I could not leave without it:  A Del Ennis autographed baseball.  What better keepsake from this Cooperstown vacation could I possible find (considering the course of events from my experience as a contestant on “So You Think You Know Baseball”)?  The price was right and it was a no-brainer purchase.

The saleswoman at “Legends Are Forever” was extremely amiable and chatted with my wife for a while as I looked around the shop.  As we left, she gave my daughter an “I ‘heart’ Cooperstown” stuffed bear key chain saying to her that she “could not leave without a Cooperstown Bear.”  If that is not “the cherry on top” of a “Sundae” of a shopping experience, then nothing is!

For lunch on Thursday, just as we did the day before, we picked up some sandwiches at “Danny's Main Street Market” and we ate them outside – sitting on one of the benches that line Main Street.  We found this to be a good choice both days in terms being quick and serving as a satisfactory lunch.

Before leaving Cooperstown, we checked out the “Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum” on Main Street.  Billed as “The Only Baseball Wax Museum in the World” it was appealing. 

You could see from the autographs on the wall inside the Wax Museum admission booth that many former ball players had visited there (and signed the wall).  Ken Singleton and Ron Kittle were two names near the top of the wall. 

The Wax Museum had a couple of floors of exhibits.  For the most part, they were extremely lifelike.  (Although, as my wife noticed, they were not all perfect.  The Museum had a “Nike” brand hat on Bud Abbott in their “Who’s on First?” exhibit.)

Among the various exhibits, the ones for Mantle, Cobb, Clemente, Gehrig, Catfish Hunter (in an A’s uniform), and Satchel Paige stood out the most to me.  The Museum also had a good sense of humor (as they had an exhibit of Pete Rose giving a Hall of Fame acceptance speech) and was unbiased (as they had both Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright together in another exhibit).

In summary, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cooperstown.  Being there “off-peak” (in the middle of the week and after the start of the school year) was beneficial as there was no congestion whatsoever anywhere. As it was my daughter’s first trip there (and first trip anywhere, for that matter), it will be a vacation that we will always remember.

A visit to Cooperstown is something that every diehard baseball fan should try to do – at least once in their lifetime.  And, if possible, they should try to visit Cooperstown more than once.

While I had a great time in 1980 (when I first visited Cooperstown as a teenager with friends), I had an even better time in 2003.  Granted, much of that had to do with the fact that my wife and daughter were with me this year. 

Still, if I were to objectively boil it down to the opportunities and experiences to be found in visiting Cooperstown, and apply that result to being a generic “Joe-Diehard Baseball-Fan,” I still would say that every time you visit Cooperstown you would probably enjoy it more each subsequent time.  There is that much to see and do there.  It is a wonderful baseball vacation.

We undoubtedly plan on going back to Cooperstown in the future.  And, it will not take me another 23 years before it happens again.

Links to pictures from our visit to Cooperstown in 2003:

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