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Saturday, July 26, 2008, Cooperstown, NY. Induction Weekend.

Visiting Cooperstown this year wasn’t just a different experience than for Cal and Gwynn’s induction, it was a different city. This year, at 10:00 a.m., a handful of people milled about and cars traveled Main street. Last year, at 7:30 a.m., there was already a twenty minute wait for a table at breakfast and Main street, closed to traffic, was crowded with swarms of fans wearing orange (and some wearing brown and gold). Last year, 75,000 fans descended onto little Cooperstown, far more than the previous 50,000 record. This year, there were only 6,000 fans. On this visit to the Hall of Fame, there was room to stand with arms akimbo, to stand leisurely looking inside the display cases, to move more than a few shuffling steps at a time. This year there was no rushing, no waking at obscene hours to hurry into town in order to find a parking space, no worrying (much anyway) about missing anything. As we wandered lazily into stores we enjoyed the copious space in the aisles, had the luxury of browsing unhurriedly through stacks of baseball cards, took our time finding souvenir t-shirts. For lunch, we were seated without a wait, and ate leisurely on Lake Otsego, no pressure to rush to free up our table, no long lines outside the restaurant. There was no navigating through crowds, no pulling arms and packages tight to the body to not bump into others. Saturday night, Cooley’s Bar was unrecognizable from the party venue of last year. Instead of elbow to elbow Orioles, and a smattering of Ys fans, there were a handful of patrons and empty seats.

My husband worried about me sporting my orange and black on an induction weekend honoring a Y. “Are you sure that’s okay?” I assured him that there was nothing that would persuade me to wear anything else, though I expected to be one of the few in Orioles attire. Surprisingly, I was just one among many. We greeted each other with cheery smiles and simple nods of appreciation. We stopped each other in the street and discussed how long we had been following the team, how we became fans, and who made the deepest impression on us. We asked each other, “Were you here last year?” and we all were. Couldn’t miss it, of course. “Bit different, isn’t it!” we agreed.

My favorite Orioles fans were the ones I met at Doubleday Field. Father Bob and son Bob. Father Bob has followed the Orioles since they became the Orioles. He’s elderly now and a bit hard of hearing. I wish he lived down the street so I could visit with lemonade and listen to his memories. Son Bob reminisced about Memorial Stadium and an ice cream shop on 34th Street. (I don’t remember an ice cream shop, but I remember the bar at the corner. (It’s not what you think, a friend had an apartment near there while a student at Hopkins.))

One thing about Cooperstown was the same, the freedom to be me. I can be a rabid baseball fan openly. It’s the one place where I can meet other people who understand, who don’t say, “Um…yeah..I don’t really like baseball.” In Cooperstown, there’s no guilt about being a fan, no need to put a lid on it, to remember one’s manners that most people find a conversation about the state of the Orioles bullpen boring beyond belief. In Cooperstown, I am reminded that some people find being a fan an asset. In Cooperstown, I can just be myself. In a crowd of people outside the Hall of Fame, I can theoretically jump up and down when a trolley carrying Cal Ripken appears. No one inches away, looks worried, or thinks I’m a mental-institution escapee. They’re just as excited as I. In fact, they’re worse. They know every Hall of Famer coming off the trolley and shout their names enthusiastically. They are serious about baseball.

Being in Cooperstown is like being in a town full of soul mates, especially to someone who has spent two decades withering away in a tragically baseball-less town.

Another thing was the same this year, of course, the Hall of Famers. At the commencement of the annual Hall of Fame dinner, somehow, despite a smaller overall crowd, there were just as many people waiting for the attendees to arrive. Once again I was edged out and had no hope of getting anywhere near Cal Ripken. I suppose I have no right to complain too vehemently about this considering how often I saw him before he was nationally famous. I suppose I also have no right to complain when earlier in the day, arm’s length from me inside the Hall of Fame was Hank Aaron. His family (grandchildren, I think) were receiving a private tour, accompanied by two guards. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know him by sight (these guys age), but once I learned who he was, I had to wipe away tears, I was so blown away at being so lucky.

There are more details to report, but for this post, I have one final observation about what I love about Cooperstown. Let’s face it. Men who love baseball are sexy. They are real men. Nothing is a greater turn-off than a man who thinks that by touting his football fandom, by being “tough,” by liking a contact sport, he is somehow more masculine. Men who love baseball don’t have anything to prove. They are secure with themselves and their masculinity. They do not need to define themselves to themselves or to anyone else in a way that mistakes aggressiveness for maleness. They appreciate the athleticism and endurance that baseball requires. Cooperstown is full of these men, who can spend hours discussing the Orioles bullpen. It’s just another reason to love the place.

Pictures of this excursion:
The city of Cooperstown
Hall of Fame

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The last time I visited New York City, it was for my ex-brother-in-law’s winter wedding. The bride was from White Plains and had a master’s degree from Columbia. Her childhood bedroom was bigger than the first floor of my home and was largely covered by a collection of pricey porcelain dolls. In short, her parents were loaded and the wedding was an elegant and expensive affair. Most notably, it was an occasion that required, in true New York fashion, a dress that risked as much skin as possible to the frigid temperatures. You know the saying, “It’s not a wedding in the North until someone loses digits to frost-bite.”

The following day, the visiting family, free from wedding-related activities and formal and climate-inappropriate attire, bundled up and eagerly headed into the city to sight-see. My only memory of sight-seeing from the day is donning my heaviest, knee-length winter coat, standing atop the Empire State Building and wishing I were anywhere else. My back to a gusty winter wind, I held onto the border rails for stability, sure I would be blown off the top if I let go. As cold pierced through my ineffectual coat, mittens and scarf-wrapped ears, I wondered how anyone tolerated such bitter winters voluntarily. After returning immediately to the car and blasting the heat at the highest fan setting for the next two hours, I spent the entire ride back to Baltimore scraping the frost-bite off the dead, blackened tip of my nose, and encouraging circulation in my extremities. At that point I made an observation that I henceforth adopted as a personal rule…”New York is a summer destination, or it’s not a destination at all.”

This visit was considerably different from all my previous visits. For starters, it a lovely, hot summer day and it wasn’t raining. (Abide by intelligent rules.) Secondly, instead of exhausting myself by spending fully half my tourist time retracing steps after heading off in the wrong direction, as on every one of my previous visits to New York, I enjoyed the benefits of touring with a reincarnated homing pigeon.

My husband has a combination of skills that make me wonder about his somewhat murky history before moving to Charlotte. The fact is, no one could have such refined orientation abilities without military training or an illicit past. Vacation after vacation we’ll emerge from a subway station onto an unknown street and my husband will point, “This way” as if a needle in his brain always leads him to Magnetic North. There’s more though and his ability runs deeper than just having an internal compass. He is able to memorize entire city maps, remembering the order of streets and whether they run north/south, east/west or in some crooked fashion snaking around monuments or natural features. Sometimes he looks up to the sky, perhaps to a Mother Ship, and says something odd like, “The car is 10 degrees that way at a positive elevation of 10 feet.” He can tell where the sun is even when it’s obscured behind a layer of clouds. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I am. Each time he mutters words about degrees and elevation and uses stars to navigate, I am amazed. I bet he would know where to find the underground utilities if the need arose (and somehow I suspect that at some point, it has).

Without a doubt, I am convinced that he spent some significant portion of his past eluding authorities and/or snipers and the reason he enjoys watching “Bourne Identity” so much is because he identifies with it personally.

So, there we were in New York with no need for maps or GPS devices. I walked where my husband lead, to each of the tourist sites on our mental list. We walked along Fifth Avenue, did a quick pass through FAO Schwarz and the Apple store, peeked briefly inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, strolled through Times Square, trekked up the steps inside the New York Library, then down (and had our backpacks checked no less than thirty-six times), and enjoyed the lovely scenery in a jaunt through Central Park. Lunch was a sandwich of prehistoric proportions after a long, sweaty walk to Carnegie Deli. (The blocks running east/west are much longer than those running north/south.) We finished our day at the Rockefeller Center. Just south of Central Park, it sits centrally between the lower Manhattan business district and the upper (Northern) residential district. Thus situated, three levels at the top of “The Rock” afford visitors a magnificent view of the island in all directions, abetted for us, by a day of clear, blue skies that extended the normal range of visibility.

Even the residents are different than I remember from many visits as a young adult. No one attempted to steal my camera, injure, or urinate on me. In Central Park, a woman set aside her bicycle, offering to take our picture. Then she chatted amiably with us, suggesting tourist spots and answering my many questions about her life as a New Yorker. Later in the day, weary with aching, blistered feet, my face betrayed confusion as I pondered the answer to my husband’s question, “Should we hoof it or take the subway back to the car?” (My husband, of course, had previously memorized each line of the subway and all their access points, in order.) A passing New Yorker stopped to ask if we needed help or directions and then insisted on leading us directly to our subway stop.

I asked both of these warm people if they were native New Yorkers, assuming from my previous experiences in New York and with Ys fans all over that all New Yorkers were forced by court order to be impolite, gruff, crude, and yell loudly and unpredictably over insignificant things. In fact, my mother was partly right about assumptions, the part that “they make an ass out of me.” Both of these kind people were New Yorkers from birth and easily mistakable as residents from a city with a friendlier reputation. Turns out New Yorkers are the new Southerners, except with an appreciation for good public transportation.

I don’t envy the cost of living or housing in New York, or small condo closets, but I do envy the transportation system (which all American cities should model) and I would love to have their choices of events and arts. Mostly, I’d like the figure and health benefits gained from living in a pedestrian-friendly city.

The pigeon returned us to the car and we started our journey to Cooperstown…

Pictures
Pictures of the excursion can be found here.

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