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