BY KEVIN KERNAN
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – You want perfection?
Here is perfection.
On a glorious summer day, walking down Main Street in Cooperstown, red flowering baskets around me and blue sky above, the latest stop on My Baseball Summer Tour. When you come to the brick building across from the post office, 25 Main Street, you have arrived. Before you enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, though, go around the corner until you get to the statues of Johnny Podres pitching to Roy Campanella.
Chances are no one will be there but you.
Stand behind Johnny Podres and peer over his shoulder as he releases the pitch, the final pitch of the 1955 World Series. Take a second to enjoy the moment and reflect on what the game of baseball means to you, as it means different things to different people as you will hear later from author Bill James.
Where will you hear and see James?
At your first stop inside the Hall of Fame. This will set the mood for the day. You will start by seeing the film “Generations of the Game.” As Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch told BallNine, “This is an emotional film.’’
He isn’t kidding. If you love baseball in any way, shape, or form, you probably will tear up at some point in the film and it will make your visit to the exhibits that much more memorable.
Statue of Johnny Podres and the final pitch of the 1955 World Series to Roy Campanella. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)
And here is something everyone needs to understand. This is the people’s baseball museum. This special place is independent of Major League Baseball.
This film touches your baseball soul – especially when you hear the late Tom Seaver, eyes always on the prize, explain how whenever he visited the Hall of Fame, he would go and put his hand on his plaque and then the plaques of other Hall of Fame pitchers like Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
“I go by and I look at my plaque every year and I put my hand on it,’’ says Seaver, who passed away nearly two years ago on August 31, 2020.
Tom Terrific was one of my favorite players to talk to at Induction Weekend, not only because of his love of the game, his knowledge of the game and of life; but because of his pure competitive fire, a trait that all Hall of Famers possess.
It wasn’t just a game to them. It was a test of wills.
And by touching those bronze plaques in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery, that was Seaver’s way of touching his baseball soul here in Cooperstown. I was lucky enough to see the film with my son Casey and his son, 12-year-old Jack; three generations of Kernans watching “Generations of the Game.”
Such meaningful comments from Seaver, Joe Morgan, baseball heroes who are no longer with us, and many other living Hall of Famers including Mariano Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, Ken Griffey Jr., and Cal Ripken Jr. All Major League players should make a stop here. I remember talking to Ichiro Suzuki about how much he loved coming to the Hall of Fame and how he has made the trip at least a half dozen times. Ichiro is coming to the Hall at least once more.
AMBS at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy Kevin Kernan)
The film begins with Cal Ripken Jr. repeating the famous July 4, 1939 words of the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig.
There is Gehrig on the screen saying his heartfelt words interspersed with Ripken repeating them perfectly, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,’’ complete with Ripken adding the Yankee Stadium echo: “Today, today, today, I consider myself, the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’’
At that moment you know you are in the company of giants and that is the beauty of being at the Hall of Fame and seeing the game through generational eyes.
It is a film produced by Thomas Tull with 19 Hall of Famers interviewed, and you can only see it at the newly renovated Grandstand Theater, and listen to all the incredible comments about baseball and the Hall like Joe Morgan, with tears in his eyes, saying, “It was like, you are walking, you know, man, on holy ground.’’
Rawitch has completed his first year on the job as President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and he is the perfect man for the job.
“We are grateful to have crowds getting much closer to pre-pandemic levels as we bounce back here in Cooperstown and see so many families here this summer,’’ Rawitch says. “We are hard at work on our next major exhibit focused on the history of Black baseball, while also adding several new interactive elements to stay relevant for the next generation of fans. From the launch of our new NFT program to QR codes around the museum to help guide your visit, and a new TikTok account, it is important that young fans have the same incredible experience that millions have had coming here for the last 80-plus years.’’
My grandson had a blast as did his father and the Old Guy in the group.
The M&M Boys exhibit. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)
I can tell you the young fans are flocking to the Museum. Teams competing in both Cooperstown All-Star Village and Cooperstown Dreams Park were excitedly touring the museum on this day. This is a place young people must visit to understand the relevancy and the history of the game.
Jack Kernan’s team, the Patriots, got to see some incredible historical pieces like the ball signed by Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. immediately after they played a game together on August 31, 1990; again, the HOF is connecting baseball generations.
I was here in 2016 when Griffey Jr. said in his speech “I want to thank my family, my friends, the fans, the Reds, White Sox, and Mariners for making this kid’s dream come true.’’
This is the place where dreams come true.
There was Ted Williams’ bat and Lou Gehrig’s 1939 road jersey, some items to help the young ballplayers understand the history of the game. If there is one thing we really need to do for the next generation it’s to get them to understand the importance of history – and the Hall of Fame is just the place to start.
Fascinating exhibits are everywhere and I am always up to see the jersey of the Great Roberto Clemente and the pinstripes of the M&M Boys, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
And here is something everyone needs to understand.
This is the people’s baseball museum. This special place is independent of Major League Baseball. Jane Forbes Clark is the Chair of the Board of Directors and has dedicated her life to the museum and Cooperstown in so many ways.
A Hall of Fame view in Cooperstown. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)
Lovers of baseball history keep the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum going. It is surprising to me that so many people think the museum is funded by MLB. The Hall of Fame is an independent, non-profit organization that survives on people becoming members and donating to the museum.
The Hall depends on you to survive and prosper.
The people in the Cooperstown area make it all happen, too, and every person working in the museum I talked to during my visit was incredibly helpful, courteous, and caring. You are basically in a museum with your neighbors, and two days after my visit I saw “Dave,’’ who happily answered all my questions going into the Hall, walking down the street to get a cup of coffee at Stagecoach Coffee, another must-stop while in the village.
Rawitch knows how important everyone is to the place.
“Coming off a near flawless Induction weekend, I am blown away by how things come together in this village thanks to the efforts of this incredible staff,’’ he said. “We are not a huge organization, with around 90 full-time staff members and very few who are focused on events as part of their job, but everyone plays a critical role and tens of thousands of people come away with an unforgettable experience.’’
If you are looking to become part of that baseball mission, the Hall of Fame is hiring all the time; jobs are available on their website at baseballhall.org, and how cool is that?
In the film “Generations of the Game,” players talk about fulfilling their dreams – and that tugs at the heartstrings. Life experience lets us know how dreams can be fulfilled in many different aspects of the game of baseball.
I have made many friends going to the Hall of Fame over the years and going to Induction Weekend. Jackie Brown, who recently retired from the Hall, was just such a helpful person and her love of the area is obvious when you see her Facebook page with all the colorful flowers and happenings in the Cooperstown area.
The view from the Otesaga. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)
That is another great thing about visiting the Hall of Fame: the pure beauty of the land, the excellent restaurants and breweries are perfect for spending a relaxing afternoon at lunch or having breakfast or dinner. For the freshest ingredients imaginable, head over to the grand Otesaga Resort Hotel on Lake Street and you will eat overlooking the peaceful and unspoiled shores of Otsego Lake. You have to have the breakfast here at least once, and save room for the huge omelet.
On Main Street there are wonderful options too, like Doubleday Café or Nicolletta’s Italian Café, the place my writing buddies like Bob Nightengale, Scott Miller, Jayson Stark, and Barry Bloom would visit on Sunday night after a busy weekend of writing.
I had lunch at Doubleday Café on Friday with Rene LeRoux, executive director of the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame and every time I visit with him I am amazed at the remarkable baseball history of New York State. This year’s class includes Luis Tiant, Tommie Agee, Bucky Dent, scout Billy Blitzer, MLB Network’s Brian Kenny, and Braves pitcher Ian Anderson.
The museum will be opening within a year. I was a proud inductee of the NY State Baseball HOF last November – and no, there will not be an AMBS wing, but there will be plenty to see in Gloversville, N.Y., where the museum will be located.
“Parkhurst Field opened in Gloversville in 1906,’’ LeRoux told BallNine, “Archibald Moonlight Graham played there. Cy Young pitched there. Honus Wagner played there. Back then it was all railway, you traveled by train and the train would come into that field and they had a big old-fashioned grandstand and then as the times changed, they stopped having games there.’’
The field was home to the professional New York State League JAGs (of Johnstown-Amsterdam-Gloversville). Sam Lucas, a Gloversville native, built the baseball diamond and it became a popular barnstorming stop because of the railroad. Lucas was asked to take charge of the Giants’ Polo Grounds and also built the grounds at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in 1909, according to the Parkhurst Field Foundation.
Main Street in Cooperstown, NY. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)
Plans are moving ahead rapidly to rebuild a period grandstand and there will be new fields built. The local Daily Gazette reported recently that the $3.6 million Fulton County project will create a nationally recognized, lighted youth baseball park with ultimately five regulation fields, one of them a premier field set up with the same 1906 home plate location as the former park. Baseball history is alive in upstate New York and LeRoux is excited about all that is happening, the baseball history, and the future.
“They have all the (press clippings) from when Moonlight Graham played there,’’ LeRoux said, “and when I saw that I said, ‘I’m in.’ It was like you could see the ghosts coming though the cornfields. I’m thrilled.’’
There are plenty of cornfields in New York State, not just Iowa, so fields of dreams can pop up anywhere. “It’s Route 29 from Saratoga straight up to Gloversville,’’ LeRoux said of the location of the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame.
Back on Route 80 that takes you right past the Otesaga Resort Hotel and onto lovely Main Street, another favorite thing to do in Cooperstown is to just stroll up and down the side streets and see the gorgeous flower-filled yards of beautiful homes.
Peace, tranquility, beauty, baseball, and families are all found here. Baseball passion is everywhere.
In the film “Generations of the Game,” Dennis Eckersley, who speaks from the heart about giving up the Kirk Gibson home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series (and AMBS was there) puts it all in perspective, saying:
“Baseball, it’s in your soul, man, and you know it, you just know it.’’
At the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and all around this wonderful village of Cooperstown, you just know it.