A Night at the Hall of Fame

Carl with his father and son outside the Hall of Fame. (via Carl Aridas)

As a dedicated baseball fan, there are certain organizations one just must join. One is FanGraphs (hint, hint) and another is the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. I joined the Hall of Fame as a member earlier this year, and was able to take my immediate family to Cooperstown during the summer for a wonderful time at the Hall and the museum.

While I enjoyed strolling through town in August arm in arm with my wife, and both my son and daughter loved the Hall as much as I expected, one thing missing on our journey was the presence of my father. Dad was the one who had taken my mom, brother and me to Cooperstown when I was a child, and I always love when Dad and I talk baseball when we get together still. Whether debating Gil Hodges’ non-induction to the Hall, the value of WAR, whether artificial turf, the designated hitter or steroids cast a bigger sin on the national pastime, or whether his childhood idol and fellow Brooklynite Sandy Koufax was the greatest pitcher ever, we both cherish our baseball talks.

So, a couple of months later, we made up for his absence from the August trip.

One perk of being a Hall member is free admission for an entire year, as well as the ability to take part in some additional Hall of Fame experiences. One of these is the “Extra Innings Overnight,” in which members and up to four family members may sleep in the Hall of Fame. I decided that such an adventure would be perfect for my dad, my son and me to share, as our baseball talks look to add a third generation to the mix. After coordinating everyone’s schedules, I registered the three of us for a weekend in October, and received a confirmation email from Shirley. I appreciate that an institution such as the Hall of Fame can use first-name-only emails.

We left my home together in the lower Westchester Valley around 11 a.m. and began the three-and-a-half hour journey through the extremely picturesque New York countryside, stopping only for lunch at a diner on the side of a country road. As check-in did not start until 6:30 p.m., our first Cooperstown stop was not the Hall of Fame, but instead Ommegang Brewery, a mid-sized craft beer brewer.

We arrived just in time for the 3:30 p.m. brewery tour. The Cooperstown region was the original home of America’s hop-growing region, producing up to 90 percent of the hops used to make beer in the United States in the late 1800s, and is an industry that government officials are trying to revive.

After leaving Ommegang, we headed to Main Street in Cooperstown and visited Doubleday Field, beginning to soak in the history of baseball on the field where A League of Their Own was filmed. After enjoying a great dinner at a local diner, where the waitress’ shirts stated that Cooperstown was “a drinking town with a baseball problem,” we arrived what my son considered extremely late 6:35 p.m., for the scheduled 6:30-7 check-in.

After unloading our gear and using the pass provided to us for free overnight parking in a nearby lot, we were ready for  Extra Innings Overnight to begin. After meeting the two dozen other families who would be spending the night together, and staking out which plaques each of us would be sleeping under (luckily no one else wanted to sleep under Sandy Koufax’s plaque or Grandpa may have made a scene), the first part of the formal program began at 7:30.

Carl’s son holding Giancarlo Stanton’s bat. (via Carl Aridas)

The night began on a high note as Shirley, serving as a cross between Santa Claus and museum curator, brought out both authentic and model artifacts used by baseball players over the last century. Grandpa’s eyes twinkled as he swung a Willie Mays bat in the Learning Center, a special room just off the Art of Baseball room. The most popular exhibit piece was an ax-handled bat used by Giancarlo Stanton. There was a line as all of the dozen or so children on the overnight program swung the bat Stanton had used earlier this year. Just behind them were the dozen or so dads who just knew that, had their Little League coach provided them an ax-handled bat, that they would have led the National League in home runs this year.

My favorite items were a model catcher’s mask from the 19th century and actual and model gloves used during the Deadball Era. My father, not a fan of the Three True Outcomes the game is becoming, and I discussed how larger gloves, shifts and smaller ballparks have batters trying for the long ball, as balls in the hole are more likely than they used to be to result in outs.

My dad was ready to nominate Shirley for Sainthood when she brought out a uniform shirt that Pee Wee Reese wore, and was ready to propose marriage when she let him take a swing with Willie Mays’ bat. Before we knew it, Dad had to hand back the jersey and the bat for safekeeping as it was time for the next part of the program.

Starting at 8., it was time for baseball Trivial Pursuits, played in a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? style. Each child/parent/grandparent team was asked a series of questions on the movie screen. No team answered all nine questions correctly, but I can boast that my dad and son did answer six correctly, the high number of the night. Rather than $1 million, each team member received a pack of baseball cards and a Hall of Fame Yearbook. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which member of the family took the baseball cards and which took the yearbook.

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After Trivial Pursuits,  young and old gathered for a classic bubble blowing contest. Baseball cards and an extra pack of bubblicious for the 13-year old young lady who won the contest with a five-and-a-half-inch bubble, just edging the runner-up’s five-inch bubble. Hardly a prolific bubble-blower myself, I was a volunteer measurer, along with another dad and two moms.

After everyone removed the popped gum from around their mouths, the group split into two, those who watched a classic baseball cartoon in the movie room and those who decided to watch Game Seven of the Yankees-Astros ALCS match-up. Lights went out at 11, with everyone in their sleeping bags and on top of their air mattresses. As children both young and old settled down, I’m sure many were dreaming of having their own plaque in the room some day.

Lights were on again at 7 a.m., and families hurried into the washrooms to clean up and brush their teeth while Hall staff laid out bagels, bananas and granola bars, with plenty of hot coffee and tea. After breakfast, participants had plenty of time to take pictures before heading for the exits.

The three generations in my family strolled down to the lakefront, taking in the beauty of the autumn leaves on the lake as the small village began to stir. At 9 we were allowed back into the museum free of charge, and we strolled through at a more leisurely pace than we had the night before during registration.

This wonderful program is available to Hall members a few times each year. While my younger daughter was deemed a bit too young this year, I know she will be involved in future years. It’s hardly a male-only event: Almost half the adults and maybe more than half the children participating were female. The last event in 2017 is Nov. 4, but I would encourage readers to become members the Hall of Fame (and FanGraphs, hint, hint again) and to check out the Hall of Fame’s website this offseason for 2018 dates.


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Dennis Bedard
Member
Dennis Bedard

“. . .a drinking town with a baseball problem.” And you didn’t try and buy one of them?

scooter262
Member
Member
scooter262

Wow it sounds awesome! I visited the hall a couple years ago and became a member, but never took advantage of the overnight. It probably would not have worked for me — I would have had to go alone. My daughters don’t care for baseball, and my dad had already passed away. But it sounds like a lot of fun.