There are some travel destinations that have to be intentional. What I mean by that is that they are found in places that are not on the way to (or from) someplace else; you have to go there on purpose. Let me illustrate: If you’re in Paris, it’s no big deal to decide to go see Monet’s house in Giverny. That’s easy enough to do; it’s a short train ride from Gare St-Lazare in Paris to Giverny. If you’re in Uruguay, though, you’re not as liable to say, “Since we’re here, why don’t we pop over to Antarctica?” It’s not exactly in the neighborhood — you have to intend to go to Antarctica.
As far as I’m concerned, the Baseball Hall of Fame is also in that category of not-on-the-way-to-anywhere-else. In case you’re hazy on its location, Cooperstown, New York, is roughly ninety miles from Albany and a similar distance from Syracuse. Why you would be in either of those cities is your own business, but they aren’t usually included in those lists of places you must see before you die. For some of us, however, a visit to the Hall of Fame is not a side trip anyway — it’s a pilgrimage.
Baseball’s shrine is located in the remote village of Cooperstown for dubious reasons. Supposedly a Civil War general named Abner Doubleday invented the game there. He probably didn’t, but that story had gained some traction in the early years of the 20th century. During the Great Depression, a local hotel owner hatched the idea of the Hall of Fame as a means of drawing tourists to the area. Somehow he got Major League Baseball to go along, and the Hall was opened in 1939.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, as it is officially known, currently houses hundreds of thousands of photographs and millions of documents pertaining to the sport, but its chief attraction is the collection of almost 300 bronze plaques honoring baseball’s best. Below the bas-relief portrait of each immortal is a brief summary of his career accomplishments. Babe Ruth’s, for example, reads “Greatest drawing card in history of baseball. Holder of many home run and other batting records. Gathered 714 home runs in addition to fifteen in World Series.”
Even though most us never saw Ruth play, we could recite more facts about him than that. And many visitors do just that in the Hall — one generation shares with another the lore of a game they love.
The Hall of Fame also happens to be a terrific museum; it has multimedia presentations and interactive exhibits that are not dusty or permanently “out of order”. It has an extensive collection of stuff baseball fans enjoy seeing, such as a display of baseballs used in every no-hitter since 1940, and old uniforms worn on historic occasions, and rare baseball cards. In short, the Baseball Hall of Fame is well worth the $16.50 admission price for adults ($6.00 for kids). It’s even worth that long drive into Cooperstown.
In the unlikely event that you should find yourself in Cooperstown and you are not a baseball fan, there are a couple of nearby attractions. You could always pop over to the Fenimore Art Museum or the Farmers’ Museum. They’re both right in the neighborhood.