“I’ve tried ‘em all, I really have. And the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the Church of Baseball.” – Annie Savoy in “Bull Durham.”
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – If what Annie Savoy says is true, then Cooperstown is baseball’s Vatican City. With snack bars and card shops, of course.
(Welcome, sports fans, to another example of that time-honored journalistic practice known as Going On Vacation And Writing About It In The Feeble Hope You Can Knock Off Some Of The Cost On Next Year’s Income Taxes.)
This is my second visit to baseball’s Holy place, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The experience is exactly as before: it’s enough to turn me back into that nine-year-old kid that used to sit on the curb, riffling through a brand new pack of baseball cards, in search of Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and Al Kaline.
I usually got a Choo Choo Coleman, a Dick Groat, an Elston Howard, a Jose Tartabull, a Don Rudolph, and Phillies catcher Clay Dalrymple. Sometimes two Clay Dalrymples. For a while there, I had more Clay Dalrymples than any other card. I became sort of a Clay Dalrymple fan. Then I used his cards to make noise on my bicycle spokes. Sorry, Clay.
Walking around Cooperstown with the other pilgrims reinforces the notion of sport, particularly baseball, as a shared experience – one that allows and even encourages a bond between strangers. We patrol the streets in our fitted caps, with our allegiances on our heads for all to see, yet there are no signs of rivalry. Dodgers and Giants fans chat amiably while waiting in line for the cash register. Yankee and Red Sox fans sit next to each other at a dinner.
I wore either my customary Detroit Tigers cap or, if I was feeling especially jaunty, a Kansas City Athletics cap. The Athletics hat raised a few eyebrows, seeing as how they firstly moved to Oakland in 1967, and also stunk to high heaven. I thought about wearing a Notre Dame football hat, but decided that a football hat at Cooperstown was too iconoclastic, even for me.
The Hall of Fame and the museum, while thrilling, have a quiet and reverential atmosphere. A video of an amazing catch, one that would elicit a full-throated cheer in a bar, is greeted there with a soft, “Oh, wow.” The displays of baseball artifacts – the bats, balls and uniforms used and worn by the legends of the game – are as Holy relics to the faithful.
The commercial district, on the other hand, is a baseball bazaar. Eager middle-aged men search for the baseball cards their mothers threw away, and young people who have no memory of the teams sell caps of the St. Louis Browns and the Seattle Pilots to people whose nostalgia outweighs their common sense. I bought the Browns hat.
And so ended our pilgrimage, and as we leave this Holy ground we hear again the words of Annie Savoy:
“Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’ You could look it up.”
Cooperstown is a great place to start looking. Our American game is enshrined here, and it is a blessing to us, indeed.
Wish me luck on the tax deduction.