By Brien O’Donal
This weekend the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY is holding its induction ceremony. I am here in town with one of my oldest friends, James, to see Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez get inducted. It’s an exciting trip for a couple of guys who have watched baseball our entire lives and as Astros fans, all of Bagwell’s career. I am a fan of Pudge Rodriguez, but he is James’ favorite player and that made it all important that we be here for this moment. Since not everyone is here I thought I would tell you all about my trip and just maybe you can enjoy the moment with us.
The first day, travel day, is always a fun adventure. For us, we thought getting to the airport at 5:30am for a 7am flight would be fine. No one is at the airport that early on a Thursday, right? Wrong. The hallway to security was nicely packed and there was a brief concern we would be cutting it close at the gate. Luckily, we made it with about ten minutes till boarding. That was enough time for us to settle in to some uncomfortable seats and plan for how we would attack our first day of the trip. The decision was not to move into Cooperstown but to enjoy the hotel bar in Albany.
After a close call getting on our plane after a layover, which we nearly missed by one minute because we spent the time drinking beer at an airport bar and missed calls for us to check in over the intercom; we could board on the exit row. The one with all the leg room. I was able to talk up the two women next to me and there were interesting thoughts to be had. The woman seated on the aisle was on her way to meet he adopted child for the first time. Although, I feel like there should be a better way to say that. I’m assuming she gave the child up for adoption and is now meeting the kid after the records were opened. It was annoying to be sitting near her though. This lady couldn’t stop interjecting herself into the conversation I was trying to have with the woman in the middle seat; the woman whose parents were born in Cooperstown and who has spent a great deal of time there. I was interested in her knowledge of the town and what sites and places I should visit other than the museum. The new little league fields were mentioned as well as the lake and the donut shop. There is also the Otesaga Hotel that I was told to visit. I am looking forward to getting off the beaten path in a tourist town that will be fully packed to the gills this weekend.
Upon arriving in our final location, Albany; we check into our Radisson Hotel. We assumed that the name would mean that the hotel was up to a certain standard of cleanliness and function. Our lobby interaction quickly put that thought to bed. A woman in plain clothes was standing at the desk with her back to us. We waited a few seconds behind her when she turned around and began asking us about checking in and with a puzzled look on our face we replied “yes.” I was a little put off by some random person at the desk asking us about that and she must have seen our looks because she then said: “It’s ok, I work here.” Oh, boy. I said the only thing I could think of at the moment, “Good for you. I’m glad you have a job.” I then focused my attention away from her and to the person actually on shift.
We made little jokes about the man hanging artwork over patched holes on the wall behind the desk and the teenage kids running the front desk who obviously were bad at their jobs. We got our key cards and headed to the room, walking into a hallway piled with linens outside every room at 3 in the afternoon. We made it to the room to find our keys only worked with some difficulty. We dropped our bags and headed out for food. We decided on New York BBQ because, why not? It was ok, but nothing I would go back for again. After a few beers, it was time to head to the next bar.
There we met a man named Chris who was exactly what I thought a stereotypical New Yorker would be. A thick accent and liberal use of the phrases, “This f***ing guy” and “Get the f*** out a here.” He was an older drunk and was a lot of fun. We even placated him by agreeing to go to the Saratoga Race Track on Saturday. Not going to happen, but whatever. We finished up there and headed to one more bar for the night not intending to stay out late in hopes of getting to Cooperstown early the next day. That didn’t happen. We drank there until a little after 11 with our new friends Ryan, Molly, and “Shapes.” And yes, that was his nickname that he went by. We called an Uber to get us back home and were surprised to learn that it had only been legal for about a week now. Our driver from Lebanon was nice enough to take us to Burger King for late night burgers and after eating in the hotel room went to sleep around midnight. We didn’t wake up until about an hour and a half after we hoped to.
The next morning, we woke up hung over but determined to get going for the hour and a half drive to Cooperstown. We planned only on visiting the museum and would spend any remaining time wondering around the town. It was not crowded like we expected and we made it through the entire thing in about 3 hours. It was amazing. The history is everything you expected it to be. It was hard to believe how many items still existed from the long-gone days of baseball.
If you are a baseball fan, you most certainly should make time to visit the Hall of Fame. Just seeing all those plaques in the Hall of Fame Gallery brought back memories of being a child and watching some of these players on the field.
It was also cool to see the places already reserved for this year’s inductees. Bagwell, Rodriguez, Raines, Selig, and Schuerholz all signed the backing that would be underneath their plaque. It’s Friday, and that only builds the anticipation of the ceremony on Sunday.
After the museum, it was out into the town to look at the memorabilia that we would be bringing home with us. We had noticed it when we got into town, and a little more in the hall, but it was even more obvious when we hit the street in the middle of the afternoon. Cooperstown has been painted Astro orange. Houston fans have shown up more than any other so far. There was not ten feet you could walk without seeing someone supporting Bagwell and excited for another Astro player to make it into the Hall of Fame. We would end up spending the next three hours walking into every memorabilia shop up and down the main street taking mental notes about what we would come back for later. For me, it’s a lot of baseball cards. There were probably more than a million cards available for purchase between all the shops from every decade that cards were made. There were Hall of Famers signing autographs in several of the shops and there were thousands of bats and pictures with autographs for sale as well.
At 6pm we decided we had done everything we could for the day and headed back to Albany for dinner and rest. We chose a nice bar on the river front but decided not to pay a $5 cover charge for a band and moved to a part of town littered with bars and restaurants. Upon internet recommendation, we walked into The Hollow. We had a corner table in the front room of the restaurant and listened to a massive body builder talk over and over about his life working around “the set” and Katy Perry and then laughing as we heard him literally say: “I had those stocks and let me tell you I was making thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars bro.”
I wish I could tell you the food was good. I can’t. After waiting nearly 45 minutes for a burger and some chicken tenders we were told that our food would be coming out after that of a 20-person party which had just started receiving it. We had only had water so the decision was made to leave immediately. Without word or being seen, we were gone. But it was now 9pm and we were hungry. Nowhere decent would be open so it had to be fast food near the hotel. And of course, because we only saw the Arby’s without an outside sign after we had our food, our choice was McDonald’s.
I only mention our dinner choice because it’s hilarious when people can’t do the simplest of requests. James wanted them to go light on the ice in his drink but the women behind the intercom displayed “no ice” on the screen. He repeated his request and was rudely told there was no way to tell the machine light ice and she would make sure he got what he wanted. We ordered chicken nuggets and requested BBQ sauce with our meals. When we got to the window, we couldn’t contain our laughter when she told him he would be able to tell which drink was his because it had no ice in it.
He couldn’t stop laughing at the fact that she told him he would have light ice and after being rude about it, still failed to put in any ice. After getting our food James looked back up and her and asked for a small cup of ice which she gave him. We then got home to discover that there was no BBQ sauce in the bag and we would be choking down dry chicken nuggets. And that is how we end this wonderfully odd first two days of our trip to Cooperstown. Tomorrow I get some autographs we spend all day parked in chairs on the parade route waiting to see the Hall of Famers ride by. Stay tuned for more on that tomorrow.