A Trip to Baseball Heaven
It’s great to be back writing baseball, even if it’s only for a couple of weeks before the hockey season kicks in and we turn more of our attention to sticks and pucks.
Anyone who read my columns in the past quickly came to realize my passion for baseball, both at the pro and local levels.
Sure, it’s great to go to a major league game and see the sport’s brightest stars. But it can be just as gratifying to catch a minor league game or profile a local rising star.
That’s what my Inside Baseball column has always been about and will continue to focus on in its new incarnation on BP Sports Niagara.
I had the opportunity to take a few ball trips this summer, in between helping out with the Niagara Falls major bantam Falcons, and all were notable.
As well as the requisite trips to Toronto to see the Jays, I managed to pull off treks to Cleveland and Pittsburgh, plus games in Batavia and Syracuse, N.Y.
All were memorable for a variety of reasons, but the trip to Cooperstown topped them all.
Like any good baseball junkie, I’ve been to Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame many times. No matter how often you go, it’s always exciting.
The first time was way back in 1995. It was on a bus excursion from St. Catharines to see the Stompers play Oneonta in a regular season New York-Penn League game at Doubleday Field. What a thrill and what a trip.
It was also induction weekend, so the place was overflowing with Phillies fans there to see Mike Schmidt enter the hall.
I’m so glad my father, Al, could accompany me. He’s gone now, so it’s a memory I will treasure forever.
I was able to reprise the father-son trek to baseball’s promised land last month when I took my 14-year-old son, Ryan, to Cooperstown for his first visit.
Few things in life exceed expectations — seeing Bruce Springsteen live, meeting Ric Flair, and witnessing the Angels winning the World Series in 2002 are three that come to mind — but our trip blew us away.
For those who have never been, a visit to Cooperstown is a must for any true ball fan.
Located far off the beaten path in upstate New York, Cooperstown makes you work for it. It’s not an easy drive, through hills and twisting narrow roads, but it is certainly worth the effort.
Picture downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake, but substitute the Prince of Wales hotel for the Hall of Fame, the Christmas Store for Mickey’s Place.
Situated downtown amid stores stocked full with baseball memorabilia, the Hall of Fame itself — not to mention the picturesque setting — is baseball heaven on earth.
Our first day was spent browsing through the various shops. When I say browsing, I mean spending like it was our last night on earth.
So. Much. Cool. Stuff.
We picked up caps, jackets, cards and shirts and made our way to Denny’s for some fine American dining before calling it a night.
The next day we hit the hall. To be honest, it was a bit of a letdown. Not that it wasn’t cool or great, but there are only so many balls and bats you can look at.
It felt a little stale but it was still a good time, capped off with a visit to the plaques that honour the hall members. Ryan and I made sure to track down Nolan Ryan’s plaque – after all, if you are named after a Hall of Famer, you should at least get your pic with his plaque.
We spent a few more hours picking up the rest of the items we didn’t get the day before. My credit card was heating up, but it was so hard to resist!
Packing up that night for the trip home, I noticed the Syracuse Chiefs had a home game the following afternoon. It was right on the way home, so plans were hatched to attend a game at NBT Bank Stadium.
This was an unexpected treat. The 20-year-old park is on the exact same site as old MacArthur Stadium, and is a fine AAA stadium. Thanks to a huge open concourse and great sight lines, I would rank it ahead of similar parks in Buffalo and Rochester.
We were also treated to a super fan in our section who screamed encouragement — among other things — to the players on virtually every pitch.
This guy was committed and didn’t let up the entire game. Players even acknowledged his antics and threw him a ball, which he promptly gave to Ryan.
It was that kind of trip. Can’t wait to go again next year.