My kids have grown up. I know this because I’m banging away on a keyboard in Haverstraw, NY, right now, when I should be on the way home from Cooperstown.
Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about a grand tradition that began in October of 1987, when Josh was 8 and Ben was 2 and Josh and I decided to have a baseball weekend, just us guys, no mom, no baby brother.
The plan was simple:
We’d drive to Cooperstown on Friday night, when I got home from work, and check into a motel for a couple of nights. We’d spend all day Saturday at the Hall of Fame, then head to Brooks’ Diner in Oneonta for some chicken and ribs, and then return to our motel room to watch Game Six of the World Series. Just the two of us.
And there would be a brief but essential stop at a convenience store on the way back to motel from Brooks’, so we could pick up some essentials for watching the game. All involving excessive amounts of sugar and salt.
There was one ground rule: Anything goes. You want it, we’ll buy it. Chips, candy, soda, Twinkies, whatever. We’re guys. We snack till we’re sick.
The next morning, we’d have breakfast somewhere, then doughnuts at Snyder’s Bakery, and then we’d head back home, stopping en route to pick up a Halloween pumpkin or two.
We left as planned Friday evening, headed up the Thruway and hung a left at Kingston, where we picked up Route 28, which took us to Oneonta and up to Cooperstown. Took about four hours. Nice and easy. (There’s a faster route these days, thanks to I-88. But I-88 hadn’t been built yet. And besides, the Interstate is nowhere near as fun as a two-lane blacktop.)
I checked into the Cooperstown Inn, in the middle of town. Nice room. Two beds. Perfect for father and son.
I turned on the television and “Field of Dreams” was on. You can’t make this stuff up.
The next day, the Hall of Fame. And again . . . Perfect. It was not only Josh’s first time, but mine as well. I’d been to Cooperstown for a wedding in 1971, but that was a quick in-and-out, no time to linger. This time, I was here for baseball.
I walked into the museum and there, right at the front, were the life-sized statues of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams that I’d been seeing in magazines my whole life. And that’s when the tears came. (The last time I went, they’d moved those statues, and it says here they should move them back to the entrance, where they belong.)
Josh and I spent the whole day there. We saw Babe Ruth’s locker. We saw Roger Maris’ bat. We watched an endless loop of Abbott and Costello performing Who’s On First. We left for lunch at the Shortstop Diner, and then returned to see Willie Mays’ plaque, and Joe DiMaggio’s and Henry Aaron’s and Lou Gehrig’s and Sandy Koufax’s and Mickey Mantle’s and all the others. And as much as I could, I told Josh about each and every one of them. And he even seemed to care.
We went to Brooks’, loaded up on sugar, went back to the motel to watch Game Six and headed home the next day.
And so was a tradition born. Pretty much every year, we drove to Cooperstown to follow the routine.
Several years later, it was Ben’s turn. And what I remember most was Ben, 8 years old, stuffing himself with all sorts of sugary and salty snacks till he was turning green — this after chowing down at Brooks’ — and hanging in there, forcing his eyes to stay open, until around one in the morning, when Joe Carter hit his walkoff home run to beat the Phillies in 1993. We whooped it up for about five minutes and then both fell asleep.
I’m remembering all this now because this year marks the 20th anniversary of Carter’s home run, and I’m feeling like I should have spent the weekend with my kids in Cooperstown.
Only they’re not kids anymore.
Wait till next year.
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