Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Life is a Highway!

Life Is A Highway!

NY Thruway & Mass Pike
are a sports highway.

If, as the song says, “Life is a Highway”, then the Mass Pike Hwy and the “NY thruway” are a beacon of light and excitement for sport enthusiasts, by providing the ultimate roadway to thrills and chills of the golden ages of yesterday via museums of America’s sports. I suppose I can speak in riddles here, but in layman’s terms, these highways entice sports lovers to stop town after town checking out the “Hall of Fame” of the some of the United States best-loved sports.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame is located in Canastota, New York, "Title Town USA", approximately 20 minutes east of Syracuse. Wanting to honor two local boxers, the town of Canastota held a fundraiser to build a small museum and dedicate it to former welterweight and middleweight champions Basilio and Backus. The fundraiser was so successful that the residents decided to go a step further and establish the first true Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum. The first induction was held in 1990 and then annually thereafter, choosing inductees in five categories - Non-participants, Observers, Pioneers, Old-Timers and Moderns.

National Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum, Oneonta, NY was Established in 1979, the National Soccer Hall of Fame houses an extensive archive of memorabilia associated with soccer in the United States. “Dedicated to the sport of soccer in America by celebrating its history, preserving its legacy, inspiring its youth and honoring its heroes, for generations to come.”

Basketball Hall Of Fame
It was established in 1959, with fundraising leading to an actual building opened to the public on Febrary 17,1968, at Springfield College in Springfield Massachusetts, USA. In 1985 a new hall off-campus was opened near downtown
Springfield on the east bank of the Connecticut River. On Sept. 28, 2002, the Hall of Fame found its third home in a new $45 million, 80,000 square foot (7,400 m²) shrine to the sport, located just south of the previous Hall of Fame. The facility's bolder architecture features a large, silver, semi-spherical structure (resembling a giant basketball) several stories high and a tall spire topped with an orange globe. The hall is surrounded by a shopping center of retail outlets and restaurants.

(For my dad)

Even the wrought iron at the
Hall of Fame was baseball themed.

Signs en route speak, carrying invitations,beckoning tourists inside for an undeniable piece of sports history, however to date, the greatest and most well known is the “National Baseball Hall of Fame” in Cooperstown. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is the most revered Hall of Fame in sports. The Museum contains thousands of artifacts skillfully displayed for anyone's enjoyment.

We're Here!

Cooperstown became famous and still is for revolving around a baseball theme within the town, every store participating in one form or another letting one know it too. The "Grand slam restaurant" for instance is full at any given time, three batting companies supply ball teams from this very town, and baseball history is prevalent anywhere one walks with memorabilia. It's a town with an abundance of history attached, a lovely boardwalk of architecture to match its age. We were awestruck with some of the buildings, inns, homes and fencing surrounding the town. Lovely!

The architecture was something else,
backwoods America at its finest.

An example of the old and well loved Inns a walk away.

Baseball has an incredible history beginning with Abner Doubleday. Doubleday has often been credited with inventing the game of baseball in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York, now the location of the baseball's Hall of Fame. This claim appears to date from the late nineteenth century, when baseball owners tried to disassociate the game from any connection to the English game of rounders.

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper was also involved in the acknowledgement of placing Cooperstown on the map, a prolific and most popular American writer and author (The Last Mohican and 29 others) in the 19th century. His name is noted all over town, a statue noticeable next to the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as a large museum erected in his honor containing many great works, one of the finest collections of American art, folk art and Native American art in the world. The Hudson River artist collection is huge here!

James Fenimore Cooper Museum

Opening day in Cooperstown

History everywhere

The Doubleday field is still there, right smack in the center of town, the original from the early days when baseball was played in the 1830s. In fact, the week before we visited Cooperstown, the Toronto Orioles played a game against the Chicago Cubs. Now that’s something else, and the ability to seat 10,000 fans in the stands would be very exciting to say the least to this sleepy and peaceful little farming town.

Entering the double doors of the museum.

Time to shop!

Hall of Famers Hallway

Cooperstown is a unique and welcoming community, so incredibly quaint with friendly folks at every corner to greet people coming coming to view its pride and glory buildings and ball field. We had this town on our itinerary as a must see, as baseball also has a huge historical significance in my family. Without it, I personally wouldn’t even be here today.

Winner's rings encased for all to see.

As fate would have it, something serendipitous was at hand when my father was the only Canadian kid drafted urged to try out for a three day camp to earn a chance to play with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was not able to arrive until the third day, but just before lunch break, he was able to accomplish something which changed his life. He ran 60 yards in 6.2 seconds, fastest of the 200 hopefuls. He was known to “run like a deer”, so fast in speed, and was assigned to be the first baseman on their minor league farm team.

My father in action.

When my father watched the film “The Rookie”, he became emotional when explaining to our family this was exactly how it was for him later on, when he was a young newlywed, eventually with a young family, season after season traveling from the Northwest to play another year of ball in the Southeast.

A smidgen of the museum displays,
always being rotated showing only 10%
at any given time within the building.

Memories of playing soft summer nights come wafting back easily, especially when a friend of ours confronted him one evening with a “Sports Illustrated Magazine” and asked him for his autograph. Giving a surprised chuckle, my father knew this sports freak young teen before him was awestruck to hear his stories of life on a ball team in the early fifties, before they were seen on television in fact. “Those were the days” everyone would commence their love of the sport conversations with…and yes, truly those were the days, until two things happened; television and cars! People began to stay home to watch the games instead of supporting the local ball teams, and no one walked within or even stayed in their own local communities anymore. Had television not become such a fascination in America, it's most certain my father would've been in the major leagues. In fact, baseball back in the fifties was a fabulous sport rather than a huge money making financial bust business as it is today. Raw talent obviously still surfaces each year nowadays, and ball fans have returned, flocking to enjoy live games in droves once more, just as other sports today draw specators to their games also.

When my father was finally convinced our young friend was not joking, or pulling his leg, an article was placed before him in which his name appeared, the article also stating his old ball team was headed to the “Baseball Hall of Fame” in Cooperstown, NY, for a world’s record unmatched to date, and for that matter all these years later remains so. Therefore we traveled to view the exhibit, take photos and relive this time period in my father's life.

If there was a new enthusiasm for the history of ball within our family’s heritage, this had to be a new high, a huge thrill suddenly becoming an important event to add to the family historical heritage stories. My father invested financially by purchasing many issues of that particular Sports Illustrated magazine edition, offering them to all of his children. Newspaper and radio reporters began to telephone my father for interviews, asking for his views as a “local boy” landing into the prestige of a hall of famer. He was interviewed locally, and abroad, reliving moments where he knew God had ordained this time for, not only to have the opportunity to play his beloved game of baseball, but also for him to meet my mother, and as they say, the rest is history…literally!

Baseball hall of famers in the military and wars fought.

My southern grandmother’s good friend rented rooms to some of the ball players each year, one of the young men this particular year was my father. When my grandmother met my father, eventually she invited him to have iced tea at her home on the big old porch, consequently meeting her daughter (wink, wink), who in turn eventually became my mother when they married. Living in the south, those thick southern belle accents were something else, as was the humidity no one from the northwest have ever experienced before. My father remembers well the first day of tryouts when he had to have 11 showers just to stay cool and calm in the difficult and heavy heat humidity during the day. No sunglasses were allowed on the ball field, so the players used to use black shoe polish and paint it thick under their eyes to prevent difficulty with possible sun reflections blowing their play. Oh the stories he could weave around the family dinner table while we were young, later when we were teens, and still today when we’re all older adults with grandchildren ourselves. Shall this tale ever cease to end? I think not. It is impossible for it is a part of our family, and we embrace those early days when our father began to also court our mother, marry her and bring her to his little French Canadian community. With a wing and a prayer she followed her man, and became a modern day Ruth like the woman in the Bible who exclaimed; "Where thou goest, I will follow". smile

Great club for the kids!

In 1987, my father was interviewed by a notable newspaper sports columnist, and it was within the newspaper, (the article before me as I type this writing) when I first found out about a profound piece of information. My siblings and I thought we’d heard, read and seen it all, but it wasn’t until this year we were finding out more bits of information to make our father even more famous in our eyes. One thing I wasn’t able to get over was finding out when a home run was enjoyed by the spectators in the crowded bleachers, they had a custom in the south to pass around a hat, tips collected for the player. After several home runs, my father had earned enough cash to purchase the wedding rings on my mother’s hand, even now, fifty-five years later!

As a young newlywed couple, they boarded the passenger train for a long and difficult journey each summer after they were married when it was once again time to report to the field for summer training camp. Eventually when my mother was expecting their second child, my father broke his hand and decided it was time to resign and retire from the wonderful and challenging sport of professional baseball. The sport however never left his heart nor our home, not ever! My father continued to play, as did his brothers, as did some of my siblings and I remember well the evenings when my mother coached my sister’s ball team and I had to accompany them to the field. We all played at one time or another, even I,though mostly for fun and not for serious sport.

Another one of the many displays.

Baseball remains a loving sport in our family, my hubby and I began a church league with the youth spreading out to encompass dozens of teams over the years afterwards, eventually drawing our oldest daughter into the game, who continues to play today with her husband on the same team. Our nephew has a talent like my father and won a scholarship in college to continue with this sport, though he no longer plays, but there will always be a love deep within the family with all of us, and up and coming grandchildren who continue to find the sport wonderful. It’s in the blood we tease one another, but truly it has to be as the progeny within the family know there is something special about how our family began due to baseball in the first place.

Great Grandchildren already taking up the sport.

Last week, as our family entered the doors at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I was most excited to note the importance of the buildings, and the amount of coverage the sport gave to people from all over the world. We were a bit disappointed to find out only 10% of the hall of fame items were on display at any given time, with some items, though few, remaining on permanent displays from famous players in the actual hall of fame room. After viewing an endless sea of baseball paraphernalia, I decided if I was ever going to find the exhibit featuring my father’s ball team, I’d better begin to ask for assistance.

Ready to enter the building.

I headed to the research library after a kind gentleman pointed me in the general direction, spoke at length with a man behind the counter and was encouraged to stay and research within the building's library. Immediately I rolled up my sleeves, signed in formally and donned my white gloves to gather items I felt would be important memorabilia for my father and his portfolio of his baseball years. Within minutes, I was handed a thick file containing information of his team and the actual original hand written score sheet from the game placing responsible for inductint them all into the hall of fame for their baseball record of all time. Yes, that was exciting! As the rest of my family wondered around and viewed so many baseball historical items, there was much to see, movies to watch, radio to listen to, a sandlot kids area for the young ones, and thousands of square feet to view everything the museum had to offer. It was difficult to fathom just how many items must be in storage, though millions I was told! Yikes! My father's display will become headlined over time again, as there is a book being written and proceeding to a publisher about that famed game in history. Who knows? Maybe it will be a movie someday!

Pirates small exhibit

In July, two more players will be inducted into this baseball hall of fame, and I wish them best wishes, so they too can retell their stories in the future with their families and loved ones.

One of the two upcoming inductees for July

As one man in the research room said;

Every person who enters our doors has a story to tell. Whether they were in major leagues or minor leagues, college ball or even little league, all will have a story of their very own, so important to them in their golden years.”

I agree wholeheartedly as our family knows all too well, this is an important part of our own family heritage…

Those were the days my friend!