Cooperstown And The Bucket List

In the summer of 2004, my middle daughter Kim had just finished her first year of graduate school at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Her graduate studies were in Adapted Physical Education and she had won a grant to do an internship in the state of New York. The university that had awarded the grant was State University of New York atCortland. Part of the internship would be to help take a group of handicapped students on an outing in theAdirondack Mountains.Cortlandis a modest sized city about an hour south of Syracuse and as I quickly figured out; about seventy miles west of Cooperstown. After figuring that out Dad, along with Mom, decided that we could help her with the drive……………………..

After about two full days of driving, we reached Cortland and of course after settling in at the motel, I mapped the route to Cooperstown. It was a Sunday morning when we set out for one of my bucket list destinations, and the one that was somewhere near the top of that list. Once we arrived in Cooperstown, we pulled into the first parking lot that had a reference to the Baseball Hall of Fame attached. I just knew that parking would be impossible. We were about ten blocks from the building so we caught a shuttle. I couldn’t believe that when we got to the entrance of the Hall, that there was parking everywhere on the streets. Cooperstown, as I had imagined, was not a bustling city but very slow-paced and friendly……………………

When we entered the building, I was amazed at how simple the surroundings were. That added just that much more to the nostalgic mindset that had been building in my head during our trip to baseball history at its best. The simplicity of the surroundings is not to be misleading about how well kept that building is or how well decorated that it is. Countless hours have gone into the preservation of this beloved game, also known as our national pastime…………………….

I cannot tell a lie here, I stopped at every display that had pinstripes or an NY on it. My family said that I looked like a kid in a candy shop. I didn’t care; I was lost in marvel just seeing first hand all those things that I had only read about or seen on television before this day. This may seem silly but it was almost emotional for me to stand next to those tools of the trade on display from the greatest legends of the game or the monuments and plaques recognizing those same legends. There were pictures, film clips, and numerous other acknowledgments of some of the greatest as well as least desired moments in the history of the game…………………

By the time we left I felt more grateful than I can express for having had the opportunity to visit one of this country’s greatest displays of history. I made a vow that I would someday return, because as long as there is baseball, the growth of Cooperstown will continue…………………..

So as I marked the trip to Cooperstown off my bucket list I added another item which read: Return to Cooperstown when Derek Jeter is inducted. And truthfully I am not being biased here, but the Yankees with their rich history are well represented. There is little doubt that Jeter will probably go in on the first ballot. So I’m saving my pennies……………..

I know that I continue to carry on about the Yankees and that is strictly because as a kid I grew up in a state without a team until the Houston Colt 45’s came into existence in 1962. By then I was really hooked on the Yanks. So I must admit that visiting the Hall of Fame was even more special to me because much of the lore preserved there has to do with the accomplishments of the boys from the Bronx. Once again,I was like a kid in a candy store………………..

For all the Ranger fans out there and especially the youth that are getting to see that franchise flourish, I hope that there are a number of the current players whose plaques will someday hang on the wall in that building. Hopefully it won’t take these kids more than half a lifetime to make that trip to celebrate the glory days of their most adored baseball heroes. But trust me if they do not visit until they have grown into adulthood, I can promise you that a day in there will be like “yesterday once more”……………………

I must say also that as the tour lets you travel through the history of the game, there are also those painful reminders of losses that should have been victories and heartbreak reminders everywhere. Two of the most prevalent for me were the walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski , the light hitting second baseman for the Pittsburg Pirates in game seven of the 1960 World Series that felled the mighty Yanks and also the fact that the late Roger Maris, the record setting right fielder in maybe the best season ever in Yankee history: 1961, has never been enshrined…………………..

Those were the two biggest letdowns for me in regard to the Yankees, but the fact that Pete Rose (Charlie Hustle) of the Cincinnati Reds and the “Big Red Machine” is still being blackballed and denied induction, is something that I simply cannot accept. Sure Rose is alleged to have bet against the Reds when he was managing them, and even if this had been proven beyond reasonable doubt, it still shouldn’t disqualify him as a player. I can’t remember any player, day in and day out, who seemed to devote every ounce of their energy to the game any more than Rose did. He never took the game for granted and he played the last game of his career the same as the first; with infinite love of the game. Whoever makes the final decision on induction, whether it be the commissioner or a board of some type, should review this case every year until this wrong is rectified……………….

I think that those of us who love the game of baseball and all that it encompasses are also waiting to see how those responsible for induction are going to handle the steroid era. Some of the games brightest stars have had, what was otherwise an incredible career, tarnished by their use of this performance enhancing drug. It will be interesting to see if they are included in the Hall. There are those heroes of the past who are now members who have had some very checkered pasts. As much as I loved and adored Mickey Mantle, his career certainly was not without its share of human failings. But he no doubt is so very deservedly enshrined because of how he played the game………………………..

As for the Rangers, we are watching a potential Hall of Fame career unfold for one Josh Hamilton. His life, his talent, and his challenges are very much comparable to the great Mantle. If he continues his torrid pace of heroics as well as his awesome display of that enviable talent he should someday be listed among the honorees. So without further ado let me just say, with Mantle with all his drinking and womanizing already in, and Hamilton with his well documented past of drug abuse and very much a potential candidate, that Pete Rose should not be eliminated because of his past sins either………………………..

In closing, I will do so on a more positive note by saying that my wife also has a bucket list, and it includes another trip to Cooperstown when Michael Young is given his place on that wall. His credentials are every bit as good as those of Derek Jeter and just like Jeter, the respect that he has earned from fans, peers, management, and opponents is the best reason for a place in one of the greatest shrines in this country……………………….

Cooperstown and Major League Baseball for all you fans of the Boys of Summer should be at the top of your bucket list………………..RC

About Ronnie Clifton

Ronnie Clifton was a Texas Football Coach for 29 years. In addition to football, Clifton also served as the head coach in basketball and both girls and boys track. “I loved being involved in and playing sports as a kid, and I soaked up every ounce of available information about any sporting event; I also love to write. What better combo for me than becoming the writer of a sports blog?”
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