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Shotgun's Long Drive To Cooperstown: Part Six - Catching Cooperstown Fever

Shotgun Spratling |
August 21, 2010 | 10:05 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Though my trip is not over, I can’t image it being anything but downhill from here.

After spending 25 hours in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, nothing on this trip is going to be able to compare to it in experience or in breadth of information collected.

The guys in the Cooperstown research department were great. They actively took an interest in the research I, and every other person coming into the Bart Giamatti Research Center, was working on. With files of newspaper clippings on every man to ever play Major League Baseball and also on several people who did not (ahem…the people I’m researching) and a library of books, microfilm, and videos devoted to nothing but the game of baseball, the Hall of Fame research center is not going to be surpassed.

But before I start raving about the awesomeness of Cooperstown, let me get you up to speed on the events since my last installment.

Following a late Friday night out with a classmate and some of her friends in Pittsburgh’s South Side district, I spent a full day researching at the Pittsburgh library and then prepped to head out of town. I headed in the direction of PNC Park wanting to snap a couple of pictures, having heard it’s a beautiful ballpark. The idea was quickly abandoned when I ran into traffic and realized it was only going to be worse as I heard there was a Steelers pre-season football game and the teams’ stadiums are next door neighbors.

I spent Saturday night in rural Maryland with the family of a friend from my undergraduate studies. No offense to the other people who have graciously hosted me, but they win the award for best hosts – laundry washed and folded, breakfast in bed and a sack lunch to go. To top it off, when I was searching through the sack lunch as I drove through Pennsvylvania I found my sandwiches were cut in half for me and there was a Capri Sun – A CAPRI SUN!

As I traveled through Pennsylvania with the eventual destination of Middle of Nowhere, New York (also known as Cooperstown), I stopped at the Antique Automobile Club of America’s museum in Hershey. My particular interest was the Museum of Bus Transportation, which is located inside the same building. My intent was to find a bus or two that would have been similar to what the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords used when traveling.

I thought I had hit the jackpot because the museum was featuring an exhibit called the Buses of the Negro Leagues. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing letdown. The museum only had one bus used by a Negro League team and it was a bus that was used at the tail end of the Negro Leagues prior to the league's eventual demise in 1962.

Besides the bus, there were just some thick cardboard posters provided by the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City with explanations about the Negro Leagues and some of its players.

I often say, “You win some. You lose some.” Just when I thought I had lost this one, the team rallied for a dramatic comeback. As I was exploring the information, a man approached me and started talking to me about the Negro Leagues. I explained what I was doing at the museum and how I had been all over the country researching the Negro Leagues and America in the mid-1930s. He asked if I’d like to speak with a Negro Leaguer and walked me over to where his father, Willie Fordham, was sitting and talking to some of the other museum patrons.

I talked with Mr. Fordham for about 15 minutes but couldn’t get much information. His son kept interrupting to tell me that it was in his book, which Mr. Fordham was trying to see, and that I definitely should buy one because it would be “invaluable to my research.” Plus, Mr. Fordham had to keep stopping to talk to other people around a table that was set up with information about his playing days as well as small items he was trying to sell and some other Negro League books, along with a stack of his.

Unable to get much fruitful information and wanting to continue to Cooperstown before the Hall of Fame closed, I settled for contact information and a promise to call and talk with Mr. Fordham. Having seen the muscle cars and taken notes on the 1930s models on display, I got back on the road and headed for the rustic town that’s a part of the dreams of so many baseball fans.

For the next four and a half hours I drove through a constant downpour of rain. When I finally arrived in small, rustic Cooperstown, the streets were jammed with cars. I looked up and down the street. There was no parking, so I found a cozy side street.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame offers single day admission for $16.50, but the cost of a yearly membership, which includes unlimited visits, is only $30. Knowing I was going to be visiting at least twice, I took the $3.00 discount and the extras that came with the membership, including a newsletter and the Hall of Fame magazine. With it being the weekend, the research library was closed, so I went ahead and started exploring the museum and Hall of Fame. There was no way I was coming all the way to Cooperstown and not gawking at every last piece of memorabilia on display.

When the museum closed at 9 p.m., I got something to eat at T.J.’s (not impressive) and decided to do some writing. I went to grab my computer out of the trunk of my car and somehow managed to lock my keys inside. It took over 45 minutes for the service guy to drive all of like two miles. After spending $70 for four minutes of work, I needed a drink. Unfortunately, the bartender at one of the local establishments was not very social. I had a quick drink and then returned to my car to get some sleep.

The next morning, I was at the Hall of Fame as soon as the doors were unlocked. I headed straight back to the library. Having signed a waiver, I slipped on white cotton gloves and, having been informed that my every movement was being watched on videotape, spent 16 hours over the next two days looking through a ton of information. I checked out the pre-edited texts of a number of articles on Negro Leaguers I had read before as well as the logged interviews of a few of the Negro League stars who have since died. Tremendous research.

On the second of my three days in Cooperstown, Chelsea Baker became the youngest player to have her equipment donated to the Hall of Fame. The 13-year-old Floridian, who pitched a pair of perfect games last season, presented her jersey to the Hall of Fame in a ceremony. The PR people then brought her into the library to do interviews with MLB and ESPN reporters. Hearing about her all day, I decided to check out the hoopla when she pitched Monday night at the Cooperstown Dreams field for her all-girls all-star team.

She was a solid pitcher but nothing particularly special.

Baker had an above average fastball and a good curveball, but I couldn’t make a solid determination on her knuckleball, which was taught to her by former major leaguer Joe Niekro and is one of the reasons she is so hyped, because she only threw it three times. Of course, two of those three were for strikeouts. She finished with a four-inning, complete game shutout, allowing just two hits while striking out five or six.

However, I was more impressed by Baker's catcher, who was firing bullets down to second on the throwdowns each inning. She also went 2-3 with a double that one-hopped the centerfield fence and a line drive rope that never got more than 15 feet off the ground before going into the left field bleachers for a three-run homer.

Next stop: Babe Ruth's grave.

Interesting Fact of the Day: Some of the fields that the Negro League teams played on while barnstorming against small town teams didn’t have fences. Teammates claimed Josh Gibson would hit balls 450 feet but fielders would be playing him that deep and catch the deep, deep fly balls. On other fields, the locals would paint commemorative signs on roofs and walls where Gibson hit some of the longest home runs the townspeople had ever seen.

Cool Person of the Day: Tim and the guys at the Bart Giamatti Research Center. They were extremely helpful, pleasant guys who have a ton of baseball knowledge. I wish I lived near the Hall of Fame just so I could go in and chat with these guys three or four times a week.

Quote of the Day: “Getting mad never solved anything, real change is accomplished by people who lead by their example.” – Hall of Fame third baseman Judy Johnson

Part 6 Tallies:
- Days: 4
- Full Meals: 7
- Hours of Sleep: 20
- Miles: 550
- Non-Destination Stops: 3
- Tolls Paid: 1
- Cost of Toll: $8.40
- States: Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York
- Rivers: 1
- Big Rig Trucks Passed: 55
- Pictures Taken: 496

- Days on the Road: 12
- Full Meals: 17
- Hours of Sleep: 63
- Miles: 4,460
- Tolls Paid: 9
- Cost of Tolls: $30.35
- States: 16
- Rivers: 34
- Times Heard “Love the Way You Lie”: 22
- Non-Destination Stops: 23
- Big Rig Trucks Passed: 526
- Pictures Taken: 1,581

To reach reporter Shotgun Spratling, click here.



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