Written by Dan Pero.
Yawkey Way and the Green Monster. The Monuments in center field. 26 World Series flags and 296 down the line. Hall of Famers Ruth, Mays, Koufax and Aaron. Williams, Mantle, Killebrew and Ryan. Yearning to love the game I once embraced as an eight year old when I listened to Ernie Harwell call another fly to deep left by Al Kaline “long gone,” but long divorced since the big egos of baseball owners and the bigger paychecks of today’s ballplayers stole the joy from America’s pastime and my summer nights.
Not only was a trip to Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown a wonderful 50th birthday present from my wife, Colleen, it was a chance to date my heroes again…to see if the excitement that made my heart race as a would-be major leaguer could pound again like a Koufax fastball into the mitt of Johnny Roseboro.
As my plane made the final approach into New York’s LaGuardia airport, eagerness and anticipation swelled inside me (just like before those twi-night doubleheaders at Briggs Stadium), and I tugged my Sports Travel & Tours hat down to my brow ready to knock one out of the park. I was 50 going on 7 again.
My cab took me to the Edison Hotel just off Broadway. Not much to look at but comfortable, clean and right in the middle of everything. I got there with enough time to take a walk, check out the marques and the people and grab a plate of sausage and peppers at a small Italian café just steps down the street.
Then it was meet the rest of the team on the trip, as we gathered in the hotel lobby for our ride to Mickey Mantle’s Sports Bar for appetizers and a bite of nostalgia before the main course – a 55,000 fan sellout for a game between cross-town rivals Yankees and Mets. The line-up was a number of affable fathers and sons, older married couples, a handful of married guys like me, whose wives decided to let us be little boys again, and a baseball nut named Billy Canavan, our host for the three days. Billy filled us in what to expect, handed out our tickets, and told some really goofy jokes, but it was clear, here was a guy who loved his job about as much as he loved baseball…and boy did he love baseball.
We boarded two spacious air-conditioned buses (our transportation for the entire trip) and roared off into rush hour traffic. In minutes, I was wandering around this typical sports bar eyeing the gift section at the cash register and gazing at the memorabilia that hung everywhere. Here I got to know some of the other fans over iced tea and calamari. But the stay was a little long for me… in fact, most everyone was ready to go before our departure time.
A cross-town ride through Harlem took us past the old Polo Grounds (now an apartment complex) and to a parking spot about a block away. I was surprised at the blandness of the stadium but, as I would soon find out, the thrill is on the inside. I took off on my own, but I got to Monument Park (you can tour the monuments of retired Yankee greats up until about 45 minutes before game time) but they had just closed it, so I found myself soon in the upper deck gazing down at their numbers, trying to place a name with each one – Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Dickey, Ford, Howard, Jackson, Rizutto, Maris, Stengel, Munson, Mattingly – as the giant video screen blared the team’s highlights practically nonstop (when you’re the Yankees you have a lot to work with) while Mets and Yankee loyalists shouted insults at one another, cheered home runs and yammered derisively into cell phones about who was better. Posada hit a couple dingers as the Yanks routed the Mets then it was back to a quick snack on Broadway, then an early departure to Cooperstown.
The bus ride is several hours long and uneventful through rolling hills in the middle of nowhere. It’s a good thing Abner Doubleday invented baseball or there would have been nothing to do. You have plenty of time to talk to your son or daughter about the good old days when the only strike was what a pitcher threw, you can sleep, or read the Baseball Encyclopedia (where you can find such useful cocktail conversation as, Yaz is the only modern ballplayer to have 3,000 hits in a career but never a 200 hit season – you can look it up). I talked to a couple guests, but when you’re traveling by yourself it’s better to let fathers and sons sit together…husbands and wives, well…
Anyway, as we got closer, Billy put in some great videos with Mel Allen and “This Week in Baseball” and explained the town. It is a Norman Rockwell painting, one street really, but you better like baseball, because there is nothing here but baseball. Restaurants, clothing stores, every store – baseball. I didn’t make it down to the big hotel where all the Hall of Famers stay, but it was pretty impressive standing there on Lake Otsego.
I spent my time visiting the Hall and every shop in town. A tip – you might want to grab a quick bite to eat first, and then go into the Hall. You avoid the initial crowd.
I picked up a couple t-ball baseball bats for my kids (names engraved, of course), shirts, pajamas, even a Cooperstown blouse for my wife…and I got a foul ball at Doubleday Park watching a semi-pro game on the field where legend says it all began. But the highlight of course…the Hall of Fame.
It’s everything you imagine. It’s almost like entering one of those European cathedrals. This is the shrine to the greatest who ever threw or hit or fielded a baseball. Every room is loaded with memories…the plaques of every famer; the baseball card collection (I know I had most of these until mom threw them out), Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hit baseballs, the scorecard to the longest game ever played (33 innings and it featured Cal Ripken as a minor leaguer), Babe Ruth’s locker, the famous “Who’s on First” video, a tribute to each decade, pics of all the old parks, more statistics than at MIT, and most of all memories. But you know the best part… it was watching and listening to the fathers and sons…little boys and girls asking questions and their dads tossing back answers (I knew them all, of course). I know, too, that I’m coming back with my boy and my daughter when they are old enough. You can measure your life here like the ruler marks on the doorway back home. You know when you leave, if you’ve been a baseball fan, that life has been pretty good.
Now, Fenway Park beckoned. But first you get to navigate the family sausage and souvenir vendors on Yawkey Way. Fenway is all about the stadium, the aroma of the hot dogs, and the loveable fans. I grabbed a couple brats, a beer, bought me and the kids Red Sox hats, then found my box seat (a surprise upgrade from Colleen) just behind the third base dugout. It was hotter than a Martinez fastball, but the Red Sox battled the Braves through seven and tied it on a dramatic home run, but then we had to leave for the airport. As we rode around the Big Dig, our Sox lost in 13. Billy Canavan told a few more stories, thanked us for being such great guests (we were) and bid us farewell as he unloaded our luggage for us at each airport stop.
As I walked to my plane, I saw my reflection in a mirror. My Red Sox hat looked pretty good on my head of grey hair. And I realized something. I liked this girl called “baseball” again. I thank my wife for reintroducing us. They’re both great gals. And I’m glad that Sports Travel & Tours got us together. I’d do it again… they have many great options to choose from. Only this time, I’d invite my kids. As for my wife, I think I’ll ask her to maybe stay home. After all, she might be a little uncomfortable playing backup to my new found love. Let’s Play Ball!
Editorial note: Classic Travel works with Sports Travel & Tours and many other tour wholesalers specializing in sports and sporting events.