Matt thought he had arrived in heaven. Baseball heaven, that is. Everywhere he looked were stores selling baseball cards, bats, mitts, team posters, jackets and enough memorabilia to satisfy even the most discerning collector.
For those who love baseball, nothing compares with a visit to Cooperstown, a small hamlet in central New York state that is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (607-547-7200). About 370,000 fans, many kids and parents among them, make the pilgrimage each year.
As the playoffs get under way this week, it's a good time to plan a family trip to Cooperstown. Not only can families immerse themselves in baseball lore, they can enjoy a weekend in the country playing in the fall leaves, or a winter day building snowmen or maybe a summer afternoon swimming in Otsego Lake, depending on the season.
This time of year, they can watch apple cider being made the old-fashioned way in a water-powered mill at the Fly Creek Cider Mill just three miles from Cooperstown. Kids can visit a blacksmith at work and see horses and an old-fashioned schoolhouse at the Farmers' Museum (607-547-1450), a living history museum overseen by the New York State Historical Assn. The site has been a working farm since 1813 when novelist James Fenimore Cooper raised sheep for wool. It now offers a glimpse into the life families would have lived here 150 years ago.
Across the road, the Fenimore House Museum and its new American Indian Wing, overlooking Otsego Lake, has an excellent collection of American folk art and Native American art. (Call for information about special programs at 607-547-1400. Call the Cider Mill at 607-547-9692; it's open mid-August through Thanksgiving weekend.)
Instead of a motel, our family opted for a B&B.; Many in the Cooperstown vicinity welcome families and are reasonably priced. We chose Clausen Farms Bed and Breakfast Inn, a short drive from Cooperstown in the tiny town of Sharon Springs. Our gang raced through the fields (there are 80 acres) and even fed llamas. The pancakes were terrific too. (Call 518-284-2527; for other family-friendly spots and a Cooperstown Visitors' Guide, call the Chamber of Commerce at 607-547-9983.)
These diversions were nice, but 11-year-old Matt, whose Little League team won a division championship last summer, reminded us that the purpose of our visit was baseball. First stop: The Cooperstown Bat Co. so Matt could order a personalized Little League bat (about $28; call 607-547-2415 to get directions and find out if bat-making demonstrations are in progress).
Then on to the Hall of Fame. Once we parked the minivan, Matt and his dad acted as if they were walking on hallowed ground. This is the place where baseball began, according to legends now widely questioned, when Abner Doubleday chased the cows out of a pasture one afternoon in 1839 and invented the game.
Matt was particularly drawn to the exhibit of Today's Stars that showcased the players (and their gear) he has watched often: Chicago White Sox Frank Thomas's bat; a ball thrown by celebrated Dodger pitcher Hideo Nomo.
Matt's dad could have spent all day amid the glass cases, looking at Ty Cobb's sliding pads, the locker used by both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson's warm-up jacket. There are exhibits about the history of the game, the uniforms and cards and special displays on the Negro Leagues, umpires and baseball scouts.
Be warned that young children and some girls--even girls like my 9-year-old daughter Reggie who has spent many Saturdays on the baseball diamond--simply won't get that excited. Reggie was ready to leave after she took in the Hall of Fame's Women in Baseball exhibit, showcasing the Rockford Peaches, the women's professional team from the '40s that was made famous by the film "A League of Their Own."
Reggie left Cooperstown happy with a T-shirt that says, "It's a Woman's game too." And Matt has been out every chance he gets, honing his baseball skills with his new bat. His baseball cards are carefully catalogued and always within easy reach.
Taking the Kids appears weekly.