(The following story also appears on the baseball website baseballguru.com. It is about a memorable evening I spent in Cooperstown, New York.)
By A.C. Haeffner
It was a visit I didn't plan, and an experience I still ponder.
It came in the middle of winter, when Cooperstown was sleeping.
It was one of the most spiritual experiences I've ever had - a secular event that seemed holy.
It happened like this:
I had been within an hour of Cooperstown, attending an auction of various memorabilia that I was hoping to purchase for resale on the Internet. But a half-hour into the auction, it had become clear that at least three investors with serious money were going to bid most of the lots up past my ability to obtain them. I probably would have stayed to the end anyway -- except for a nagging need I suddenly felt to drive to Cooperstown.
The pull was twofold, I think. I wanted at some point to check out Cooperstown locales for a novel I'd been writing that was set in the village -- sites I had researched but wanted to revisit in order to refresh my memory.
And second, I just felt the need to visit, period. It was like the siren call, bidding me hither. And so I left the auction and headed northeast.
It was dusk when I departed the auction, and dark before long, and with the nightfall came something I hadn't anticipated: a snowstorm. The snow started coming down lightly when I was fifteen minutes into my journey, and heavily another fifteen minutes after that. By the time I pulled into Cooperstown, the roads were becoming difficult to hold, and visibility was diminishing. That's how it was as I turned onto the Main Street of the village -- to a scene of utter beauty.
The stores had closed by then, and there was only one restaurant open on Main Street. Just three or four cars were parked within my sight, and the falling snow diffused the few streetlights down to an eerie glow. The roadway was without any tracks from traffic, my van being the only vehicle moving; sidewalks were an equally untouched white as the snow -- perhaps two inches had fallen -- accumulated gently in a setting devoid of measurable wind.
I parked midway up the street, and walked the rest of the way to the Hall of Fame, which is located on the eastern end of the business district. It was closed -- its daily winter schedule being much shorter than that of summer -- and I stood in front, looking across its patio and up at its brick front. Off to the left was the museum's eastern wing, and beyond that the administrative wing, which reaches out almost to the street; its architecture was shielded this night by the storm and limited lighting in that section of the village.
I walked in that direction, past the front of the Hall and around to the gate that yields to Cooper Park -- the setting years ago of induction ceremonies, before they moved them out to the Clark Sports Center at the edge of the village. I went through the gate, taking care to maintain footing on the increasingly slippery walkway. I wandered halfway through the park, observing the configuration of the easternmost wing and of the Hall of Fame library on the park's far end, both subjects of my novel-in-progress. It was quiet back there -- no traffic, no wind, no voices, no footsteps save my own. So when I stopped and simply observed the scene before me, and turned my face skyward to catch the falling flakes on my face, I was enveloped by silence, and by a feeling of peace, as though in that setting I was communing with the essence of Cooperstown, with the essence of the sport of baseball. I was experiencing that which I first experienced when I entered a big-league ballpark as a child: euphoria, and calm, and a feeling that here, at last, was my place in the universe.
There was no hurry to move on, and so I stayed there for several minutes, perhaps ten, absorbing and enjoying. Only when I felt fulfilled did I move, back in the direction of the gate at the front of the park, back toward the Main Street. I now needed to go to the other end of the street; I knew that my visit would not be complete without a pilgrimage to Doubleday Field, a ballpark I had visited on several occasions in the past. It was a site I had, in my mind, utilized properly in the plot of my novel, but I wanted to double-check to be sure. And somewhere inside of me I felt the same tug that had brought me to Cooperstown itself that night. The spirits of the game were beckoning in their gentle, quiet way.
And so I walked up Main Street, past the dim lights, giddy with the solitude and rightness of it, and along the way encountered a woman -- the only person I saw in Cooperstown that night. She was like a shadow at first -- muted to an ethereal vision by the snow -- and in my mood I could have mistaken her for a Cooperstown spirit, a baseball god come calling. But I was grounded enough to realize the implausibility, and was proven right as the distance between us narrowed. She was smiling as she passed, and nodded in my direction.
"Beautiful night for a walk, don't you think?" she asked.
I imagine I was smiling, too, as I answered her.
"I can think of none better," I said.
And with that I continued walking west, and she east, and the moment passed; and so it is forever frozen in my memory.
I passed my parked van in short order, and noted that it would require a brushing when it came time for me to leave; nearly an inch of new snow had fallen already on its windshield. A minute later, I turned left into the Doubleday parking lot and stopped, transfixed by the peaceful scene before me. Whereas I was accustomed to summer visits in which the lot was full, there were no cars there now except for a couple parked along the left border, above the small stream that cuts underneath the village at that point on its way to Lake Otsego. A small truck was along the lot's right edge, about midway back. All three vehicles were covered with the day's snowfall.
Beyond them, a shadow in the gentle storm, sat Doubleday Field, home of the annual Hall of Fame game and assorted other contests during the summer. But now it was home only to the white night, and the silence, and perhaps the ghosts of baseball past who populate the air that Cooperstown visitors come to breathe. I walked across the lot through deepening snow, berating myself for not wearing proper footwear. I had on running shoes that had soaked through; my toes were nearly frozen. But I shrugged off the discomfort and continued across until I had nearly reached the ballpark, until the snow amassed there made further advancement difficult. Plows had obviously been directing the winter's previous snowfalls toward the park, for the depth around its perimeter was thigh-high.
I stood, weighing the degree of difficulty and cold that confronted me, and surged ahead, soaking my pants almost immediately as I struggled to the front gate. I wanted a closer look there to confirm specific descriptions in my novel; and satisfied, I moved to my left, around the stadium's side, and studied the various eastern entry points -- again a matter of novelistic detail. I slogged back to the parking lot and onto a roadway that enters it from the west, and from there worked my way through deep snow once again, from the roadway's edge to the fence that borders the stands along the first-base side. I wanted to observe the sluice that runs underneath the stands, the conduit for water which flows down from the hills in warmer weather -- and to memorize the details of the spot in which open sluice turns to subterranean one and carries water underneath the stadium's front section on its way to that stream on the eastern boundary and, beyond that, to the lake.
I was in that position -- legs frozen and eyes fixed on the sluice -- when I imagined I could hear the sound of bat on ball, could hear the subsequent sound the ball makes when it strikes the leather of a glove, could hear a faint cry moments later that sounded like "Hey batter, hey batter!" But it couldn't have been, I realized; it was just the wind. Only there was no wind. I listened more intently, trying to pick up confirmation of the sounds, but there were no more. All was silence; all was peace.
I shivered, not so much from the cold as from a feeling that I had just imposed on something, and slowly backed away from the fence -- retreated to the roadway leading to the parking lot. I stood there a few moments, thinking, assessing, and decided that it had been no imposition, after all; that if anything -- assuming my imagination had not been working overtime -- the ballpark was simply welcoming me. I smiled, pleased at the experience, and retraced my steps to the lot. Then, glancing back several times, I journeyed its length to Main Street, turned for one more look, and shaking my head in wonder, continued on to my vehicle.
After cleaning off the van and warming its interior -- after recovering some feeling in my legs -- I pulled away from my parking space and made my way east on Main Street, slowing as I neared the Hall of Fame. I nodded to it as I passed, swung the van around 180 degrees and headed toward the highway that would take me south away from the village -- back to the workaday world.
Some Other Creative Writing
We offer on the accompanying links some creative writing by local residents, the first by Bob Brown of Montour Falls: "The Wave." See Brown.
We also offer a look back at a political day in 2000 -- when Senate hopeful Rick Lazio stopped in Watkins Glen. It is written by publisher/editor Charlie Haeffner and titled "Of herbs and politicians." See Herbs.
And then there are the reminiscences of Betty Appleton, long of Australia, but before that an Odessa area resident who raised six children out near Steam Mill Road. See Appleton.
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