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|Cooperstown is so peaceful visitors might feel a world away, and as if they are in another century, whether it be during Hall of Fame Weekend or when the crowds have thinned and leaves are turning.|
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The absolute best time to go to Cooperstown is approximately six months after the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America has phoned you at home to offer congratulations on being elected to the Hall of Fame. That, however, is a phone call very few of us can ever hope to get ... and even if it somehow happened, you would have to give a speech.Fortunately, there is never a bad time to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Most people picture themselves visiting the Hall in the long, hot days of summer. But the museum is open year-round, and there are benefits to visiting in cooler seasons. Avoiding the crowds is one benefit -- 70 percent of the Hall's 300,000 annual visitors arrive from Memorial Day to Labor Day -- and avoiding the humidity is another. A third is the opportunity for another in The Road Warrior's series of Sports Trips in Disguise for the sports fan whose partner is a nonfan.
Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum recently began offering up enticing events in the offseason. Among the selections this fall:Oct. 1-3: Hall of Fame Film Fest, featuring a "61*'' tribute, with Billy Crystal and Bob Costas. Oct. 9-10: Character and Courage Weekend, with Andre Dawson. Oct. 9-Nov. 6: Ghost Programming. On Saturdays the Hall will offer features ranging from candlelight tours of Cooperstown to baseball stories about the paranormal, the mysterious and the game's alleged curses. Oct. 30: World Series Gala. Game 3 of the World Series will be shown and refreshments served. For more information, visit baseballhall.org.
For instance, you can propose an autumn visit to Cooperstown this way: "Say, what do you think we spend a weekend looking at the fall colors? I hear the leaves are beautiful this time of year.''
Clever, huh? No need to reveal your hand by even mentioning the names Cooperstown or Hall of Fame. Just make your way there, slowly but steadily hypnotizing your loved one along the miles of rolling, winding roads lined with trees more spectacularly hued than the Astros' old rainbow jerseys.
Then, as you ease into Cooperstown and turn onto Main Street, simply point at the Hall and say, "What do you know, the Baseball Hall of Fame is across the street. What a dope I am. I completely forgot it was in Cooperstown. (Yawn.) Hmmm, I think I could use a little break from driving. How about we go inside for a little bit? I hear they have a terrific exhibit on women in baseball.''
And the thing is, your partner will completely fall for it. Once people actually see Cooperstown, there are never any complaints. This isn't Canton, Ohio, or Springfield, Mass. This precious town is so idyllic, its setting on the lake so sublime, even people who can't stand baseball (what IS their problem, anyhow?) will beg for a return trip.
The shame of Cooperstown is fans are usually so focused on visiting the Hall of Fame that only a small minority actually explore the town enough to find spectacular Otsego Lake.
I've been to Cooperstown several times in the peak of summer and each visit has been the same. There were so many hordes of fans in the museum and clogging the sidewalks on Main Street it was like they were giving away Babe Ruth autographed bobbleheads. But when I walked just a couple blocks away to the edge of Otsego Lake, it was so peaceful I not only felt a world away, it was as if I was in another century, as well.
Relax in the Adirondack chairs while sipping a drink at The Otesaga Resort Hotel's veranda or just sit on the grass under the trees along the shore of the lake and your concerns will melt away as surely as a Mets' lead in late September. Not even Milton Bradley could remain in a bad mood here.
Otsego Lake is what James Fenimore Cooper calls Glimmerglass in his Leatherstocking novels (and if pressed, you could also use the Glimmerglass Opera season in July and August as an excuse to visit during the summer).
The Fenimore Art Museum is located on the site of Cooper's former home and is well worth a visit. The museum has a fine permanent display of Native American art, as well as impressive traveling exhibits, including "John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women,'' which runs through Dec. 31.
Taking in so much natural and artistic beauty (baseball people no doubt feel Rodin's "The Thinker'' pales in comparison to the bronze reliefs on the Hall of Fame plaques) may tire you out, so rest a while at nearby Brewery Ommegang, a Belgian-style craft brewery whose Three Philosophers beer was named America's best dark beer by Men's Journal' in 2009. (The brewery was purchased several years ago by the same Belgian brewer that makes popular Duvel ale.) Stop by, take a tour and raise a glass to America's ultimate beer drinker, Babe Ruth.
Back in Cooperstown, there are other good spots to dine. Brad Horn, the Hall of Fame's senior director of communications, recommends the eclectic Alex and Ike's, or Nicoletta's, both on Main Street. Meanwhile, I dine at only one spot in town. That's Sal's Pizzeria, an always crowded, order-at-the-counter joint on Main that my friend, Scooter, insists sells the world's finest pizza.
We were there the weekend Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. The ceremonies drew an estimated 75,000 people, all of whom seemed to be in their cars ahead of me fighting for a parking spot. It was probably the largest crowd in the town's history and residents were selling parking spots on their front lawns for $50. One lawn sign read, "Parking $370,000 with FREE house.'' And hotel rooms? Scooter said he had never seen so many people getting out of their cars in the morning after clearly spending the night in them.
This is why you want to visit Cooperstown in the offseason.
What I remember about that weekend is Scooter and I hadn't arranged a meeting spot or time, and cell phone service was terrible, but I knew exactly where to find him anyway. I parked my car, walked into town, pushed my way through the line at Sal's and found my good friend sitting in the back waiting for me.
Scooter is about the best baseball fan I know and he loves Cooperstown so much he'll just randomly start talking about Sal's or the view from Otsego Lake. He gets this way in the summer. And in the fall. And in the winter. And in the spring. Because he feels Cooperstown call all year long.
That's the risk in visiting Cooperstown, though. Whether you're there to see the baseball treasures with a good friend or looking for a romantic getaway with your significant other, whether you're there in the summer, the fall or when Christmas lights and snow brighten Main Street, you'll find yourself falling so helplessly in love with the town that not even Torii Hunter could catch you.Jim Caple, aka The Road Warrior, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jimcaple.