By Terrence Wallin
If you know me, my name is often synonymous with “hockey”…but there is something about baseball that caught my attention at a young age and has stuck with me my entire life.
My two older brothers and I all played little league but, in no way, shape or form, were we a “baseball family.” Hockey came first. Honestly, when I look back at my childhood, I don’t know where our love of the game came from.
Here’s what I do know:
I know that we spent car rides to vacations drafting fictional teams, asking each other to throw balls we could dive for in the yard, playing Strat-O-Matic to the sound of Vin Scully on summer, weekend nights, and I know that the game of baseball has brought our family together for generations.
I know that I had two grandfathers, who, up until the day they died, were pissed that the Dodgers left Brooklyn, and a nephew named after my brother’s childhood idol.
I know that every athlete grows up with a hero. My dad’s was Mickey Mantle; my brothers were Wade Boggs and Mark McGwire fans, and I loved Vladimir Guerrero.
I know that I am fascinated by stats and milestones that get guys to the Hall like 3,000 hits and strikeouts, 300 wins and 500 homeruns. And I’m crazy intrigued by which big names will be dealt at the deadline.
I know that being a kid from Philadelphia who loves the LA Angels is weird.
Finally, I know that when I heard my favorite player was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a trip to Cooperstown was in order.
Cooperstown is a place where grown men wear jerseys of the players they impersonated in their backyard. It’s a place where dads bring their sons and daughters to share with them the game they’ve grown to love. It’s a place to be a kid again.
There is something magical about this little town nestled in central New York that brings out the “happy” in someone.
There is something even more magical about Benny the Jet running faster in PF Flyers, the Angels winning the pennant with a bunch of bums, a baseball stadium in Iowa bringing back legends and a 12 year-old kid pitching for the Cubs.
The main reason my brother, nephew and I were going to Cooperstown was to see the free-swinging Vlad go in, but then I realized that I was going because I’m a baseball fan.
We stayed an hour away in an absolutely trash Motel 6. The three of slept in one queen size bed for 3 straight nights.
The first night we got there, we set up our passes for the museum and walked around a bit. My brother wore a Cincinnati Reds 1980s jersey, I sported a 1960s SF Giants uniform and my nephew wore a Trenton Thunder hat.
The next morning we woke up at 6:30 am and got to the museum just as it was opening. Upon arrival, I saw a sign that said, “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations”… so that’s how I’ll break down the weekend.
The museum itself is incredible. The first thing we did before we walked around was watch a video called “Generations of the Game” that tied guys like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth to Willie Mays to Frank Thomas to Derek Jeter seamlessly.
From there, you go into the “Locker Room” that shows artifacts from every Major League team from the past 10-20 years or so. Luckily, it doesn’t smell like chewing tobacco, pee and sweat. Random stuff like Mike Trout’s cleats from the 2013 All Star game and Clayton Kershaw’s jersey from his 2014 no-hitter.
One of my favorite parts from this room was the poster that said it is the Hall of Fame’s duty to bring forth the history and acknowledge things that scarred the game like steroids and gambling. (Should Rose and Bonds be in??)
You then go into the older stuff which really makes you realize why this is America’s Game and appreciate the sport in general.
Stuff like the first rules of baseball, how home plate was once an ACTUAL plate, how people used to wear suits and top hats, and the evolution of box scores.
Great exhibits like:
A tribute to Latin American ball players
A diagram of what Ted Williams believed he would hit in different spots in the strike zone
The Swingin’ A’s of the 70s-80s (Pops loved Catfish Hunter)
Baseball in modern culture
Nolan Ryan’s hats from each of his SEVEN perfect games
And how the Yanks have reigned supreme throughout the games history.
Gave me the chills hearing Joe Buck exclaim, “THE HOUSTON ASTROS! ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS!!” as I look at the last piece of Ebbetts Field.
I got goosebumps when my brother showed his little guy his namesake’s jersey from his 3,000th hit.
Even the shops on Main Street ooze with historic jerseys, hats, tickets, programs, bats, gloves and other ridiculously random artifacts from 1880-2018.
I saw a guy selling a 1999 Young Stars poster with Jeter, Nomar and Tejada on it next to a 1973 Pittsburgh Pirates Program with Willie Stargell on it, next to a Camo Tony Gwynn Padres jersey.
Dads and sons wearing matching “Is this Heaven” Baseballism (check them out) shirts and hats. That’s preserving history by reminding us how good this game has been to us.
“Preserving History” is what the Hall of Fame does and it does it well.
The reason for the weekend was for the six Inductees: Trevor Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris, Jim Thome, and Alan Trammell.
The Induction itself was the most crowded one in the history of the event and had the most living Hall of Famers ever. So not only did I get to see those six legends, but others like Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr., too.
All of the speeches were motivating to me as an athlete as they all talked about “where they came from” and their path to glory. They thanked family, friends, wives, coaches…you name it. I won’t bore you with the details but I will tell you that the atmosphere was incredible and I got severely sunburnt on the left side of my body.
When we talk about “Honoring Excellence” at the Baseball Hall, I think of the plaques. They speak for themselves and hold such powerful meaning. It’s fascinating how they condense a player’s lifelong accomplishments down to one paragraph. Those engravings exhibit dominance.
Here’s a few of the big ones (War Veterans get an additional thing under their plaque which I thought was awesome):
The Hall where the plaques hang is one of the coolest places for a baseball fan. It’s quiet. Very quiet. People whispering. Dads saying how good so and so was during their respective era. It made me miss my dad because I adore talking baseball with him. “Bob Gibson. Oof! That guy would throw at your head if he wanted to!” Or, “Oh man could Frank Robinson smoke the ball!”
Cooperstown has this aura…this awe inspiring mystique to bring legends of the past to life. That’s why I really love this town and game.
This weekend was just a reminder of how much my family loves baseball. It was also a reminder that while fans bitch and moan about the state of the game, it’s still beautiful.
Seeing kids swing bats in stores and get yelled at by their moms? That’s awesome.
Kids having a catch in front of the Hall of Fame? That’s awesome.
Seeing grandpas wear Hank Aaron jerseys, with the dad wearing a Chipper Jones and the son wearing an Ozzie Albie’s jersey? That’s awesome.
Seeing Dominican Republic flags wave in the audience for Vlad? That’s awesome.
Like I just said, I missed my dad and middle brother on this trip because it’s so cool to hear stories from different eras.
But my older brother was great to have because he saw guys that I didn’t get the chance to. I don’t really remember guys like Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith or Andre Dawson so I loved hearing his views.
That’s the beauty of generations. My dad actually SAW Mickey Mantle play! How sick is that?!
My oldest brother actually witnessed Mark McGwire as a Bash Brother in Oakland with Jose Canseco.
My middle brother was 7 when Tom Cheek screamed, “TOUCH EM ALL JOE, YOU’LL NEVER HIT A BIGGER HOMERUN IN YOUR LIFE!”
And someday my nephews and kids will say “You actually got to watch Mike Trout play?” Or “You were watching when the Red Sox AND Cubs reversed the curse?”
I can say I love baseball all I want, but it really means something to me. I don’t care if people say it’s boring or slow or the game has changed. I’ll always love it. I’ll always love asking my brothers and dad during a random 10pm Rockies/Giants game “Do you think Larry Walker is a Hall of Famer?” and having a two hour talk on future HOF classes.
I love it and I truly believe that if you are even just a sports fan, Cooperstown is a trip worth making.
I can’t wait to be there when Mike Trout enters the Hall of Fame with my little guy or girl.
“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too”