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Cal Goes to Cooperstown

Cal Pictures
The Road to Cooperstown and Back
- by Terri Howell -
My vacation this year was spent traveling with my husband, Gary on a business trip to Cooperstown, New York. Gary has been in the business of sports memorabilia sales for more than 20 years and was also the prior owner of Rounding Third Sports Memorabilia and Gifts in Dundalk. So it was just a given that the week of Cal Ripken's induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame, we would be making the six-hour trip up north. 
We were in Cooperstown on Thursday, July26. One thing I noticed about the town right off the bat was there were very few places to eat and even less places to park. Cooperstown is quite small - the entire town could fit into White Marsh, minus the parking. It's a quaint, lovely town, rich in its own history. Main Street, where the Hall of Fame is actually located, is the size of The Avenue at White Marsh with only a two-lane road and one stoplight. I can't imagine that 50,000+ people will be flooding this small community. The information and map we received from the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce said they will close Main Street and a few side streets leading to the hall. The only traffic will be foot traffic on these roads Saturday and Sunday. 
We decided to tour the Hall of Fame before the crowds came to town. Once in the hall, my husband started giving me the guided tour of all the Orioles who were inducted already and some of the key players we grew up with and often saw play at Memorial Stadium when we where kids. After picking up a few souvenirs, we headed up to the third floor where we found more of a history  of  the game of baseball. There are lots of displays, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some memorabilia for the women’s uniforms and information when they played the game and entertained our country while our men were at war during World War II. There were displays of Babe Ruth's locker and Lou Gerhrig's locker with game jerseys, gloves and cleats. It was interesting to see how the design of the players equipment for the game changed and improved throughout the years.
After the Hall of Fame, we walked Main Street with its many shops, stopping in to stores like the Cooperstown General Store and the Cooperstown Bat Company.
After getting a look around Coopertown, we headed to The New Yorker Bed and Breakfast in Sharon Springs, about 20 miles away. It's the closest place we could get to stay near Cooperstown. It is expected this will be the largest crowd ever for a Hall of Fame induction.
Friday, July 27 was a working day for both of us as we were setting up as vendors near Lake Ostego, two blocks from the Hall of Fame. Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce of Cooperstown, they placed us in an excellent spot we are one of five vendors, two of which are the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the Tony Gywnn Foundation. The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation displayed the signed Jersey from 102.7 Jack FM that toured  Maryland.
At 11 a.m., the unexpected happens - rain, and lots of it! People were scurrying for cover. We ended up with nine people under our Quick Shade Tent. It poured, with lightning and thunder, and the day was a wash out. On my ride back to the B&B, my concern is not just how will this small town feed and park this large crowd but what if it rains on induction day? Where will they take shelter? A lot of people would be very disappointed. The induction usually takes place outside in a huge field. If it rains, no one can get into the Center except officials, family, close friends of the inductees and the press. I sure hope Cooperstown knows what it's in for. The weatherman is calling for partly cloudy skies induction day. Rumor has it the total coming to the induction is around 60,000.
Rumor also has it that John Travolta will be in town as well as some  other “A-Listers” like Brad Pitt and George Clooney, just to name a few.
Saturday, July 28 is not looking too good. The skies are cloudy and the weatherman is calling for showers off and on and an afternoon thunderstom. The place is now wall to wall people, all in search of parking. People are allowing parking all day on their lawns for $40 a day. The hotdog vendor that is here at the lake with us ran out of buns and then sells two hotdogs wrapped in wax paper for $3. People are buying it, since there are maybe four or five places to eat locally. Kids sell bottled water on their front lawns for $2 each.
At 7:30 p.m., the Hall of Fame inductees ride down Main Street in a trolley to the Hall of Fame, where they walk a red carpet into the Hall. This is tradition, and it is their time to reflect and enjoy the Hall of Fame for themselves. We were stuck in traffic one block off of Main Street and one block off the Lake on the only open back road around 6:30 p.m. All of a sudden, Cal Ripken gets out of the van that has been in front of us for 15 minutes. He meets Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger right on Main Street. My husband has to hand me the camera and tell me to get out of the truck and get his picture. I'm a little starstruck and caught off guard. I get out of the truck and walk right up to Cal and introduce myself as being with the East County Times newspaper of Essex and ask if I can get his picture. He smiled and said, “Sure.” You could see in his ice blue eyes and from the smile on his face that he was happy and pleasantly surprised that a local paper was there to take his photo. After signing autographs for a few surprised kids who were also on the corner, Cal's staff whisked him off in the van in which he arrived. This was something I'll never forget.
We tried to get over to the Hall for the trolley event but the lack of parking and overwhelming crowd didn't allow us.
Sunday, July 29 is induction day, and the weather is questionable and overcast. Gary swears it's not going to rain on the induction of a man who worked that many days straight without missing a day as Cal Ripken has done. The new total for people coming to the induction hit a record, with 70,000+ people expected to attend.
We got to the lake at 6 a.m. to set up. Everyone is excited about the induction and where they will park and how close they can get to the Clark Center. The walk from the lake to the Clark Center field is at least a mile and a half. Business starts to trickle off at 9 a.m. and things at the lake are almost dead by 11 a.m. because the crowds have gravitated towards the other side of Cooperstown and the Clark Center.
Most of the streets are closed and orange no parking signs have popped up on both sides of the Streets that are open. The locals are letting people park on their lawns, but the price for an all-day parking spot has risen from $15 when we arrived in Cooperstown to $55.
When we arrived at the induction ceremony, we found a place to park which seemed to be a million miles away. Once we made our way onto the field, we were opting for any grassy spot that wasn't occupied. Our spot at the Clark Center field was back by the trees and so far upon the hill we can barely see the large teletron screen. As the induction ceremony starts, we can hear it well because you could have heard a pin drop in the crowd until Tony Gwynn's daughter started signing The Star Spangled Banner. In typical Orioles tradition, you hear the “O” loud and clear in the line “Oh, say can you see” and it echoes off the surrounding mountains. For the Orioles fans, this was breathtaking, but unfortunately the Gwynn fans just didn't get it.
When Cal started his speech, it rang loud and clear. I was expecting to hear him include more about his Dad, but I'm glad he touched on the subject lightly and emphasized the game and his family. He choked up when he addressed his children which caused the tears to flow in the crowd, but I know when he asked his son to help him deliver the white rose to his wife Kelly, there was not one dry eye on that field.
On Monday, July 30, Gary wants to head into Cooperstown and see Cal's plaque in its place. I guess Cooperstown thought the crowds would just disappear overnight. Boy, were they wrong! Now we have parking everywhere with no orange parking signs and parking is now back down to the reasonable of $15 - $30 a day depending on whose lawn you park.
Gary and I travel to the Hall of Fame only to find there is no parking. Being the nice wife that I am and knowing that the real baseball fan is my husband, I drop him off at the front doors of the Hall of Fame  with his cell phone in hand and tell him I'll drive around until he calls. After an hour I find a parking spot and my husband calls to tell me he's going to the post office across the street from the Hall of Fame to get a piece of memorabilia stamped and canceled. This makes the price on the memorabilia more valuable in time. The lines at the post office are long it takes him 45 minutes to get out.
Both of us have had our fill of crowds and retreat 20 miles back to our B&B where we enjoy one last day and evening of piece and quiet. On Tuesday morning, July 31, the truck is packed and we're ready to go. It's a long drive back to Baltimore, but I can't wait to get home. This will be a vacation I will remember for a lifetime.

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All photos by Terri Howell