My three days of rest came to a close along with the end of Memorial Day weekend. I had spent the long weekend visiting relatives in Western Massachusetts. Now my sights were set on Cooperstown, New York where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located. Starting in Lowell, MA I headed southwest until I hit the Mass Turnpike, then west to the town of Springfield. Not only is Springfield the town where I was born, but it is also the birthplace of basketball and home to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Despite not being baseball related, I had to stop and check it out.
The Basketball Hall of Fame closes at 4:00 pm and I arrived at 3:30. The lady at the ticket booth was nice enough to only charge me the ‘kid’ price of $8 for the 20 odd minutes I got to spend in the museum. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to the Basketball Hall of Fame but I enjoyed the exhibits on the 2nd floor: Shaquile O’Neal’s size 22 shoes, Dennis Rodman’s fur coat (looks smelly) and Sue Bird’s Seattle Storm jersey.
After they kicked me out of the museum, I spent some time in Springfield doing a few mundane errands. At the pizza place across from the Laundromat, I got a single slice of pizza that was larger than most medium pizzas on the west coast and the pizza it came from was the size of a small dining room table, all for the price of $3 per slice. I had to find creative ways to fold it just get it into my mouth; I was able to consume most of the pepperoni and a lot of the crust (my favorite part) but eventually I had to give up and admit that I couldn’t finish this slice of pizza. It was just as well because as I sat outside the little pizza restaurant on the corner a storm was rolling into town.
In the year before a tornado had passed through the towns of Springfield, Monson, and Brimfield. The damage was so bad that when I initially passed through the area I thought that the hills had been logged by clear-cutting. Houses had been destroyed and roofs ripped off but there had only been one casualty. At any rate, the people of the town were in a tizzy because a tornado warning had been announced, and we all sat around inside the laundromat waiting and wondering until the skies darkened and the cloud let loose a downpour of rain. Apparently, the effects of Hurricane Bud had begun to cascade into the Northeast.
When the rain let up, I hopped onto the Mass Turnpike and struck out for Cooperstown. The night always makes driving seem to go faster. When I finally stopped for the night, after a few wrong turns and course corrections I was outside of a place called Duanesburg, New York. I found a quiet and dark stretch of road where I could pull off and catch a few hours of sleep. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed hundreds of tiny but bright white flashes of light surrounding me. I climbed out of the van to watch the little flashes as they moved about and realized that I was seeing fireflies for the first time in my life.
In the morning I continued on to Cooperstown along windy and wooded little roads in upstate New York until I rounded a bend and abruptly drove into the heart of that little town. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is a large brick building set into a row of other older brick buildings, and this time I managed to arrive at a reasonable time. Plenty of time to get to Pittsburgh for the 7 o’clock game that evening.
The Hall of Fame and the museum is quite extensive, encompassing several floors and spanning the history of sports involving balls and bats, and is somewhat critical of the veracity of claims that Abner Doubleday actually invented the sport. Personally, I enjoyed the exhibits predating the National and American leagues when baseball was still blossoming into a professional sport and barnstorming cross-country to play exhibition games was the primary method that teams made money. Most intriguing to me was the tradition of “winning a game ball” from another team after every game. There are several other exhibits in the Hall that I found interesting: Women in Baseball, Latin Leagues, Negro Leagues and the entire third floor devoted to stadiums, fans and ballpark traditions, very apropos to my road trip. The Hall of Fame itself is on the first floor and simply consists of a wide hallway lined with brass plaques depicting the inductees by the year they were added. At the far end of the hall is a rotunda where plaques for the original five inductees hang: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. I was surprised to see that a number of the inductees were not even ballplayers but umpires, managers and owners. There is even a woman in the hall of fame: Effa L. Manley, owner of Newark Eagles (a Negro League team), class of 2006.
I walked out of the Hall of Fame building around 3pm that day, perusing the memorabilia shop windows on the way to the van. The Louisville Slugger store, with their extensive collection of ball caps sucked me inside and I couldn’t resist buying a solid blue Montreal Expos cap. The Mariners have been a hard team to love lately, so at least wearing an Expos hat doesn’t sell the M’s down the river.
When I finally made it to my car, the weather had changed drastically and rain fell from the sky like St. Peter had left the garden hose on. As I typed in the address of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the GPS informed me that this was a 4 hour drive from Cooperstown. Realizing that I had made my first major mistake and would not make the Pirates game that night, I sat in my van reconsidering my options. As the rain poured down around me, I settled on heading north to Toronto where the Blue Jays were scheduled for a series of home games and after that I would loop around to Detroit, through Cleveland and on to Cincinnati before finally backtracking over to Pittsburgh to finally catch up to the Pirates when they returned to Pittsburgh on the 8th of June.
I spent a day and a half bumming around Buffalo, New York and Niagara Falls. The American side of the Falls is very beautiful but is one of the biggest tourist traps I have ever seen. Crowds of tourists from every walk of life fill the walkways and the railings. However, there seems to be a sweet spot just before dusk when the tour boats have quit for the day but before its dark enough for the light show that they project on the falls to be seen. That’s when you can slip in and get some great photos without having to battle your way through all the other tourists.
Finally, the 1st of June rolled around and the Blue Jays were scheduled to play the Red Sox at Rogers Center in Toronto. It was a rainy day as I sat in the line (queue for my Canadian readers) on the Rainbow Bridge that spanned the chasm just north of Niagara Falls. When my turn at the gate came, the customs officer asked the obligatory question: “What’s your business in Canada?”
When I replied that I was just going to a Blue Jays game in Toronto, he skeptically replied: “You can all the way from Seattle to go to a Blue Jays game?” The hook was set and I got to tell him all about my trip across the USA (and Canada I added). Customs officers are masters of asking obvious questions with a straight face but I could see the twinkle in his eye as he asked a few more clarifying questions, such as: “and are you supposed to finish this trip in a certain amount of time?”
“Before the All Star break,” I replied matter-o-factly.
A few more formal questions and I got the wave through with a “Welcome to Canada,” and a smile. I love telling people about my Major League Road Trip. I get a kick out of every grin and wistful expression and seem to have infinite patience for answering the same questions time-and-time again.
The weather worsened as I travelled the 50 or 60 miles up the QEW (that would be the Queen’s Express Way for us Americans) to Toronto. As I neared the city, I could see the whitecaps cresting across Lake Ontario. The rain doused the city and the waves beat the shore with fury and the traffic was appropriately bad. Fortunately, I found Rogers Center easily from the freeway and a reasonably priced parking garage within a few blocks from the stadium.
All the Canadians I had talked to prior to my arrival in Toronto regarded Rogers Center as a disappointment but I am pleased to say that I enjoyed my time at the sole Canadian stadium on my list. Save for the AstroTurf, Rogers Center is every bit a credible ballpark on the inside. I enjoyed walking the concourse that wrapped entirely around the field without having to change levels, the food was good (I got a steak sandwich with horseradish sauce) and the domestic beer was Labatt’s instead of Budweiser. Most of all though, the crowd was a lot of fun; despite an early deficit in runs, the Blue Jays fans stayed supportive throughout the game. Maybe it was the presence of Brett Lawrie (the only Canadian ballplayer on a Canadian team) or all that local beer talking but the Blue Jay fans were very jocular. A streaker hopped the fence 1st base fence in the top of the 7th inning and we all cheered as the bumbling rent-a-cops chased him around the outfield before the three of them were able to converge upon him near 2nd base for the takedown. As the police hauled him off in cuffs, the crowd gave the streaker a standing ovation. Oh Canada! [sic… Thanks J.P.]
In the end, the likes of Brett Lawrie and Joey Bats couldn’t hold off the Red Sox from tearing a hole in the Rogers’ AstroTurf, they lost this game to the BoSox, 2-7. As the crowd of fans emptied into the Toronto streets, I walked around the downtown a bit before heading back to my van. Broken umbrellas littered the rain-washed streets and I heard that the University Street subway station had been flooded by the storm. Traffic getting out of downtown was murder, but once I made it back to the QEW it was smooth sailing until I got to Hamilton, ON where I found a quiet spot to crash for the night. In the morning I would make my way back across the border to Detroit, Michigan where the Tigers were scheduled to play at Comerica Park the next day.