I’ve been blessed to be able to take some memorable vacations in my life.
Week-long snow ski trips with Jerry and Debbie Hightower and friends to Colorado were some of the best while treks to Myrtle Beach as a kid with my family will always be high on my list. Trips to Washington, D.C. are also on that list for obvious reasons, but the vacation my son Michael and I just returned from may rank as the best ever.
It was something we had talked about for at least the last 20 years, but we finally decided to quit talking and take action. One of my best friends from the earliest days is Steve Parker. He and his son Seth were supposed to go with us, but scheduling just didn’t work out.
Our trip hit its lowest note the first day when I found out that Steve’s older brother Barry had died earlier in the day. I had a nice conversation with Steve on our way to Scranton and I felt really bad that I would be unable to attend Barry’s services.
Michael and I are both sports nuts and baseball has always been one of our favorite sports.
We’ve been to Atlanta more times than I can count to see the Braves. We went to St. Louis two years ago to watch the Cubs and the Cardinals and last year we journeyed to Cincinnati to watch the Reds and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Next weekend, we’re heading to the Windy City for our first experience at Wrigley Field for another game between the Cubs and the Cardinals.
But last week, we turned into a couple of die-hard baseball junkies. We left Chattanooga early on Tuesday and returned in the middle of Sunday afternoon.
In between, we watched two major league games and two minor league games while our major destination was Cooperstown, N.Y. and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Our first stop was in Washington where we saw the visiting Boston Red Sox put an 11-4 whipping on the Nationals. We were in Scranton, Pa. on Wednesday to watch the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Railriders rally for a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Bisons.
We were up and rolling early on Thursday for the short three-hour drive to Cooperstown.
We got there 20 minutes before the doors opened at 9 a.m. and we spent most of the day there. The only break came about 2 when we left for lunch and to check into our motel. Parking was an issue. Since our motel was less than a mile from the Hall, we walked back for the second half of our day there.
I personally was surprised at how small the museum was. There were three floors, but those three floors were filled with baseball facts and trivia like you wouldn’t believe.
Each team had their own special display and interesting facts about those teams and their connection to the Hall was fun to read. There were also thousands of pictures with many from the early years where the photos were all black and white.
They had special sections for guys like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron and I really took extra interest in those. Seeing pictures and watching videos from some of Aaron’s milestone home runs brought back lots of memories as I’ve been a Braves fan since they moved South in 1966, so I felt like I had a unique connection to that part of baseball history.
They also had a section where various baseball records are displayed, including seasonal records and those for careers.
I was somewhat saddened to look at all the stuff Pete Rose accomplished as a player, only to be completely overshadowed by his insane gambling habits. No doubt, Rose played the game the way it was supposed to be played and he deserves a spot there if anyone does, but he broke a cardinal rule and now he’s paying the price.
I didn’t realize until we got there that there are only 323 players in the Hall of Fame and that includes this year’s inductees. Quite a few greats from my days growing up are now part of the Hall, but many are not. It’s an exclusive membership to be sure and there are some not included that may deserve a spot.
It makes me feel really good that the great Chipper Jones will be enshrined at the end of July. Others joining him that week will be Jack Morris, Vladimire Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome and Alan Trammell.
Just a fraction more than one percent of all major league players have earned a spot, so it really is a special exclusive fraternity.
We spent about 10 hours there the day we went and we had planned for two, but we bypassed the second day after seeing what we wanted to see the first time around.
We had some time to kill on Friday, so we went through many of the shops along Main Street where the Hall of Fame is located. I’ve never seen more baseball cards, hats, jerseys, pictures or anything else baseball related.
Cooperstown is a small town that reminded me of walking down Main Street in Murfreesboro with its huge old and stately homes with tall hardwood trees in the yard.
We took the scenic route to Binghamton for Friday night’s game between the Rumble Ponies and the Eric Sea Wolves. Michael had purchased us tickets on the third row right next to the home dugout where we got a close-up look at Tim Tebow, who’s on that team.
He was the designated hitter for the Rumble Ponies that night and finished with one hit in four at-bats, but it was really fun seeing him up close. I’ve never been a Florida Gator fan and never will be, but I’m a Tim Tebow fan and wish more professional athletes acted like he does.
We drove a couple more hours after that game where we spent the night in Bath, N.Y. We left the next morning as we headed to Cleveland for the Indians’ 4:05 game against the Oakland A’s on Saturday. The A’s won 6-3 in 11 innings before we continued on our way to Columbus, Ohio.
My only drawback about that is the Ohio State Buckeyes, who reside there. I tried to mind my own business and not to hum “Rocky Top” too loud. We went to bed pretty quick after arriving about 11 p.m. and we were on the road again by 8:15 Sunday morning for the 457-mile final leg back to Chattanooga.
We spent five nights in five different cities and saw four baseball games along the way, including three that had fireworks. We stayed in some places others may have refused as they weren’t exactly Holiday Inns. All we needed was a pillow and blanket for a soft place to sleep and hot water and a bathroom that worked.
I will always be grateful to my dear wife Althea and for Michael’s beautiful bride Kelly for allowing us the time for this trip. I think they both understood just how significant it was for us both.
Needless to say, we were both tired and ready to be home when we pulled into the driveway Sunday afternoon.
The trip to Cooperstown was a wonderful experience and I’ll remember it the rest of my life. And while that was a huge highlight, maybe a greater significance was being able to spend all of that time with Michael.
I’m really proud of him as he’s turned out to be a fine young man, but he’s a baseball fan from top to bottom. When we first started talking serious about this trip, I just told him to plan it, make the reservations, purchase the tickets and to tell me when to have my bags packed.
He did all of that and more. He also drove the entire way, which ended up being just a bit more than 2,000 miles.
I’m hoping that we can take more trips like that in the future, but they will be hard-pressed to top this one.
I’m just thankful that we finally created the opportunity to go and that all went way better than I could have ever imagined.
And to think that my son Michael was with me every step of the way made it even more special.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)