Former Major League Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti famously wrote that the sport “is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone.”
The fact is, though, the game never ends at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., about 75 miles west of the capital, Albany. While there might be doubt about the claim that Abner Doubleday invented baseball there in 1839, there’s no doubt the Hall has become holy ground for fans since its 1939 opening in the town founded by Judge William Cooper, father of famed author James Fenimore Cooper.
Visitors from around the world, more than 3,000 a day in peak season, pore over the Hall’s collection of 40,000-plus artifacts. And games are still played at nearby Doubleday Field, including the Hall of Fame Classic featuring legends of the game over Memorial Day weekend. The year’s big event is the annual Induction Ceremony, attended by as many as 80,000 visitors. This year’s ceremony on July 24 will see the induction of David Ortiz, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva and Buck O’Neil.
We caught up with Assemblyman John Salka (R-District 121) and Sen. Peter Oberacker (R-District 51) to talk about the joys of Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame and other attractions in their districts.
Did you play baseball as a youngster?
Oberacker: I played baseball, basketball and soccer. On the diamond, I spent most of my time on the mound pitching for Schenevus (N.Y.) Central School and later at SUNY Delhi. Perhaps my top personal accomplishment was pitching a perfect game against Laurens Central School during my junior year at Schenevus.
Salka: I fondly remember playing ball after school. It is safe to say many of my childhood days were spent on the sandlot. Despite my arm, I was a horrible pitcher and instead opted for shortstop or the outfield.
What’s your favorite team?
Salka: Of course, the New York Yankees!
Oberacker: The New York Yankees. I had the good fortune to meet three of my favorite Yankees: Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Chris Chambliss and Ron Guidry.
How often do you visit the Hall of Fame?
Oberacker: Growing up just a line drive away from Cooperstown, I have visited the museum on several occasions. As a high school senior, I was selected for the New York State Central All-Stars and was able to play against the semipro Milford Macs at famed Doubleday Field.
Salka: My first trip was about 20 years ago. I make it to the Hall once or twice a year.
What’s your favorite part of the Hall? What’s something people might not know about it?
Salka: My favorite part is the Hall of Fame Library, which houses in excess of 3 million historic baseball documents. People might not know the Hall offers a VIP Experience that allows special behind-the-scenes access; it is not every day you have the opportunity to hold Babe Ruth’s bat in your hand.
Oberacker: I had the opportunity to meet with museum president Josh Rawitch. We took a walk through the basement where artifacts not currently on display are stored. It was an amazing glimpse at baseball history.
What do the annual Induction Ceremony and the Hall mean for the surrounding district?
Oberacker: The ceremony is the highlight of a full weekend of events with thousands of fans from across the country and around the world flocking to Cooperstown to celebrate baseball and the game’s rich history. A large portion of our economy in central New York is grounded in tourism, and there are a number of businesses that enjoy a connection with baseball and the Hall of Fame.
Salka: The induction ceremony truly is awesome—a uniquely American experience. The Hall of Fame benefits the numerous restaurants and specialty shops in the region, which relies heavily on tourism. In fact, according to the Economic Impact of Visitors in New York report of 2019, without the state and local taxes generated by tourism, the average household in central New York would have to pay an additional $1,009 to maintain the same level of government.
Sen. Oberacker, the first bill you passed as a senator was to make baseball New York’s official state sport. How did that come about?
My legislation originated from an idea conceived by Anne Reis’ fourth graders at Cooperstown Elementary School. According to Reis, while studying New York state government and state symbols, the students realized that we lacked a state sport. They immediately decided that baseball would be the perfect fit, researched the impact of baseball on New York state and its citizens, and wrote persuasive essays promoting their idea. It took several years to complete the process: Those fourth graders are now high school sophomores. Formally recognizing baseball as New York’s official sport is a home run.
In a ceremony at Doubleday Field in 2021, Sen. Peter Oberacker presented special Senate proclamations to the students who proposed making baseball the official state sport.
What else is there to do in Cooperstown and the surrounding region?
Salka: The Farmers’ Museum and Fenimore Art Museum are great places to start. The beautiful Glimmerglass State Park offers a multitude of outdoor recreational activities and is open year-round. The region is full of noteworthy locations. History buffs will fawn over the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro or the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum. Sport enthusiasts can travel about an hour north to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the cozy village of Canastota. You also can bike the Erie Canalway Trail, a section of the ever-expanding Empire State Trail, or spend the day on Oneida Lake.
“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to talk about life in the places they represent, from high-profile events and destinations to the fun facts only the locals know. The responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Joe Rassenfoss is a Denver-based freelance writer.