PTBNL: So, You Wanna Go To Cooperstown...?
Time to cue up “Crazy Train” one more time. On Wednesday, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones will get The Call. That means for many Braves fans this summer is all about a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cooperstown, NY.
It is a bucket-list trip for many baseball fans and tens of thousands of people descend on the small city in upstate New York every summer. The pilgrimage can be challenging, but following some simple tips can make it easier.
I cannot stress this point enough. The announcement is Wednesday at 6 pm. Hall of Fame weekend in July 27-29. Decide now if you’re making the trip. Don’t wait a couple of weeks, or worse, a couple of months. You need to start booking things now.
This trip does not follow the common rules of travel. Prices do not drop. In fact, it will only get more expensive. There is no nearby airport and there are no hotels in Cooperstown.
I made this trip in 2014 so here’s my best advice.
The airport you choose will involve a drive to Cooperstown so it's going to come down to the best price versus how far you want to drive. With lots of flights and two airports, New York City may provide the best price. Just remember, you'll have to rent a car and drive in one of the world's busiest cities. If you're OK with the hassle of traffic, everything else that goes along with the Big Apple and a four-hour drive (one way) then go for it.
There is a good bit of competition into Buffalo, the price tends to be good, but you're also looking at a four-hour one-way trip. Albany and Syracuse are the closest, each about an hour and half away, but with limited flights it trends toward being the most expensive.
Another option outside the state to consider is Hartford, CT. It's about a three-hour drive and has a decent number of flights. It's a small airport that's easy to get in and out of. (Lots of ESPN folks use this airport since the network's headquarters are about 30 minutes away in Bristol.
I was using Delta frequent flyer miles for my trip and found Hartford to be the only option for 25K miles. All the other airports wanted more.
HOW LONG TO STAY
The Hall of Fame Induction is July 29, a Sunday afternoon. The Parade of Legends and the writer/broadcaster induction ceremony is on Saturday. Do yourself a favor and arrive Friday and leave Monday. Otherwise, you'll be rushed and the town will be so crowded you won't really get to enjoy everything. There are other reasons for to arrive and depart on these days that I’ll get to later.
MEMBERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES
Becoming a member of the Hall of Fame is the best $50 you can spend for this trip. You get a Hall of Fame Yearbook, a subscription to the Hall of Fame magazine Memories and Dreams and a pin. But here are the two biggest features: free admission to the Hall of Fame for a year and a 10% discount plus free shipping at the gift shop.
During the busy enshrinement weekend, the museum will be very busy. Unlimited free admission means you can go in and out multiple times on multiple days. Plus, members have their own special entrance.
Taking the family? Get the family membership for $80 which gives you admission for two adults and all kids under 18.
Want to guarantee a seat at the induction ceremony instead of sitting on the lawn? Become a contributor member for $350. You get several other perks beyond a basic membership plus you get that coveted reserved seat.
Back to the basic membership. The free shipping is not just for online purchases. If you’re in the store at the museum, you can ship everything you buy from there. Saves you having to make room in your suitcase or worrying about how you’re going to carry that souvenir bat on the plane.
Here’s how to join. (https://baseballhall.org/support-the-hall/become-a-member)
This website provides some local options (http://www.thisiscooperstown.com/lodging/hotels-motels). Good luck with that. If there is availability, and that’s a big if, it will be pricey. This is like Super Bowl weekend if Super Bowl weekend was held at Lake Lanier. Options are limited.
If you’re looking for something affordable you’re going to have to search hotels and bed and breakfasts 30-60 minutes away.
Airbnb and other websites like it are a good option if you have your heart set on staying in Cooperstown. It’s a roll of the dice, but there are rentals to be found. They are also reasonably priced. Again, you’ll need to book now. (Seriously, come back and read the rest of this story later.)
I was lucky enough to find one of those Airbnb rentals in Cooperstown and it meant parking my rental car in the driveway and not moving it all weekend. It was heaven. But, if you’re driving in each day plan on parking headaches. There is limited space and 50,000 people are all going the same place at the same time. Pack your patience and get there earlier than you think is early.
Here’s tip for rental cars. If you use this website (https://www.autoslash.com) it will automatically search for lower rates after you book. You can book directly on the site or track a rental from another site. It re-booked my rental twice and saved me over $100.
I mentioned earlier that a Friday arrival and Monday departure are the best way to go. While it begins to get busy Friday afternoon, you can still get a table at a downtown restaurant or stroll through the museum and not feel like a salmon swimming upstream.
Friday is also a good day to snag some autographs, if that’s your thing. Many former players set up shop so to speak during this weekend. Some sign for free but most have some type of fee. There are scheduled appearances all weekend and Friday is a good day to scout out who will be where and how much it will cost you.
On Saturday, good luck even getting into a restaurant or the Hall of Fame and Museum.
IT WILL BE PACKED.
It’s a challenge just to walk down the street on Saturday. And when I say street I mean a single street. Main Street is all downtown Cooperstown really is.
Also remember the parade is late Saturday afternoon and people start staking out their spot to watch.
Sunday night is also a great time. Most people leave as soon as the ceremony is over (around 4:30 depending how long the speeches go). This is a great time to visit the Hall of check out that souvenir shop that was just too crowded on Saturday. Also, Sunday night the newest members’ plaques go up in the Hall. It’s usually around 8pm.
On Monday, the place is deserted. I was able to get in when the museum opened and get a photo with the newest plaques. Don’t get me wrong, there are other diehard fans there to do this as well and the photo op was cut off about half an hour after I arrived, but it’s not even close to being as crowded as any other day.
Also Monday is the Legends of the Game Roundtable. Less than 24 hours after being inducted into the Hall of Fame, the current class gets together in a very casual setting to talk about everything from their career memories to the Hall of Fame to what they’re doing now. After watching from a long way away on the lawn at Sunday’s induction ceremony, it’s a great chance to see these guys up close. The pressure of making a speech if off and they are relaxed. I almost liked this event more than the official ceremony. This is also another perk of being a Hall of Fame member. That’s the only way to get a ticket to this event. It’s $10 and goes on sale in June. Call 607-547-0397.
Unless you ponied up for that contributor membership or have some connections, you’ll be sitting on the lawn with thousands of other fans come Sunday afternoon. It will be hot and you’ll need to get there several hours before the 1:30 ceremony. I don’t mean leave your hotel several hours before. I mean, standing in line waiting for the gate to open at 9 or 10am. Bring a blanket or a chair to sit on. Think of it as a college football tailgate without the grill. An umbrella or tent is also helpful. Unless there is severe weather the event is outside. They hand out water to everyone and food and other drinks are for sale. It’s a marathon not a sprint, but it’s the reason you are there.
The Hall of Fame has a page on its website that is a great jumping off place for making his trip (https://baseballhall.org/visit/hall-of-fame-weekend).
If you find yourself overwhelmed by crowds or needing a break during the crazy weekend just walk about three blocks away from downtown. You’ll see beautiful Oswego Lake. Sit on a bench or the grassy hill and enjoy the peaceful silence.
Finally, talk to the locals. Shop and restaurant owners will be slammed with customers, but there are opportunities to chat with them along with their employees and nearby homeowners. They can tell you about the hidden gems of this place they call the village of Cooperstown. I learned about a nearby brewery (Ommegang) and a restaurant just outside of town worth stopping for on my way to the airport.
This is a great trip for any baseball fan and there’s something special about watching a player from your team get the ultimate honor. Follow some of these tips and you’ll have the summer vacation of a lifetime.