On more than one occasion I have visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York; every baseball fan should visit in one’s lifetime. Exhibit displays are excellent (rotated often), library and research opportunities abound, and the ambiance of the quaint village is rarely paralleled.
Hiking, boating, and golf are just a few outside opportunities available, too, and should your son be on a team playing in a tournament nearby, that’s even better. Doubleday Field and the Cooperstown Dreams baseball complex host amateur games for youngsters and adults, and there is a Fantasy Week offered for those who want to learn from former pros such as Ozzie Smith and Phil Niekro.
My visits have included traveling with business associates and friends, and once I visited alone to do research in the library at the tutelage of Tim Wiles, who recently left as Director of Research at the Hall of Fame to become Executive Director of Guilderland Public Library some 60 miles away. Tim was able to access files on Nashville baseball which help immensely in my ability to tell local baseball history more completely.
Even with Tim’s valued assistance, those files were pretty thin.
All of those things aside, I often wonder why the National Baseball Hall of Fame is even in Cooperstown? In 1939 it was determined by the Mills Commission that a century before, Abner Doubleday invented The Game in Phinney’s field in the village named after the family of author James Finnemore Cooper. I get that.
Come to find out, Doubleday was nowhere near Phinney’s field at that time; he was at West Point where he had entered the United State Military Academy the previous year. Doubleday never claimed to be the father of baseball, although he did have a relative by the same name who lived in the area in the early 1800s.
To boot, Cooperstown only has about 2,000 residents, is 4 1/2 hours away from New York City, and is in the middle of nowhere except for the beautiful countryside.
Some may like it that way, but I’m guessing that the location is a detriment to mass visits. The village may not be able to cater to more than those who currently stop by for a tour of the museum, take advantage of the library, or visit another venue.
So, why is “Cooperstown” in Cooperstown?
In reality, the Hall of Fame and Museum is not going anywhere even if I were to remotely suggest that Nashville would make a better and more accommodating home.
The question is this: Would local citizens and visitors to Nashville support a baseball museum, even if it was about regional baseball history only?
For one, I think they would. Baseball was not born in Nashville, and southern baseball has roots in many communities below the Mason-Dixon Line. However, as Nashville continues to experience rapid growth and with visitor momentum continuing to accelerate, new venues of opportunity are needed.
And everyone loves baseball.
Can two Halls of Fame exist? Yes. In Kansas City there is the Negro League Baseball Museum, and in Birmingham construction is underway for another one to emphasize African-American participation in the illustrious history of the Negro Leagues.
Besides, our “Athens of the South” calls out not only to the many local colleges and universities, it really is a testament to our being a center of learning. Locally, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum are in full measure, with newly-announced George Jones and African-American Music museums on the horizon.
Wouldn’t a museum entrusted to the documents, images, oral and visual histories, and opportunity to view those traditions of yesteryear make sense, a repository of southern baseball history?
We have a new ballpark that will soon open near the site of beloved Sulphur Dell, which was once known as baseball’s oldest ballpark in existence. Games were played there as early as 1862. We have ownership and management of the Nashville Sounds who will be immortalizing a part of local history within the stadium, and a city whose leadership will allow for the same throughout the greenway outside the stadium.
The Old Timers Baseball Association of Nashville continues to promote baseball with scholarships, an annual award banquet, and monetary support to area ball fields and programs, too.
Successful baseball programs at Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Belmont, Trevecca, and nearby Cumberland are also a tribute to baseball roots in the area. Toss in local baseball at the high school and youth league levels, and we can easily say “We know our baseball”.
19th Century baseball has taken a foothold, too; what began as a two-team league in Franklin and Nashville, in three short years the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball has expanded in middle Tennessee to Knoxville and Chattanooga.
This great opportunity to provide a location for the study of baseball and to view its visual and oral merits, all within a day’s driving distance from much of the United States, should not be overlooked.
I am sure we had an Abner Doubleday in our town once, too.
© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.