To casual travellers, Cooperstown is just a sleepy village nestled in the extensive sprawl of New York State. But, to baseball diehards, its a metonym for greatness; a temple to the ultimate warriors of an enchanting game.
You see, Cooperstown is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a holy pantheon dedicated to the lives and legacies of the greatest players who ever lived. It's a sacred place, reserved for the boldest and bravest of heroes, that captures the imagination unlike anything else in sports. Cooperstown is where the childish innocence and lyrical romance of baseball survives, in the guided hallways of a cloudy, athletic heaven.
In quieter moments, I often close my eyes and daydream about what happens at night in the Hall of Fame, when those heavy doors are closed and the lights switched off, leaving the ghostly legends to linger.
Do they spring to life and, with a wink and a whisper, arrange impromptu games on the polished marble floors? Do they line up and pick sides, squabbling over Ruth, Aaron and Mays? Does Cy Young pitch to Ted Williams and, if so, who wins?
Does Cobb sharpen his spikes and spit venom in the throes of another summer game? Do Clemente and Gehrig share a cold post-game beer? Does Joltin' Joe invite Marilyn to watch?
I want to believe this happens. I want to believe that our beloved heroes are reincarnated in Cooperstown, and allowed to continue playing their favourite game. I want to believe in the power of magic.
Fortunately, the Hall of Fame, this bulwark of all that is still pure in the world's greatest game, facilitates these fantasies and inspires these dreams, because it's the rare place that can preserves the giddy kid in all of us.
In this regard, the Hall of Fame connects one era to the next, like the soft, cashmere ripple of a wave at sea. Here, the history of baseball, richer and more stringently protected than that of any sport, is cherished and stored for eternity. Accordingly, Cooperstown, this tiny yet timeless outpost, stands as the beating heart of baseball in America, so commanding and expansive.
The Hall of Fame is enchanting and beguiling; a repository of memories and achievements. The Hall of Fame is the ultimate reward, the conclusive accolade; a qualification separating the very good from the decidedly great. The Hall of Fame is where the auras and glories and stories of bygone days, happier days, are safeguarded for all eternity; a cauldron where the famous voices echo and the sunny crowds cheer in perpetuity.
Cooperstown is where our cherished icons, our favoured boys of summer, go to rest, but never to die, because baseball deals only in immortality. Cooperstown is where you'll find the pride of a nation, and the essence of those who made it great. Cooperstown is the summit, the zenith, the peak.
I still love the Hall of Fame, because in baseball, unlike other sports, that distinction of historical greatness still actually means something. To be enshrined at Cooperstown, alongside The Clipper, The Bambino and the rest, is still the pinnacle of attainment in the game. Of course, other sports have Hall of Fames, but none so meaningful or important. Baseball's Hall opened in 1936, a trailblazing monument of exquisite majesty. Next came hockey in 1943, then basketball in 1959, then gridiron in 1963. All followed the lead, and copied the template, of baseball's Cooperstown. All failed to replicate its native mystique and allure.
Now that I've matured as a fan, to the point where my childhood heroes are eligible for enshrinement, the Hall of Fame holds even more fascination for me. The stars I grew up watching, such as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio, have now been elected, while future ballots will be full of players I've had the pleasure of witnessing from day one of their careers.
Therefore, my connection to the Hall of Fame, and thus to the heartland of baseball history, is stronger than ever. And for a boy from England, far away from the bubble of hardball activity, that is incredibly satisfying.