June 15--COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Home runs, Homer and Glimmerglass.
In this scenic upstate New York village, you can check out Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera's sneakers from his triple crown season, see masterwork oil paintings and glide across a lake, all within a few-blocks radius.
At first, these disparate activities don't seem to have much in common. But everything here "is all about America and Americana," says Paul D'Ambrosio, president of the Fenimore Art Museum. Even the scenery itself, with its misty green wooded hills and placid lake, resembles a serene 19th-Century American landscape painting into which you've somehow stumbled, Detroit Tigers cap in hand.
Cooperstown is a bastion of baseball history, yes. But its roots go deeper than that. It is the source of the mighty Susquehanna river. The legendary home of James Fenimore Cooper, the nation's first great novelist. The city also has a lot of pride.
President Barack Obama visited for 55 minutes on May 22 to make a speech, and the village citizens wished he'd had time to stay a whole lot longer.
He couldn't. But you can.
Baseball and beyond
Most people tend to visit Cooperstown for the day, sweeping in to see the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which gets 300,000 visitors a year. That's a shame, because this small town has layers of nostalgia and history, and you need time to feel it.
About two blocks from the hall of fame is one of my favorite spots, Council Rock Park. There you can sit on a bench and watch the vivid blue-green water sweep by on Otsego Lake en route to the river. There's Brewery Ommegang, a hip Belgian ale-style place with tasting rooms and a restaurant. You also may have heard of the famous rocking chair veranda at the historic and relaxing Otesaga Hotel, the best place to sip a cocktail and pretend you're back in Gatsby days.
On July 25-27, the Hall of Fame will induct baseball players Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas (hotels are sold out for miles around, so casual visitors might want to avoid that weekend).
Meanwhile, the elegant Glimmerglass Festival of opera makes a noise July 11-Aug. 24. An entrancing new Winslow Homer exhibition is at the Fenimore Art Museum. South of town, Dreams Park hosts 1,600 preteen baseball players and their parents every week from June through August, so there's lots of action everywhere for 11-year-olds.
Try spring or fall
In summer, trolleys transport day visitors from three parking lots outside of town to busy Main Street. Hotels are often full (and pricey). The streets are thronged with visitors and seasonal residents. However, the village is less busy in May, September and October for those who prefer calm. The Hall of Fame is open all year.
I visited for several days at the very end of May and found easy parking on Main Street, short lines at the hall of fame, no wait at restaurants, and hotel rates near their very lowest. Very pleasant indeed.
So, that's pretty much what you need to know about tourism here. There's just one more thing.
If I were a ghost or a novelist, I'd want to live in Cooperstown.
That's because I swear you can hear bats crack even when the town's 1920 baseball diamond is empty. You can feel ephemeral ladies in white lawn dresses brush past you on the undulating veranda of the Otesaga Hotel. Your eyes play tricks envisioning silent ancient canoes on the lake with its odd green shadows near Fairy Spring Park. And at the shady Episcopal churchyard, there are whispers from the tilting gravestones of all the Coopers who founded this little place.
You just have to stay long enough in Cooperstown to notice it.
At any rate, here are my suggestions for visitors. Stay the night if you can afford it, and if you can't, just do as much as you can in one day.
For baseball fans
STAY: At the cheery yellow Baseball Bed and Breakfast (www.baseballbandb.com, 607-547-5943, rates from $195).
EAT:HardBall Cafe (www.baseballwaxmuseum.com/all-american-cafe, 607-547-1273).
GO:National Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The most enjoyable part is the modern hall with exhibits on your favorite team (the Detroit Tigers, naturally) -- Justin Verlander's jersey, Miggy's shoes and more (www.baseballhall.org, 888-425-5633). Doubleday Field in town usually has some sort of team playing on the 1920 field; it doesn't really matter because it's fun just to be there (http://cooperstownny.org/doubleday-field/). Brewery Ommegangis a trendy, friendly Belgian ale brewery south of town. Have a designated driver -- the roads are curvy (www.ommegang.com, 607-544-1800).
SHOP:Mickey's Place (www.mickeysplace.com, 607-547-5775) or any of the other baseball shops on Main Street.
READ: "Inside the Baseball Hall of Fame" (Simon & Schuster, $35).
For history/arts fans
STAY:Otesaga Hotel, the grandest hotel around. Amazing, genteel history here with elegantly homey rooms, afternoon tea and a challenging lakeside golf course. (www.otesaga.com, 800-348-6222, rates from $319).
EAT:Hawkeye Bar and Grill, lakeside at Otesaga Hotel; have a cocktail on the veranda first in your rocking chair.
GO:Fenimore Art Museum. See history sites like Council Rock and the statue of James Fenimore Cooper(ask for the Cooperstown Walking Map at the tourist bureau). The Glimmerglass Queen Boat Tourwill take you out on Otsego Lake (www.cooperstownlakefronthotel.com, 607-547-9511).
SHOP: Gift shops at Fenimore Art Museum and on Main Street.
READ: "The Deerslayer" by James Fenimore Cooper (Simon & Brown, $17); set on Otsego Lake.
For young families
STAY: North or south of town; try Cobblescote on the Lakeon Highway 80 (www.cobblescote.com, 607-437-1146, rates from $125), or Holiday Inn Express on Highway 28 (www.hiexpress.com/cooperstown, 607-547-8000, rates from $99).
EAT:Fly Creek Cider Mill, with its gigantic desserts and a toddler tractor play area (www.flycreekcidermill.com, 607-547-9692).
GO:Hall of fame(Dad, make sure your girls see the Women in Baseball gallery.); Farmers Museum, a 19th-Century working farm and village with a fun carousel and farm animals (www.farmersmuseum.org, 607-547-1450); Glimmerglass State Park , where you can swim at the beach (www.nysparks.com, 607-547-8662 $7 entrance fee).
SHOP: Cooperstown General Store on Main Street with its hodgepodge of neat stuff and cheap prices.
READ: "Major League Baseball ABC" board book by Brad Epstein (Michaelson, $11.95).
Contact Detroit Free Press Travel Writer Ellen Creager, the Michigan Traveler, at ecreager@freepress com, 313-222-6498 or follow her on Twitter @ellencreager.
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