For well over a century, baseball has been hailed as America’s National Past Time. Baseball is uniquely American. In the 1989 baseball film, Field of Dreams, one of the main characters remarks on the importance of baseball for America. “Baseball,” he says, is “the one constant through all the years.” Baseball connects Americans to their past. “This field, this game,” he continues, “reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.” This week, the tradition of Opening Day ushered in the 2015 baseball season—the 146th season of professional baseball in America.
There are lots of reasons to love baseball. It’s combination of elegance and excitement. The beauty of the baseball fields the game is played upon. The raw statistical appreciation of its fans who at the drop of a hat can calculate the batting average of their favorite player or the earned run average of the opposing pitcher. But, the reason baseball is the National Past Time is its rich history and its impact on the history of the entire country. No other place symbolizes this relationship more than the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Ever since I was swinging my first bat and collecting my first baseball cards, I have wanted to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. But, it’s a long way from Arkansas to Cooperstown, and my family never was able to make the trip. But, the dream persisted throughout my youth and into my adulthood. So, one day this last summer, I turned to my wife and told her that I wanted to take her to Cooperstown, NY. She saw the longing and delight on my face and agreed to go.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, NY because Cooperstown is the legendary site where Abner Doubleday first invented the game. Though the historical accuracy of Doubleday as the inventor of baseball is most likely a fabrication, Cooperstown is universally viewed as the cradle of baseball. The Hall of Fame was built in 1936 as a shrine to everything and everyone great about the game. It would serve as the custodian of the game’s history. Above all, it would be a place to recognize the greatest players in the game. Each year, new players are enshrined in the Hall of Fame and take their place among the all-time greats.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum. The red brick building houses the relics of baseball’s past. It’s a collection of artifacts. But, really it’s more than that. It houses memories—the personal memories of each visitor’s childhood. That is what drew me to its doors.
Passing the old gloves and balls from the 1903 World Series, touching Babe Ruth’s broken bat, seeing the spikes that Jackie Robinson wore on the day he broke the segregation barrier, or brushing by the uniforms of my childhood heroes like Ken Griffey Jr. brought tears to my eyes. These antique, yellowed objects transported me back to my own childhood when the most important thing in my life was visiting the store to buy a pack of cards or making sure I tried my hardest in my little league team’s game. I remembered what it felt like to steal third or catch my first pop-up or get a hold of a pitcher’s fastball for a double. I remembered how seriously I treated my quest to procure Ken Griffey Jr.’s rookie card. I remember eagerly pouring over the Oakland Athletics box scores to see how many stolen bases Rickey Henderson had accumulated on the year. I remembered what it was like to be a kid. That’s what the Baseball Hall of Fame does; it helps us remember our childhood.
At the Baseball Hall of Fame’s dedication on June 12, 1939, former baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis declared that the museum would be dedicated to all of America. That it would belong to all of us. The memories inside of its walls belong to anyone who wants to revisit their own past. In that way, in a sense, we are all a part of the Hall of Fame. Visiting this museum is more than a family vacation. It’s a pilgrimage to remind yourself of the goodness of your life and how that goodness might once again be relived.