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Catch the ESSENCE



Published: Sun, July 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The autograph of former Mahoning Valley Scrappers manager Ted Kubiak can be found inside the building that stands on one of America's most hallowed grounds.

Kubiak's signature is on a baseball celebrating the World Series championship of the 1974 Oakland Athletics. That baseball is encased in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in this picturesque town of 2,300 located in central New York State.

Kubiak managed the Scrappers during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, leading them to consecutive Pinckney-Stedler Division championships in the New York-Penn League.

That's why it was fitting to see Kubiak's writing firsthand during a Scrappers roadtrip to Utica, N.Y., earlier this season.

Getting started: Walking along a narrow, scenic sidewalk toward the hall during a summer morning, a scoreboard comes into view. Wondering how your favorite team did the night before? The entire Major League schedule is complete with scores and standings.

That, however, is about as close to the present as you will get. The hall is filled with heroes and their past accomplishments -- people and events that helped define this game.

The hall opened its doors for the first time on June 12, 1939. Soon after you open its doors, you are standing in the spacious Hall of Fame Gallery. On the oak walls are the plaques of every hall of fame member.

Staking their claim to history Aug. 4-6 of this year will be new members Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Hilton Smith and Bill Mazeroski.

You can't help but imagine who the stars of the future will be.

Hitting the long ball: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated America in 1998 when they dueled for the single-season home-run crown. McGwire finished with 70, Sosa 66, to create a chapter that follows the long-ball exploits of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. Those artifacts can be seen in The Great American Home Run Chase exhibit.

Award-winning photographs of America's pastime complement the old typewriters and microphones of sportswriters and play-by-play announcers who have continued to bring fans closer to their beloved game.

The Grandstand Theater does a good job of that, too. With the surroundings resembling old Comiskey Park, it takes only 13 minutes of a multimedia show to feel the essence of the game.

Interesting stuff: Some of the most intriguing exhibits can be found in the hall -- the glove of Mazeroski, the Pittsburgh Pirates great whose 17-year career began in 1956; hate mail that Brooklyn Dodgers' Jackie Robinson received for breaking the game's color barrier as an African American in 1947; New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio's locker.

In addition, some of the bats that were responsible for the game's biggest hits -- including those of Babe Ruth (his famous "called" shot in 1932), Ted Williams (.406 average in 1941) and Roberto Clemente (3,000th and final hit) -- are on display.

Of course, what makes baseball even grander is the stadiums in which its teams play. Those legendary buildings are remembered on the hall's refurbished third floor, where stadiums such as New York's Polo Grounds, Brooklyn's Ebbets Field and Pittsburgh's Forbes Field come to life.

Take your choice: Umpires, the minors and women in baseball are among the many other exhibits in the hall.

The fulfilling path through this storied shrine seems endless and difficult to gather fully on paper. But, that's exactly it -- one shouldn't want that journey to end.

Immersing oneself in the past, present and future of America's pastime can be the greatest getaway.

richesson@vindy.com




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