It’s the beginning of April, and half of America’s Facebook feeds are reaching a fever pitch over that one crucial moment of the year: the first pitch on opening day. It’s baseball season! The game of baseball takes such a special place in American culture that it tends to inspire pilgrimages around the country. If you’re planning a trip to the holy sites of our national game, you’ll want New York State on the top of your list. Here are a few reasons why.
The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
2014 sees the 75th Anniversary of the dedication of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, located in Cooperstown, NY. Just down the street, don’t miss the chance to visit the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum, which houses incredible reproductions of several people critical to the history of baseball. Why Cooperstown? A little bit of classic mythmaking. When Albert Spalding was tracking down the history of the game that had made him rich, a story came back that Abner Doubleday was the first to put the rules down on paper, and that he had done so in Cooperstown. The account was later found to be untrue (not to shortchange Mr. Doubleday, who did in fact invent the San Francisco cable car), but the Hall of Fame has played an essential role for three quarters of a century, all from the New York’s beautiful Leatherstocking region.
The game may not have been “invented” in Cooperstown, but New York is still the premier place to get a feel for the sport’s history. The New York Knickerbockers were the first team to play by a formal set of rules recognizable as modern baseball. Nowadays, visitors can watch vintage “Base Ball” teams like the Roxbury Nine from Delaware County, or the Atlantic Base Ball Club in Smithtown, Long Island. These teams play games based on rules from the 1860’s, ‘70’s, and ‘80’s, often without gloves – except for the catcher, of course. Pitching was underhand, and in some cases the runner could be tagged out if he was hit by the ball that someone just threw at him. It’s a good thing some rules change.
Jackie Robinson and the Color Line
Jackie Robinson, most notable for his incredible role in battling discrimination in the game of baseball, played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field, which once stood in the heart of Brooklyn. Ebbets was torn down in 1960, although that didn’t prevent the stadium from playing a central role in the plot of Field of Dreams, which most Americans have seen at least half of on TBS. Anyone wishing to pay homage to the great Number 42, Jackie Robinson, can visit a monument to the man just outside the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium near Coney Island. Just a little further west in Long Island, Babylon Village was the home to the Cuban Giants, the first team of African American baseball players to play the game professionally. To commemorate these players, stop by the beautiful Argyle Hotel and Park.
Not strictly a baseball site, the Morris-Jumel Mansion is the oldest private residence in Manhattan. It was built in 1765 by Roger Morris, a colonel in the British Army. It’s old enough to have known both of the so-called Shots Heard ‘Round The World. The first started the American Revolution, which would roll through the mansion’s neighborhood during the Battle of Harlem Heights. George Washington used the mansion as headquarters, and later, after the Continental Army moved north into Westchester, so did the British.
The second Shot Heard ‘Round the World took place on October 3, 1951 when the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson clocked a high fastball into the left field stands at the Polo Grounds to win the Giants’ playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Polo Grounds sat in Coogan’s Hollow, at the foot of the Morris-Jumel Mansion, until 1964. Today, visitors to the mansion can see Yankee Stadium, which looms directly across the Harlem River, from the second storey balcony. Ambitious sightseers can even take a mile walk over the Macombs Dam Bridge and take a stadium tour.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion is saturated with history. It has preserved artifacts of eighteenth century life and maintains magnificent rooms as they were furnished when Washington dined with his cabinet (including Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton) in 1790 and when Aaron Burr lived there with his wife, Eliza Jumel, in the 1830s.
Make sure when you’re rounding the bases to share your baseball pics with #ispyny to be featured in one of our highlights.