Yvette Does Cooperstown

153.  Yvette’s Very Excellent Adventure Chapter 153

National Baseball Hall of Fame and permeations of bigger things.

Thursday 30th January 2014

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This was a great road trip as my brother Andre and I headed to Cooperstown, New York State to see the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  We’d driven up from Plymouth the night before.  This was a great museum and something to continue my sports exodus here in the States.  After being together to watch the Red Sox clinch the Championship, something we haven’t managed with our beloved St.Kilda Football Club, we had a chance to do a last bit of travel together.  Andre starts a new job next week and here we were, on the road, a brother and sister having an experience of a life time.

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The lake in Cooperstown was mostly frozen and snow covered.  There were a dozen ducks enjoying the little bit of available water.  I thought ducks flew south for winter?  What we didn’t see at the time, but can see in the photos I took, was the Kingfisher Tower, which was built in 1876 by the first Edward Clark.  It is on the eastern shore of Otsego Lake, Cooperstown, New York.  We found out later that it was built when the area was going through hard economic times and it was meant to keep craftsmen and builders busy.  It looks like a small castle, and is now used as a church.  The lake looked unbelievably beautiful, if somewhat cold, when I got out of the car to take photos. I took some of Andre in the car, it was dirty from the salt from the roads.

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Then we parked nearby the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and that is where we stayed, other than for lunch, for the rest of the day.  What an amazing place, not expensive to visit, $17.50 with Andre’s AAA membership.  We got stamps on our hands and I asked whether she could put one in my visual diary/journal, and she was so sweet, she put in one with the name, and then three others.  I felt like a kid, getting extra stickers cos I asked.  I got one of a batter swinging, a bat, ball and mitt, and a moving ball. Then we headed in.

There were three storeys to the building, including the ground.  On the ground was the Hall of Fame collection of plaques, leading out to the Library and photographic and cartoon exhibits, baseball in films and TV section, and vision to the outside where there were three sculptures of a pitcher, a batter and a fieldsman.  There was a section on Art of Baseball, which I missed, a part on Scribes and Mike men, a kid’s clubhouse and a research centre.

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The second floor had so much.  There was the Cooperstown Room, where one can learn about the Museum’s origins and Cooperstown’s special place in the history of the game.  There is the “Baseball Experience”, where Andre and I sat with a few others, and a short 13 minute film, in a baseball park looking theatre, where we had a digital multimedia presentation.  It was called the Grandstand Theatre, because that’s what it looked like.  We could have been sitting at Fenway.  The seats were exactly the same.  Then there was “Taking the field” where baseball’s beginnings are explored, including the earliest players and teams.  Then a great section, “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience”.  This is dedicated to the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues eras, there are stories and artefacts of baseballs little-known stars.  There was a section here outlining American history and history of baseball, and every time a President tried to make things better for African Americans, or they won court cases giving them the rights they demanded, there was a backlash where more rights were removed, often un-constitutionally.  And the fight had to go on and on, as it does even today, even though the sport is now desegregated, American life is much less so.

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There was a section on “Diamond Dreams”, Women in Baseball.  This exhibit is about the role women have played in every level of baseball.  I got distracted here by a film crew and a man in a wheelchair.  Being who I am, it wasn’t long before I knew what was going and introduced myself.  I am a travelling sports writer, am I not?

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I was in the presence of an ex-Springbok champion player, Joost Van de Westhuizen.  He and a South African crew were here making a documentary.  Here are two versions of his journey here. Here is what I googled standing talking to Museum staff:

Joost heads to US for medical treatment

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Former Springbok captain Joost Van der Westhuizen on Sunday announced that he is heading to the US for medical treatment in connection with his diagnosis of a form of motor neuron disease (MND).

“They said I would be in a wheelchair after a year. They said I had a 20 percent chance to live two years. And I decided ‘stuff them.’ I will decide when I go,” Van der Westhuizen said in a statement.

In 2011 Joost was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), an aggressive form of MND.

Van der Westhuizen will participate in clinical studies in Boston at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where the chief of neurology, Dr Merit Cudowicz, is currently conducting research into the disease.

The former rugby star – who established the J9 Foundation for other sufferers of the disease – will also visit a centre in New York at the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Centre, which provides research and clinical support for MND/ALS sufferers.

Van der Westhuizen said he hoped to establish a similar institute in South Africa.

“In the beginning you go through all the emotions and you ask, ‘Why me?’ It’s quite simple, ‘Why not me?’ If I have to go through this to help future generations, why not me?” said Van der Westhuizen.

He flies out to the US on Sunday. – Sapa

 Source: http://www.iol.co.za/sport/rugby/joost-heads-to-us-for-medical-treatment-1.1636936

I watched Odette Schwegler, the interviewer from Blink Pictures interview the historian of the Museum about Lou Gehrig’s part in baseball history.  They were producing a documentary about Joost’s journey, another top level sportsman and hero in his country, battling a deadly and debilitating disease.  I talked with Museum staff, saying I wrote for an on-line sports journal and publication, and I knew people back home, afficionados of rugby and Springboks, would be interested in this connection. The staff introduced me to Odette Schwegler and to Joost, who can barely have a conversation and cannot move his arms.  I was moved by his bravery on taking on such a journey.  They were at the museum all day, as were we, so we kept saying hi each time we passed.

And here’s the press release Odette ended up sending me, and notice the difference in the story.  Joost looks happier, healthier, and it gives so much more detail about the goal of his journey.  Talk about going straight to the horse’s mouth.

Joost van der Westhuizen Heads Stateside

After bringing some sunshine to the UK winter during a successful tour to that country last year, Joost van der Westhuizen, former Springbok rugby captain and champion of those with Motor Neuron Disease (MND) takes his quest to US soil.

Once again, Joost will defy the 2011 medical prognosis that gave him little chance of surviving this long, let alone embark upon a string of international tours.

On the rugby field Joost tackled giants of the sporting world; now he fights a disease that attacks the central nervous system, causing progressive disability. There is no known cure. The prognosis: death.

“They said I would be in a wheelchair after a year. They said I had a 20 percent chance to live two years. And I decided ‘Stuff them.’ I will decide when I go,” he says.

His trip to the United States will bring him and his J9 Foundation into contact with other warriors in the war against MND; men like Steve Gleason, a former star of the New Orleans Saints football team. Steve was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) just months before Joost’s diagnosis.

“In the beginning you go through all the emotions and you ask, ‘Why me?’ It’s quite simple, ‘Why not me?’ If I have to go through this to help future generations, why not me?” Joost emphasizes.

Steve shares this fighting spirit. In spite of having lived a life filled with success and adventure, when he came to terms with his disease, his words were: “Now I know what I’m supposed to do.” Steve is a founder of Team Gleason, a foundation committed to bringing quality of life to ALS sufferers while the search for a cure continues.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, was the motivator behind the establishment of the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Centre*, named in honour of the New York Yankees baseball player who succumbed to the disease. Joost’s dream is to establish a similar centre for research and clinical support in South Africa. With this in mind he and his team will meet with center director Dr. Hiroshi Mitsumoto. It is one in a string of meetings Joost has lined up with international experts to build partnerships – bringing research and support home.

In Boston, Joost will participate in clinical studies at Massachusetts General Hospital where research into the disease is being led by, Chief of Neurology, Dr Merit Cudowicz.

From Boston, Joost and his J9 team will head to New Orleans, home of the Saints Football Team, where he will spend time with Steve Gleason before heading back to share his experiences in South Africa.

He believes, the team will build on the successes of their UK visit where they met with experts at the Euan MacDonald Centre.

Professor Siddharthan Chandran, director of the centre, said: “Solving the enormous challenge of MND or ALS requires partnership and collaboration.

“We are delighted to work with South African colleagues and the J9 foundation to promote better understanding of this devastating disease.”

Dr. Erik Pioro has also offered his support as director of the Section of ALS and Related Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic and will further plans when he meets with Joost and the foundation in New York this week.

Accompanied by a documentary crew, Joost takes to the skies Sunday 26 January.

There was another diversion at the Museum too.  Two young people collecting data of four sided photos for a website data collecting agency, of which I promised I wouldn’t write.  So this kept crossing paths with me too.  Stay in one interesting place, learn about that place, and see lots of other happening events as well.

Andre pored over the museum exhibit by exhibit.  I missed the Viva Baseball, the celebration of the heritage of Latin America players.  Finally, on this floor, is “Today’s Game”, where every major league team is represented in a clubhouse setting, combining photos, video highlights and artefacts into 30 major league lockers.

We broke here for lunch and went across the road to Cooperstown Diner, and had soup and then a meal and once filled, we were ready to go again.

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Almost every shop was baseball related and I loved the signs.

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We hit the third floor.  I lost Andre pretty quickly, he was reading every big sign.  The first part was “Sacred Ground” explaining why baseball parks bought out so much passion in fans, looking at Ebbets Field and Polo Grounds through artefacts and imagery.  Then “Hank Aaron Gallery of Records”, exploring Hanks baseball career, from his minor league days to his pursuit of the all-time home run record to his vast philanthropic efforts.  There was a part “One for the Books”, with was a room full of records.  Then finally, there is always a section on the latest Autumn Glory, the celebration of the team who has won the latest World Series, and of course, this year it was the Red Sox.

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Leaving this area, there is seating for you to watch the greatest baseball/comedy combination, which I watched several times: Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First”.  Jerry Seinfeld is interviewed and explains why this is such a perfect and timeless piece of sporting memorabilia and comedy.  From here, there is a Changing Photographic Gallery which fabulous photography and the history of changes in the way baseball was photographed.  There was a section on Amateur Leagues and Baseball Cards.

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I looked in shops and bought Andre’s birthday present, a Red Sox piece of memorabilia of the 2004, 2007 and 2013 and each has Big Pappy, David Ortiz in it.

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After finishing looking at the Hall of Fame, with all the names Andre had watched play over the last 30 years, we dressed up, and hit the streets, seeing the Doubleday Field and Sand Lot, the stadium where adults play baseball.  Today, we heard that when winter ends, this place is invaded by 12 year old plus kids and all their families who come here to play in the many grounds that this area provides. Cooperstown Dream Park, based on Route 28 where our hotel is, hosts over 100 teams consisting of youth who come here from all over the USA to play in weekly tournaments.  The hotels, restaurants, car parks, are all full then. This is the other big event, other than the Hall of Fame gatherings once a year.  People sell enough goods and services at this time to last through the bleak weather months.

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As Andre and I were shopping and looking around all the sports stores, we kept bumping into the other main group of tourists in town, Joost and his party, looking for presents for the kids back home.  After three shops, we became quite chummy.  It showed me again why I am on this journey.  We have to take every opportunity in life, life is way too short to store it away for tomorrow.  Joost was a great Springbok champion, now he can barely move or speak.  He is taking all his opportunities now too.  Good on him for the work he is doing with the time he still can.


Yvette Wroby

Almanac travelling reporter


About Yvette Wroby

Yvette Wroby writes, cartoons, paints through life and gets most pleasure when it's about football, and more specifically the Saints. Believes in following dreams and having a go.


  1. Thanks Yvette. I love baseball history and the reverence the American fans have for it. Having spent a year in LA I still follow the Dodgers fortunes.
    Only blue and white team I can have any affection for.
    Joost’s story was a reminder to me of the importance of hope. As long as we have something to look forward to tomorrow, people can endure the terrible.
    Making lemonade out of lemons.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for this Yvette – I wish baseball was more popular in Australia.

    Is anyone from the Almanac community going to the MLB games coming up in March in Sydney?

  3. Thanks Yvette. I love baseball from my time spent working in Chicago where I became a Cubs fan. No championship for over 100 years and highly unlikely that we will get one soon…… :-(

    However, your writing on Joost brought a tear to my eye. I was lucky enough so see him play live on a few occasions when the Springboks were touring and he was a truly wonderful player. His positive attitude towards his illness and his ongoing fight is something we can all learn from.

    @Swish – would love to go but not at the prices they are charging

  4. Hi Yvette

    A really engaging read. I feel as though I’ve done the tour myself even though I’ve not been anywhere near the place.. I particularly
    Ike the way you have wrapped into your personal account, the stories of the other museum goers there with you that day….and of course that of Joost.

    Thanks and hope you are warm.


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