The Hoffarth HOF tour of Cooperstown I: Getting there

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“Standing proudly along Main Street in the quaint and attractive village of Cooperstown, New York, is an imposing red brick Colonial-era structure that is as American as the game of baseball. The building, however, is more than just a landmark. For this is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. To the millions who have visited it, it is a source of enchantment and sentiment; the history and memories it houses are as permanent as its bricks and mortar.”

– Bert Sugar, opening his 2009 book, “Bert Sugar’s Baseball Hall of Fame, A Living History of America’s Greatest Game.”

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“The perfect tribute to the game’s history is located in the perfect setting for it. (Cooperstown) may not, in fact, be the place where the game magically emerged from the primordial soup of the other bat-and-ball games that preceded it, it plays the part of baseball’s Garden of Eden perfectly … Unlike (Disneyland), which may find over-hyped, over-crowded and over-commercialized, the museum in sleepy little Cooperstown always delivers a satisfying, enriching and altogether mesmerizing experience.”

– Josh Pahigian, from his 2008 book, “101 Baseball Places To See Before You Strike Out.” Cooperstown is listed at No. 1.

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“How much time you spend at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum depends on the depth of your interest in baseball history. Two hours is the minimum, though you could just as easily spend two days. Plan your trip accordingly.”

– Robert Santelli in “The Baseball Fan’s Bucket List: 162 Things You Must See, Do, Get & Experience Before You Die,” published in 2010. Cooperstown is No. 2 on the book’s list, after “Taking A Baseball Road Trip.”

It’s been on our bucket list for years, but without the incentive to truly make it happen.

Father’s Day, 2010, was good enough. The second annual Classic Game, featuring Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ozzie Smith, Harmon Killebrew, Goose Gossage, Phil Niekro, Rollie Fingers and Gary Carter participating in a seven-inning exhibition game that included former big leaguers Bill Madlock, Jeff Kent (wearing his Giants uniform), Bert Campaneris, Tim Leary (in his Dodgers uniform) and many others whose names weren’t all that well known but somehow have MLB experience.

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The chance to celebrate a college graduation was another good excuse. And a good friend who just moved to the actual place — population about 2,000 — made for a better accommodations than any of the bed-and-breakfast places on or around Lake Ostego.

There’s magic, definitely. We hope to just capture some of it with our camera, words and experiences to coax you into finally deciding that it’s worth mapping out, despite its not-so-easy MapQuest directions in finding it.

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How to get to Cooperstown? Practice, of course.

But for us mere mortals looking for the essence of a game that has grown beyond Abner Doubleday’s wildest dreams — whether or not he actually gave birth to the sport is part of its charm — simplifying everything makes it easier to understand its lure.

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We picked a flight from LAX to JFK in New York City (a red eye) so that the second flight to Syracuse was early enough to get the rental car and drive the extra hour back East on Interstate 90 and a half past Utica, over the Erie Canal and south on the 80/28 until you hit Nirvana. Many also go from NYC to Albany and head West, which seems a bit more natural. The true road-trippers fly into Boston, go West nearly two hours to Springfield for the National Basketball Hall of Fame, then another two-plus hours to Cooperstown.

More to come from our recent three-plus day visit … on Dodgers and Angels items on exhibit, on what kind of signs you need to navigate through the city, and an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the archives.

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Bird’s Eye View of Cooperstown, 1890, by L.R. Burleigh. From HistoryCooperative.org (linked here)

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Before you can fully digest this Laker title, we want you worrying about it all blowing up

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The cover of this week’s June 28 Sports Illustrated will have Kobe Bryant – he of the five-time NBA championships and two-time NBA Finals MVP awards — having to answer the question: What’s next?

Bryant, making his 15th appearance on the SI cover (tied for 10th most of all time, for what that’s worth), needs Phil Jackson if he wants a sixth ring and a three-peat, senior writer Lee Jenkins writes.

“As the clock ticked down on (Game 7), every Laker stood except Jackson. Finally, he rose and ambled to midcourt, exchanging a few embraces. Usually when a coach wins a title he can’t get an inch of personal space. But the 64-year-old Jackson stood alone for a solid 10 seconds, staring into the upper bowl, savoring what he had wrought. He recognizes, even after 11 of these things, that each one could be his last. Jackson has said that he’ll decide this week whether to return to the Lakers. ‘I think this is it,’ (daughter) Chelsea says. ‘I think he’s done now.’ ”

Jackson also tells Jenkins:

“I’m reticent to use this analysis, but you talk to guys who come back from the war and they miss being in the war. They go back and re-enlist because they miss that total immersion of life.”

Also: The issue includes a story by Selena Roberts on Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, which asks him about his knowledge of what brought down USC’s football program before he left it:

“Listen, what we know now is different from what we knew then. Reggie Bush wasn’t Reggie Bush when he was a sophomore (in 2004). Now you look back — the second pick in the draft, a Super Bowl champion — but he was competing for a job as a sophomore. People ask, ‘Why wouldn’t you have known this or that; why didn’t you anticipate this or foresee that?’ He wasn’t that Reggie Bush then.”

OK with that answer?

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No Jon Lovitz in the Dodgers’ Hollywood Stars Night? He’s not “Hung” enough. Yet.

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Although the biggest headliner for the 52nd annual Hollywood Stars game at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 7 could turn out to be Stephen Strashburg – he may draw the start for the Washington Nationals against the Dodgers in the “real” game later that night — the team seems to be intent on getting some of its A-list celebs back on the field.

While Dodger fans have been used to seeing more the likes of James Van Der Beek, Carlos Mencia and Tony Danza as the headliners in recent years, so far committed to this year’s contest are Billy Crystal, Joe Mantegna, Jon Hamm, Rob Reiner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin James, Jack Black, Garry Marshall, Thomas Jane and Sean Astin.

Even better: They’ve ditched the softball format and are going back to the hardball game from years ago.

Maybe that’ll get Jon Lovitz to actually pay for a ticket and watch from his baseline box seats.

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Interesting, the team lists Jane for his role in the HBO series “Hung,” rather than playing the part of Mickey Mantle in Crystal’s movie “61*.”

In Hollywood, you’ve got to ID these people as they’re known to the crowd, and not the baseball establishment. James, obviously, is a well “Hung” star.

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Playing catchup on the world: Tonight’s viewing suggestions

More on the Cooperstown collection of photos, memories and mysteries in the coming days. Landed back in L.A. a few hours ago and in the process of reassembling things.

Two things about the Tuesday night TV land adventures:

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== “The Two Escobars,” part of ESPN’s “30 For 30″ documentary series, directed and producted by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, debuting today at 6 p.m. on ESPN (right after the “World Cup Primetime” show).

We caught this at a special ESPN Zone screening a few weeks back and still get chills thinking about it. On June 22, 1994 U.S.-Columbia World Cup game at the Rose Bowl — exactly 16 years ago — Columbian captain Andres Escobar had the own-goal that led to the U.S. victory. And led to his demise when he returned home.

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It also effectively cut the countries’ ties with the sport of football. Columbia hasn’t been back to a World Cup since that time when drug lords were the chief financiers of keeping not just the local players from defecting to stronger countries, but also buying other players to play for Columbia’s team. The sport was known as “narco-soccer” in the underworld, with drug baron Pablo Escobar (no relation to Andres) starting the business model for how this would operate, and thrive, through fear and death and execution.

“A triumph … few movies have better documented both the good and bad of sports,” said a reviewer for The Associated Press, after the doc was presented at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, Cannes and the Los Angeles Film Festival.

You not only get to hear what happened leading to Andres Escobar’s death — he went out to a night club and got into an argument with some drunks who shot him in his car — but how the country reacted to it, starting with his sister, Maria, teammates, friends and coaches. The conclusion seems to be: If Pablo Escobar were alive, Andres Escobar would be as well. They were killed by the same people.

It’s a new way to think of how a soccer game ends with a shootout.

The doc (linked here) repeats Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN Classic and July 1 at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN2. There are three more showing later in July.

Also if you missed it, the “30 For 30″ documentary called “June 17, 1994,” about what happened in sports the day the O.J. Simpson freeway chase occured, reairs on June 30 at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

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== Episode No. 159 of “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO, looking back on the perfect game from the Oakland A’s Dallas Braden (with Frank Deford), a feature on Welsh rugby national team member Gareth Thomas and his life now as an openly gay man, a report on racism that still exists in professional soccer (from Gumbel) and a feature on how Brownsville, Tex., has become the place for young chess champions to thrive (from Mary Carillo).

Gumbel closes the show with this commentary:

“Finally tonight, a few words about this year’s World Cup. I confess that I love everything about it, particularly, those aspects that many Americans are whining about.

“Where the game is concerned, I love that they have running time and don’t compromise the flow for the sake of TV commercials. I love that the referees don’t stop the action to let replays warp their beautiful game and I love that their announcers, unlike Americans, don’t feel the need to characterize everything that’s surprising as also unbelievable.

“As for the players, I love how they mimic NBA stars and go down dramatically, as if they have been shot whenever they are fouled. I love the single names: Ronaldo, Kaka, Drogba — all of which sound a lot more elegant than Manny, Pudge and Big Baby. And, I love the national pride that is shown each game. It’s real and it’s genuine, the kind the Olympics tries to force on us every four years.

“Off the field, I love how the crowds never stoop to something as silly as ‘the wave.’ I love the purity of their sidelines — no hangers on, no mascots and best of all, no cheerleaders. I even love the vuvuzelas. Yes, they are noisy, but they are preferable to the deafening din of the weekly Billy Bob 500, or the phony piped in efforts at U.S. arenas, where choreographed chants of ‘dee-fense’ pass for originality.

“Lastly, I love that at the World Cup, there are sporting people representing cultures from all over the world and befitting grownups, not a one of them seems obsessed with what conference Texas plays in, whether Brett Favre ever comes back, or where LeBron James ultimately goes. At least we’ve one pocket of sanity, if only for two more weeks.”

About as sane as how soccer used to be in Columbia.

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Yo, stretch: There’s a sports hook to “Grown Ups”

You saw them enough of them during the NBA Finals — Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Kevin James, going improv about basketball-related stuff, wearing the home-team jerseys — trying to pitch their new movie, “Grown Ups,” to anyone who finds comedy material in basketball.

Because funny sells.

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There is a basketball foundation to the movie that finally hits theatres Friday, albeit a stretch. These are five grown-ups who played on a church-league hoop team long ago and won a championship. They’re reconnecting after attending their coach’s funeral. And, before you know it, they’re being challenged to play together again to defend their honor.

That’s about as much as they’ll stretch it.

Sandler said originally it was going to be a high school team that they played on together, but it was easier to sell it to the audience as a group of smaller kids as players.

“Sixth grade was a big time in my childhood,” said Sandler.

They seem to have convinced their female co-stars that they’ve got game. During a recent press junket in Agoura Hills, actress Maria Bello, who plays Sally Lemonsoff, the wife of James’ Eric Lemonsoff (and has a breast-feeding scene, according to the trailer above), said she thought Sandler was by far the best baller of the group.

“I think he could be a professional,” she said. “He almost beat my 9-year-old.”

Sandler’s wife in the movie, played by Salma Hayak, probably does not concur.

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There’s enough of a sports slant that Mark Ellis was hired as the “sports coordinator” for this, based on his work in “Just Wright,” “Tooth Fairy,” “We Are Marshall,” “The Benchwarmers,” “Semi-Pro,” “The Longest Yard,” “Coach Carter,” “Miracle,” “Mr. 3000,” “Varsity Blues,” “Summer Catch,” “The Rookie,” “The Water Boy,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Any Given Sunday.” To name a few.

Ellis’ assistant on this one was former UCLA and Clippers guard Pooh Richardson, who, according to Spade, taught the stand-ins the plays that would be run on the court, then had the actors replicate it for their scenes.

“And then I’d do it wrong, and they’d say, ‘Dude, were you watching?’” said Spade.

Dan Patrick has a role in the film: Norby the Ride Guy. Can’t explain more than that, except that he is at a water park.

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One more sports angle to this: Director Dennis Dugan admits that when they were filming “Grown Ups” last year, his son, Kelly Dugan, the former Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks switch-hitting outfielder, was drafted in the second round of the 2009 selection. The first pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, 75th overall, got a $485,000 signing bonus, bypassing a chance to play at Pepperdine.

Kelly held a press conference and signed his contract on the set that day back in Boston while the cast wore Phillies’ hats. He played in the Phillies’ Gulf Coast rookie-league team last season.

“He’s in (high Single-A) Clearwater now and going up to Pennsylvania (at Double-A Reading) or New Jersey (Double-A Reading) soon, the next level up, doing great, batting about .310 now and figuring out the pro game,” said Dennis Dugan. “(Being a baseball dad) is the best. It’s kind of the same as like casting in Hollywood. You can prove your worth there with actual statistics.

“Their philosophy is to train their No. 1 pick to be a major leaguer no matter how long it takes. If he’s hit by a pitch, they’ll sit him down for a week. He’s had a groin strain, they want him to be the real deal and will be very careful with him.”

Maybe when Kelly Dugan moves up in the chain, the MLB Network scoutniks will figure out what Dennis Dugan is all about (linked here).

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