One last, big, long baseball blog post for now. This is a big one because it is about a BIG trip to a place we have been hearing about since the kids were toddlers and a place we have been thinking about for the last several years.
In Cooperstown, NY, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, 104 teams from around the country are invited to play in a tournament each week during the summer. The teams stay at the Cooperstown Dreams Park in barracks during their weeks of play. Some teams, including ours, raise money for many months to pay for this experience, which includes the lodging, all meals, uniforms, laundry service, a tournament 'ring' and lots of baseball on immaculately maintained fields. It is a pricey trip and obviously considered a family vacation since the families have to rent a house to stay for the week in Cooperstown as well. Another big part of the experience is to trade pins with the opposing teams of the week. This was something that the players as well as the siblings did for fun. It would have made for a very long week if I hadn't purchased pins for Chica and Luke to trade.
We rented a pretty big house a few miles away from the Dreams Park that had a heated inground pool and a big playroom in the basement. We rented the place with a couple other families whose young kids are good friends with ours. We figured we needed some place for the little ones to hang out between games and at night, etc. We arrived at the house on a Friday just after dinner to find a whole lot of flies inside. That was very unpleasant but we got it resolved eventually. Cooperstown has a lot of rolling hills and farm areas and there was a beautiful hill behind our rental house that had cows grazing in the distance. The area is quite beautiful.
We dropped off the players at the barracks that night and helped them get their beds made, bags unpacked and locks for their footlockers set. We only had about 15 minutes or so to do this and then we left them and went back to the house. That was the only time we were allowed in the player barracks area the entire week. The kids had no problems saying goodbye and before we knew it they were off trading pins! We wouldn't see them again until opening ceremonies the next afternoon!
We had such great weather for our week which really showcased the beauty of the area. I could hardly believe it was finally my boys' turn to play at Cooperstown. We hung around at the house the next day until it was time to go to the opening ceremonies. The moms took a nice long walk and the kids swam in the pool and played. How exciting when we drove into the park to see our kids in uniform for the first time!
Oh boy was it hot during opening ceremonies. It didn't take long for the little ones to beg for water and cold treats. All 104 teams were dressed in either their red or blue uniforms and began a procession from the barracks to Little Majors Stadium in alphabetical order. The man whose family started the Dreams Park told its story and we were introduced to the staff. Parachuters fell out of the sky onto the field in front of us. The teams all came walking by the stadium in the distance and I, personally, felt enormous anticipation waiting to see my boys for the first time. It was less then 24 hours since I had seen them, although it felt like days. I was nervous about how they slept in the barracks and how they felt and all the mom things to worry about. But I also was so excited for my little men to be experiencing Cooperstown, and especially together. I knew Jack would look out for Ben and that Ben would be there for Jack if needed.
My first glimpse of the boys' faces came when I went to the top of the stadium near the entrance and caught them holding their banner, waiting to enter the stadium. They were team 103 out of 104!
I was so excited to see my boys' faces and they looked genuinely happy to be there.
After all the teams were announced there were skills competitions in four areas: a team throwing drill called Around the Horn, accuracy throwing called the Golden Arm, homerun derby called King of Swat and a running competition called the Road Runner. Each player had one area to compete. Jack was the team Golden Arm guy and Ben was the Road Runner. Ben had to wait for 102 guys to go in front of him and then did his thing. I'm sure he was so nervous but I was so proud of him.
Jack gave his best at the Golden Arm but didn't hit the target. He said it was much harder than it looked.
After the skills competition we went home for the night. We would play 6 games in the next three days and then start playoffs. The very first game was against a team from NJ called Wall Force. We would learn later that this team would end up seeded 10/104 in the tournament. They were big and they were good and took us 11-3. We had some surprise visitors for the game and we were happy to see their faces!
It turned out that we had a very challenging bracked. We played against some of the top seeded teams. Our team ended up 4-2 after regular play and a 72 seed in tournament play. That didn't change the fact that the kids were having a great time. I felt like they were little celebrities I was taken back when my boys would come walking to the field ready to play. They looked so handsome in their uniforms and Jack particularly looked so grown up with his new brace-less smile. Overall the photo ops weren't great because of where we were allowed to sit. The coaches blocked most of the batting and catching shots from where they stood.
The Dreams Park really was everything I heard it was. Immaculately clean, beautifully maintained and extremely organized. The players really enjoyed themselves too and their only complaint was the food was pretty bad. After each game the boys were completely starved and we would have to feed them food or snacks at the snack shacks. I don't think any of us minded, though, because it was the only time we could really spend with the boys during the day.
And despite the week for the little brothers and sisters consisted of watching baseball, eating park food and trading pins, they were happy as pie! The pin trading was so much more than I expected. It was so interesting listening to the kids convincing themselves and others that certain pins were "rare". The little ones were so into the pin trading that one afternoon we had a good size break between games and told them we were going to go to a brewery for lunch. They begged and cried to stay and trade so I volunteer to stay with them. I didn't mind, actually, because it gave me a chance to take some photos and soak up the sun and beautiful surroundings! Who would have thought that the little siblings would have a total blast hanging out at a baseball park for a week? The key here was their best buddies and lots of pins to trade! And the pin trading certainly taught them the concept of supply and demand!
The boys came to stay at our house with us on Monday night. We did go out to a nice dinner one night and then went to town to the Baseball Hall of Fame with the team another night. Prior to the HOF we went to see the famous Doubleday Field. There were some teams playing and it was such a beautiful night.
On Wednesday morning we had our first tournament game and sadly lost 6-2. Jack pitched and did a great job under pressure. I was so proud of him. After the game he was pretty emotional, I think knowing his play was over.
The kids packed up their stuff and came to the rental house to spend the last two nights with us. Thursday we were back at the field for the Closing Ceremonies. Again, the teams all came together through Little Majors Stadium. Each player was announced by name and was given his ring. It was a wonderful ending to a wonderful week.
I was so proud of my boys for how they played, how they behaved for their coaches, how they took care of themselves and each other in the barracks with no issue and their team spirit. We will be heading back in 2013 for another week with Ben and Jack will be a spectator with the rest of the family. He is as excited to go back as we are....as a Cooperstown Dreams Park Hall of Famer!