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Cooperstown, Synonymous with Baseball, Also Traffics in Art, Opera and Beer

At the south end of a gorgeous watery gem, Lake Otsego, Cooperstown lives off tourism and second-homers, with streets full of curious shops, clean restaurants and historic houses.

"When Worlds Collide" might be the local headline for late July each year, when thousands of baseball fans meet a few hundred opera lovers in quaint little Cooperstown, the upstate New York village that houses both the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Glimmerglass Opera. "They stay apart, by choice," says Bob Faller of the Otesaga Resort Hotel. "It's south of town for the ballpark people, north of town for the opera people." The last weekend of July, of course, is when the Hall of Fame inducts new members to its Pantheon, and is one of the eight weekends when Glimmerglass presents some of its outstanding operas.

Cooperstown, which likes to call itself "America's most perfect village," is big enough for both kinds of fans, as well as for those who love the village itself, including many of the swellegant who have come here to summer for years, such as part of the family of the Busch brewery dynasty. At the south end of a gorgeous watery gem, Lake Otsego, Cooperstown lives off tourism and second-homers, with streets full of curious shops, clean restaurants and historic houses.

Baseball Hall of Fame

At the top of any list of Cooperstown sites is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, an impressive building located in the heart of the village. Renovated and expanded this year, there is now an impressive 50,000 square feet of public space, with exhibits representing every facet of baseball, and then some. That's pretty good for a game that started here, the U.S. Congress has held, by Abner Doubleday in 1839.

As a visitor, you'll learn how men are chosen for the Hall of Fame, up to three or four per year since 1936, so that there are now 260 enshrined here. The first two rules set up by the Baseball Writers Association, who pick the players, are simple: play in the major leagues for ten years, be retired for five years. The third involves good character and other intangibles, so that Pete Rose, for instance, stands little chance of ever being inducted. Players from any country are eligible, but only American and Canadian players have been installed so far. One off-the-record museum official said that he is rooting for the induction of Ichiro Suzuki after the Seattle Mariner retires.

The Women In Baseball Room is soon to undergo expansion, the new version set for reopening in late spring of 2006. Penny Marshall, incidentally, got the idea for her movie, "A League of Their Own," following a visit here in 1991.

In front of the Hall of Fame Gallery is a small monument listing the 66 members who have also served in the military, including one in the Civil War, 35 in World War II, five in the Korean War but none in conflicts since.

Big spenders may be interested in a new fantasy camp that just started this month in which participants can play ball with members of the Hall of Fame.This year, members George Brett, Lou Brock, Phil Niekro and Robin Roberts served as managers. Prices start from $7,995 per week for the all-inclusive offer, which includes three games played on Doubleday Field, golf outings and more. Discounts of $500 are available for early bookers and those who sign up a buddy.

On a more reasonable scale ($695 per week), hundreds of baseball fans come to Clark Field south of town for baseball camps that afford youngsters (8 to 17) and their families plenty of opportunity to play daily, be coached by experts, and become buddies with kids from their own and other teams. For more information, call tel. 607/293-7324 or visit www.cooperstownbaseball.com.

I suggest seeing the short film in the museum's Grandstand Theater, part of the $14.50 admission price. Seniors and children pay less, and active and retired carded military and children under 7 are admitted free of charge.

Non-Baseball Highlights

Cooperstown was the home of James Fenimore Cooper, author of the Leatherstocking Tales and many other stories of derring-do. It was Copper who dubbed the lake here "Glimmerglass" in at his The Deerslayer and The Pioneers. In fact, the town was named for his father, William, who founded it back in 1786.

The Fenimore Art Museum (tel. 888/547-1450; www.fenimoreartmuseum.org) is a surprise with outstanding collections in several areas. My favorites were the American primitives, ranging from one of Edward Hicks' Peaceable Kingdoms (he painted at least 60) to a splendid group of children's portraits by primitive artists of the 19th century. Also of note is its American Indian collection with artifacts from Quebec to Alaska. Open daily except Mondays and holidays, admission is $11, less for seniors and children, ages 6 and under free.

You can journey back to the 1840s at the Farmer's Museum (tel. 888/547-1450; www.farmersmuseum.org) just north of town. You can visit a blacksmith in action or a printer ditto, talk to pharmacists (and maybe buy some "beauty weed"), watch the daily milking of cows, see weavers in action and step into the general store, where nearly everything is on sale. There are special events nearly every month, such as the "Candlelight Evening" in December and the "Sugaring Off" in March. It's best to visit in summer, when several tents are set up including one that houses one of the great hoaxes of the 19th century, The Cardiff Man. The museum has been open since 1944, and sits on 120 acres overlooking the lake. Admission is $11, less for seniors and children, free for kids 6 and under. It's open daily from April through October.

Individual discounted tickets and combo passes to the Hall of Fame, the Fenimore and the Farmer's Museum are available from www.cooperstowntickets.com.

Another major attraction is the Glimmerglass Opera (tel. 607/547-2255; www.glimmerglass.org), which likes to call itself the Glyndebourne of America, that English small town being the host to black tie and long gown opera for some decades now. Unlike its English counterpart, however, Glimmerglass has no dress code, and so you will find leather jackets, pants suits and even blankets on the clientele, depending on the day's weather. When it's warm, the sides of the theater fold away so that you are sitting almost outdoors watching The Barber of Seville.

The 2006 season runs from July 7 through August 29 when Glimmerglass will present The Barber of Seville, Jenufa by Janacek, The Pirates of Penzance, and the world premiere of The Greater Good, a work commissioned by Glimmerglass and based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant. In past years, they have presented operas by Mozart, Puccini, Handel and Verdi amongst others since the founding in 1975. Tickets range in price from $32 to $105.

Also of Interest

It's no surprise that many stores have baseball-related names, such as Seventh Inning Stretch, Sandlot Cooperstown bat companies, America's Game, Baseball, The Greatest Game and Legends. The Hall of Fame has its own gift shop, as do the Farmer's Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum.

You can practice at the Doubleday Batting Range next to Doubleday Field or look for handicraft products at Cooper County Crafts (tel. 607/547-9247) at Doubleday Court, a cooperative gallery with over 20 members. The gallery is open daily from May to December.

If you want some quiet sightseeing on Lake Otsego, consider boat rentals from Sam Smith (tel. 607/547-2581, open ay through mid October) or from CP Charters (tel. 315/858-3922; www.cooperstownfishing.com; $135 for up to 5 persons). You can also try a pontoon rental from Time Out, (tel. 607/287-7737; $75 an hour or $280 for a full day). Fishing rates from either CP Charters or Brent Murdock (tel. 607/547-8312) range from about $175 to $200 for five hours for two persons.

Where to Stay

Although there are dozens of chain motels and independents around the town, if you can afford it, try to stay in one of the two hostelries right in the town center. The first, open only from mid April to Thanksgiving, is the grand Otesaga Resort Hotel (tel. 800/348-6222; www.otesaga.com), a huge brick and plaster pile on the lake's edge, with its own golf course (rated in the top USA 50), two fine restaurants and an outdoor pool.

A double room runs from $320 to $380, including breakfast and dinner. Children cost from $8 to $59 per day extra. Their "Thanksgiving Weekend" package this year runs $510 for a double room, $80 extra per child, 6 and under free. On any two consecutive nights between November 23 and 27, the price includes two dinners and breakfasts per guest, a cocktail reception, wine tasting, tour of the town, movies, hayride, bingo, tickets to the Baseball Museum and more.

Under the same management is the Cooper Inn (tel. 800/348-6222; www.cooperinn.com). The 20 rooms are beautifully furnished in this inn, opened in 1927, but in a building dating back to 1813. Selected paintings from the Fenimore Art Museum hang on its walls, and the place is smoke-free. You can dine at the nearby Otesaga year round. Depending on the season, rates range from $110 to $295 and include a continental breakfast and honor bar.

Food & Drink

If you've ever been to Belgium and loved their beer, or wondered what kind of brew is in those funny large bottles with the champagne-type corks, head to the edge of town and look in on Ommegang Brewery (656 County Highway 33; tel. 607/544-1803; www.ommegang.com). You get a free tour and free tasting of five types of beer, all great, ranging from the paler Witte to the cherry-chocolaty Three Philosophers, the last weighing in at 10% alcohol. Most popular is Hennepin. They have special occasions at the brewery, the next being Sint Niklaas Visits on the second weekend of December, with music, stories, food and drink. Big bottles (750 ml) of the five brands run from $4 to $7 at the brewery, and in retail stores in New York City, for instance, at $7.99 and up.

In addition to restaurants with baseball-related names like Shortstop, The Bullpen and The Home Plate, consider at the moderate end the Lakefront, the Herder's Cottage or the Cooperstown Diner. At the high price end, try the Hawkeye Grill in the Otesaga Hotel or its main dining room, both serving excellent food and featuring outstanding service.

In good weather, it's fun to pack a picnic and eat outside on the lawn of Glimmerglass or in a rented boat on the placid lake. If you don't want to forage in grocery stores for your own fixing's, consider Jilli's Gourmet Road Show (tel. 607/547-9988; www.gourmetroadshow.com) which can do up marvelous baskets for as little as $10 per head. I've tasted her German potato salad, chopped salad and wraps, all delicious. (Please note that the website was scheduled to be online in late October, but it still appears to a work in progress at the time we went to press.) If you want to rustle up your own food, you could also consider the Farmer's Market, every Saturday from May through mid December, behind Main Street's Key Bank. Phone 607/264-3270 or visit www.otsego2000.org/farmersmarket for more information.

Getting There

Cooperstown is about a four-hour drive from either Boston or New York City, but you can reach nearby Albany, Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton by US Air Express (tel. 800/428-4322; www.usair.com); Albany, Utica and Syracuse by Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com); and Oneonta and Utica by bus with Adirondack Trailways (tel. 800/858-8555; www.trailways.com).

For additional information about the village, discount coupons and more call 888/875-2969 or go online to www.cooperstowngetaway.org.

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