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Hop's Heresy-A dream week, no doubt

July 12, 2013

    Imagine a camp where 1,200 kids, 300 coaches and 90 umpires assemble for one week, and the only real subject is baseball!
    Got some possibilities, huh?
    Then, put the camp in the mountains of upper New York, only a few miles from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with games slated at 22 well-manicured fields.
    Now you're talking!
    The parents are invited, but they have to sit, not in bleachers because there are none, but in chairs in an area sealed off down each baseline, well past first and third base. Bad angle and not close enough to really hassle anyone.
    There are no televisions, and the only computers are the ones brought in backpacks.
    Add three good meals a day, laundry service, and a bunch of concession stands with items fairly priced.
    It's getting better.
    And the 1200 kids don't run wild, but are kept busy playing baseball, practicing, and trying to find other kids, or umpires who want to trade pins, which each of the 104 teams brings to the show. When moving outside of the barracks area, all players must be accompanied by a coach, and at all times.
    Crews meticulously care for the fields each night after the games have ended. Lights remain on well after midnight. Rain may stop a game, but the field is prepped in about 20 minutes after a shower, and the game goes on.
    And, there is no pitching rule! In fact, most of the rules come right out of the Major League Baseball book.
    This is a great place!
    Well-prepared tourney officials view all games. Players, coaches and umpires are held to a high standard and are held accountable for their behavior.
    All teams wear identical blue or red uniforms, the same hats, and hats must be worn straight ahead, and stirrups must be worn and show almost to the knees.
    Coaches or managers, and others attending games, must comply with the umpires decisions and with tourney officials. Those ejected ... are escorted to the edge of the complex and will never come back to the park.
    Because of that, ejections are a rarity.
    Can I stay all summer?
    There is a huge opening ceremony, with all teams involved, and a closing ceremony when all participants are presented with "hall of fame" rings.
    This place is Cooperstown Dream Parks.
    Okay, teams pay to get in and not play, but once on site, there is that competitive thing. Some teams are way good, and, yes, a team did fly in a player to pitch in the title game. But many of the games turn, as usual, on one or two plays, hits or pitches.
    Decatur's Thunderbirds went 3-3 in their six pre-tourney games, and won an 11-inning contest just hours before the tourney started in a game that none of those players will ever forget.
    The T-Birds also invited an umpire, paid his way and expenses, and swapped pins with him, sort of!
    That guy was lucky!
    He made a bunch of new "baseball" friends, had one of his most memorable weeks, ever, saw one of the best baseball games in this lifetime, and learned more than a little bit about proper interpretation of those sacred baseball rules.
    Old dogs, apparently, can learn some new tricks after all.
    All the while he witnessed a bunch of kids and adults from Decatur represent the town and the state with class and honor.
    To appreciate Cooperstown Dream Parks .... well, you just had to be there!

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