More Than Baseball: Cooperstown, New York

By Eileen A. McFerran

NY MapAfter returning from our second cross-country trip, Jelane wanted to visit places of interest closer to home. She unfolded a New York State map on our kitchen counter one morning.
“How about destinations no more than one hundred and fifty miles away?” she asked. Her pointer finger was scrunched over the scale on the corner of map.
“Great. Where do you want to start?” I asked.
“Cooperstown,” she said.

A feeling of dread spread over my body. My mind flashed back to when I was eight years old. My Grandmother and her friend (both teachers) had invited me for a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It was a hot summer’s day. We walked and walked and walked from one encased display of uniforms, gloves, bats, and balls to another. My throat was so dry that it was hard to swallow. Sweat poured from my skin. Bottled water was unheard of in those days. The women talked non-stop, but not to me, and not about baseball.

“Gram,” I said.” Where are the ladies uniforms and gloves? The expression on her face was similar to the time she had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was four.
“An elephant,” I said without hesitation.

It was one thing for Gram to suspect that there might be something wrong with me. It was another that her friend might. Red flashed across my Grandmother’s face. How was it possible that I was her granddaughter?

Grandma Henk with my Mom, Mary Pat McFerran.

Grandma Henk with my Mom, Mary Pat McFerran.

My Grandmother was a sophisticated lady. She was a member of the Shakespearian Society, wore fancy hats and gloves and knew how to set a proper dinner table. She was a graduate of Oswego Normal School and had been married to a successful businessman and politician. She knew her place. How could she ever understand a little girl who hated dolls, wearing dresses and pat-and-leather shoes and preferred to play outside with the boys? I must have taken after my father’s side of the family.
“Women aren’t allowed to play baseball, dear,” her friend said in a kind voice. “It’s a man’s sport. I always wanted to play too, but I didn’t make-up the rules.”

Who did? And why did they dislike girls so much? Didn’t they know that I could field, hit, pitch and catch better than my brothers? It was so unfair that boys got to have all the fun!

I stopped looking at the baseball exhibits. Instead, I daydreamed about the ice cream I was promised on the ride home.

Softball was different. Girls could play. I joined my first team in the fourth grade and continued playing through college. I played in women’s leagues in New York, Maine, and Vermont. I coached. Once, I joined a co-ed softball team.
“Hey,” a voice called from a diamond-shaped field. “We’re down a player,” said a tall, athletic man about my age. “Any chance you might play so we don’t have to forfeit the game?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll get my glove.”
His eyes popped out of his head. He had only wanted a name to fill the roster sheet. He had never expected to snag an experienced softball player. Who else would own a glove and carry it in her car?

Eileen (1958) too late to join the AAGPBL.

Eileen (1958) too late to join the AAGPBL.

So, why, after fifty years, would I want to return to a town that glorified a sport that never gave girls a fair chance? Only once were women given the opportunity to play professional baseball. The All American Girls Professional Baseball League employed over 600 women from 1943-1954. Even though women saved baseball during WWII, no female player has ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“There’s more to Cooperstown than baseball,” Jelane said breaking the long silence.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Well, there’s a Farmer’s Museum.”
Jelane was raised in Michigan. Her mother grew up on a farm. I’m from the city. Visiting cows and horses and hay are not top on my bucket list…not to mention the smell of fresh manure.
“There’s a working carrousel open for all ages,” she said. “The animals were hand-carved to represent New York State’s wildlife.”
I admire the detailed craftsmanship and history of carrousels. Plus, they are fun to ride.
“The Fenimore Museum is across the street. And, there’s a Native American collection on permanent display,” she said.
I love learning about Native American culture. Mmm… I don’t think they were allowed to play baseball either… at least, not for a long, long time.

Jelane has a way of waiting for me while I wrestle with the wrongs from my past. She knows that sometimes I have to look back in order to move forward.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”

(c) 2013 Eileen A. McFerran

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10 Responses to More Than Baseball: Cooperstown, New York

  1. Very well written…I .really loved it! I happen to love Cooperstown…we went to Glimmerglass (summer home of the Metropolitan Opera) a few times and stayed in lovely B&B’s …and I love a living museum such as the Farmers Museum….and the Fenimore is a treasure. Glad you got to go and glad you shared your memories…and the photo of Little Firebird is prescious! I could see your grandmother and her friend vividly…you truly are a gifted writer! Love to you both…

    • jelaneileen1 says:

      Hi Linda, Great to hear from you. Thanks so much for your kind words. Glad you liked the post and the pics. Jelane insisted that they go in. It was fun finding them. Happy Spring. Much Love, Firebird

      ________________________________

  2. Een, Thanks for sending me the address for your blog!!! I totally relate to not be able to play ball when young. My brothers were all ballplayers and I remember standing against the metal fence looking so longingly at the field, wanting so much to get out and play!!! We did get our turn, what fun we had playing softball at SUNYA, starting the first adult female softball league in the area!!!!! Finally got on the field!!!!!! We’ve come a long way thank goodness.
    I also enjoyed the sledding blog……skating and sledding, always our favorite pastimes in Winter. Remember the hill in front of your apartment in Vermont. Poulty Vermont was it? The girls loved it, especially on that trip by themselves!!!!!

    Our company Americashistoryllc.com conducted a tour two years ago titled “Leatherstocking Tales, The original James Fenimore Cooper. We did a full day in Cooperstown and I got to see sights I didn’t know existed. Beautiful. There is so much to see right in our own backyards! Love Lynne

  3. Jane Eagles says:

    Hi Eileen,
    Didn’t know you played softball. You’ll have to bring your glove to Pyramid. (I’ll bring mine 🙂 I too spent many long hours watching the boys play baseball from the sidelines. (Thankfully my Dad supported my interest by playing catch with me every day when he got home from work, though I never got to play in any sanctioned games. My daughter did though, in 3rd grade when she was the only girl on a Little League baseball team, and when she got to 4th grade and 5th grade I coached her girls’ softball team.) Your post brought back many memories of my growing up and my daughter’s. Loved how you contrasted your interests with those of your grandmother. Have you seen the movie, I think it’s called “A League of Their Own” with Tom Hanks. It mirrors what you’ve said about your experience growing up. Thanks so much for writing.
    Jane Eagles

    • jelaneileen1 says:

      Jane,
      Thanks for letting me know how much you enjoyed the piece. How many of us were sitting on the sidelines? So glad you that you got
      to coach and that your daughter was such a brave pioneer. Yes. I loved “A League of Their Own”. It was a real tribute to hidden history.
      Eileen McFerran

  4. Gail Wrieden says:

    Hi ladies, Love the Cooperstown article. We just got back from Florida. It’s so cold here. Do you know if you are going to be in Maine for any date or will you just wing it? Gail

    • jelaneileen1 says:

      Hey Gail, How is the selling of the house going? Any buyers? Looks like today it might finally get warmer. Snow in April, just a bit much.

      At this point we have not made any solid camping plans. Eileen’s Mom has been need more help of late so we aren’t sure what we will be doing but tenatively we have plans to be in Saco, ME over the 4th.

      Jelane

      ________________________________

      • Oswego NORMAL School??? That got a snort out of me. You really showed how women didn’t want to rock the boat back then. YAY for us outlaws, artists and women who are willing to stand in their truth. And Yay that we live in times where we can see it changing. Great story. Annie Gregson

      • jelaneileen1 says:

        Great to hear from you Annie, Thanks for your comments. The paradox is that for her time Gram was considered quite unconventional (a woman going/graduating from college, first woman in her hometown to drive a car, working outside her home and caring for her kids as a single parent). She was a strong woman but some boxes are hard to break. Eileen

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