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Monday July 23, 2007 | By the time I get to the tiny upstate New York hamlet of Cooperstown for the coronation of Tony Gwynn, we could be 75,000-strong. At least that’s what a front-office Padres executive told me a couple of weeks ago. He’s staying home.

The Baseball Hall of Fame folks are proclaiming the Gwynn and Cal Junior show will draw closer to 50,000. Still pretty intimidating when you consider Cooperstown’s population hovers around 2,500.

Doesn’t scare me or Joe, my childhood friend and travel partner. We go back 45 years, almost as long as we’ve both been baseball fanatics. Also not deterred by the fact that we had to scramble for lodging and ended up booking a couple of questionable motels — first, the Super 8 Motel in Oneonta for the first three nights. One online reviewer complained: “There was some kind of odor — probably from mildew.”

The upside is that we’ll only be about 18 miles outside of Cooperstown. For the final two evenings, we’ll crash at a 20-unit dive dubbed the Holiday Motel, about a 20-minute or 40-minute drive from Cooperstown — depending on which desk clerk you query.

In early January — that’s right, more than a half-year ago — I spent a good two hours searching for overnight accommodations, finally finding a vacancy at the Holiday. I booked it for five nights — or at least I thought I had. They took a credit card number.

Just last week, something told me to confirm my reservations. Sure enough, they had no record of me.

As luck would have it, the Holiday Motel just had two cancellations the day I phoned. So I booked a room — again. Used a different credit card, hoping for better luck.

To cover my bases, I decided to have a backup plan and checked around for cancellations. Found the Super 8 in Oneonta (pronounced OWE-KNEE-ON-TAH). Insulted the desk clerk by pronouncing it WON-ON-TAH.

To reiterate, Joe and I were not to be outdone, although a Holiday Motel review did give us pause: “I realize that bugs are a fact of life, but I do not want to share my pillow with them. We will spend the extra money next time.”

Smelly motel rooms and bugs be damned. Extreme humidity and high temperatures also won’t dissuade a couple of weather-spoiled San Diegans with baseball history on the brain. And who cares about jammed country roads. We’re headed to Cooperstown, no matter what.

Dude, we’re talking historic ramifications for the Padres, Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame. This induction is expected to draw the largest crowd ever, and Joe and I don’t want to miss it.

Sure, we’ll be dealing with long lines, long waits, and lots of traffic — for all four days of festivities (July 27 to 30). And no doubt there will be those dreaded port-a-potties to contend with. The tradeoff: witnessing baseball history of major proportions. The bonus: the Hall’s museum. It’s a baseball fan’s dream. Okay, so it’s not exactly the Dead Sea Scrolls, but think of all the glorious baseball memorabilia: the photographs; the video; the audio; the ancient and modern-day equipment and uniforms. The …

Proud to say that I visited the Hall of Fame once, about four years ago. It was the dead of winter and snowed while my partner Heidi and I were in Cooperstown. The snow fell on ground already covered with tons of the white stuff. The tiny town named after 19th Century American poet James Fenimore Cooper looked like something straight out of a Dickens novel.

Not surprisingly, few were visiting the Hall. For me, I had envisioned walking through the main entrance, letting the history the building holds wash over me like a game-winning grand slam. Unfortunately, the Hall was undergoing a major remodel, and we had to enter from a small side door, then walk through a maze of narrow hallways before reaching the good stuff.

No offense to my girlfriend, but she still refers to runs scored as “points” and would rather watch The Chicken’s antics instead of keeping her eye on the ball. No matter how hard she tried to muster enthusiasm over viewing a catcher’s mitt used by Yogi Berra or a bat wielded by the Babe, I could tell that she preferred wandering through an art museum. To her credit, Heidi did recognize the names of Ruth, Berra, and Williams, but that was about it. We stayed maybe two hours, which included at least a half-hour in the gift store. I left the temple to baseball feeling unfulfilled and vowed to return.

This time I’m with a fellow fanatic, and I will take my time. We’ll share baseball memories and try to dazzle one another with our baseball knowledge, as we stroll through baseball’s version of Disneyland. With good planning, I’ll manage four or five museum visits, giving myself plenty of time to watch the must-see film in the Hall’s theater, listen to the play-by-play of such legendary sportscasters as Brooklyn’s Red Barber and the BoSox’s Curt Gowdy, thoroughly examine the exhibits honoring Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Teddy Ballgame and Ty Cobb.

Around the one-traffic-light town, maybe I’ll run across a few of the 40 or 50 living Hall of Famers expected to make the scene. Perhaps I’ll spot Pete Rose desperately trying to get the attention of Peter Gammons and his camera crew.

Being there to see my favorite ballplayer takes center stage on July 29 along with iron-man Ripken will be the best. I can’t think of two more deserving guys to receive this guarantee of immortality.

After I return home to San Diego, I can say with pride, “I was there, man.” Then I’ll place the treasured memory on my experience shelf, right alongside Game Five of the ’84 National League championship playoffs, all four Padres World Series games and Padres spring training 1985, when I first chatted with Tony Gwynn, my favorite player of all time.

That’s a story for another time.

When John Nunes isn’t toiling as assistant director of public information for the San Diego Community College District, he can be found at the ballpark or writing about baseball. He has been published in the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Magazine, Sport Magazine, The San Diego Union-Tribune, North County Times and elsewhere.

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