We come barreling off the mountain into Williamsport, swinging to the singing of Johnny Hartman. We’re tuned to 88.1 on the FM, cruising Route 15 to Green Dolphin Street. Williamsport has a jazz station!
The jazz makes sense, as Williamsport appeals like an old chestnut. A 19th century chord structure of industrial grit and millionaire mansions lays down a perfect groove for an improvised roadtrip. We’re vamping to the home of Little League baseball, and we’ll follow our nose across the Commonwealth to Brookville, the hardwood home of professional baseball bats.
First stop, the Little League Museum, sitting high above the perfect field of dreams where global Little Leaguers take to the only true World Series every August. This place tells the story of Carl Stotz, Little League’s founder, who in 1939 forever transformed the sandlot. Carl convinced Floyd Mutchler and his Lycoming Dairy to become Little League’s first sponsor. Old man Mutchler said it best: “We’ll go along for the boys.”
Some of “the boys” (and eventually, girls) went on to do big things and are enshrined here in Little League’s Hall of Excellence. Here’s Nolan Ryan and Mike Schmidt. Over there, former Little Leaguers Bruce Springsteen, Tom Selleck and even George W. Bush. (We hear he was all field and no hit.)
Williamsport is one part former glory, two parts good people restoring the luster. We meet Marsha and Gloria Miele, sisters who run the Peter Herdic House and Peter Herdic Inn, side-by-side Victorian mansions along “Millionaire’s Row.” Incredible plasterwork, carved staircases and Tiffany windows adorn the Queen Anne masterpieces. Marsha runs the “House” – a great restaurant – and taps into delicious local bounty. We “ohh” over gilled sausage from nearby Cow-a-Hen Farm, and “ahh” at old-fashioned river shad, smoked just a few blocks away. Next door, Gloria runs the “Inn,” where we sleep tight after a great meal and dream baseball dreams.
We’re up and off early, with a stop along the way for hand-cut fries and a cruise down the Elk Scenic Highway. Who knew the largest herd of elk east of Wyoming roams these thick woods? And right in the heart of Elk County is the sleepy village of Benezette, and the Winslow Hill B&B. Betty McCluskey offers mighty comfy lodging here, and we opt for what she calls the Sunrise Room. “This room comes with a trained rooster alarm clock,” Betty gives us fair warning. “Bert’ll make sure you wake up in time to see the elk.”
Sure enough, at 5:40 the next morning, Bert the rooster is crowing through our screen door. The cockle-do does it, and we enjoy the sunrise with lumbering elk grazing in a next-door meadow.
It seems the elk are everywhere - in back woods and front yards and on local menus. We try a “bugle burger” and grab some elk jerky for the road. We even gawk over weird, beautiful jewelry – “nelklace” pendants with dangling elk poop, compressed, dehydrated, de-stinked and polished a shiny, mesmerizing ebony. These Pennsylvania woods give us oddball delights.
These woods also give us baseball bats. Turns out nothing drives a baseball quite like Pennsylvania maple. Centerfielder Johnny Damon agrees every time he steps to the plate. He’s one of hundreds of pro ballplayers who swing a BWP bat, handmade right here in Brookeville, just south of elk country in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Our factory guide Dave shows us how to make a great clean-up hitter. Lathe the maple to the precise ounce. Sand the raw bat till smooth, and then do it again and again. Three coats of paint, two of protective lacquer and stamp the logo on just so, with the grain, so you know how to hold the bat when you swing for the fences.
“350 bats a day, seven days a week,” Dave says with pride. “We make the national pastime here.” He gives us our own bat – the model Johnny Damon used when he led the Red Sox to their euphoric (big league) World Series victory. “This bat’s the curse killer,” Dave says. We brandish ours at an imaginary pitcher standing an imaginary 60 feet 6 inches away (perhaps old Nolan Ryan) and all the sandlots of childhood come rushing back.
With thanks to Dave we toss the maple beauty into the ragtop, pull on a jaw full of elk jerky, and aim south toward Punxsutawney, with Charlie Parker’s alto be-bopping us down the two-lane. It’s a beautiful day for a baseball roadtrip, so we’ll look for you on the bends and backroads.
When you hit the road, here’s where to stop. For a complete map and photos of all this, check out www.visitpa.com/shunpiker.
The Little League Museum
Walk through the story of the perfect game that captured hopes and hearts around the world. This is where it all started back in 1939. You can even measure the speed of your fastball and tee off on a pitching machine. Play ball! Next door to the International Little League headquarters at 539 Route 15, South Williamsport. www.littleleague.org/museum.
Where to eat lunch, period. The garden cheesesteak is a two-fisted gooey goodness. Grab a seat at the bar or at one of the many large tavern tables. 505 Washington Blvd in Williamsport. 570.323.6217.
Peter Herdic Inn
Eat, sleep and drink like an industrial-era millionaire. And make sure you take a stroll along “millionaire’s row” and gawk at how the better half lived a hundred fifty years ago. 411West 4th Street in Williamsport. Call Gloria for a reservation: 570.326.0411, or stop by online: www.herdichouse.com.
The E.A. Rowley House
Perhaps the finest Queen Anne architectural masterpiece in the world. Back in the day it had flush toilets, electric chandeliers and a dumbwaiter. You’ll love it for the incredible woodwork, Tiffany stained glass, tiled fireplaces and rare and original sculpted French wallpaper. Ask Eiderson Dean (great name, no?) for a tour. 707 West 4th Street, Williamsport. www.williamsport.org
A great lunch counter halfway between Williamsport and Brookville. Just across from the grand old Renovo railroad yards. You won’t find a better patty melt and real hand-cut fries anywhere. Period. 406 Erie Avenue, Renovo. Call ahead for directions: 570.923.0318
Winslow Hill B&B
If you wanna sleep a little later, ask for the Sunset Room. If you want to breakfast with the elk, check into Betty McCluskey’s Sunrise Room. Her trained rooster Bert will sound the alarm just outside your door at dawn. Reserve the Sunset, Moonlit or Sunrise room at winslowhillbb.com or call Betty at 814.787.4212.
A great local tavern with good eats and a great jukebox. The wings are great, the spaghetti dinner’s a knockout at just $6.50, but it’s the Bugle Burger that brings the locals back for more. Right in the heart of downtown Benezette at 95 Winslow Hill Rd; 814.787.4355.
Double Diamond Deer Ranch
Enough with the elk. Come visit Rusty Snyder’s incredible Deer Ranch. The old time family attraction is possible only by Rusty’s love for her deer friends. Feed the fawns and get to know the doe. And don’t miss the barn, where Rusty’s deerly departed rest in eternal splendor, stuffed (ahem) and resplendent in their stalls. On Rt 36 just 3 miles south of Cook Forest State Park. www.doublediamonddeerranch.com. 814.752.6334
BWP Baseball Bats
Watch hearty Pennsylvania hardwood become curveball crushing baseball bats right before your eyes. Hundreds of pros use BWP bats from the Pennsylvania Wilds. See the factory for yourself and you’ll know why sluggers refer to their bats as “lumber.” Just off Route 80 east of Brookville. Call ahead: 814.849.0089. www.bwpbats.com
Ok, now it’s your turn. Let us know where you’ve been, what you’re eating and who you’re meeting. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org