Induction cancellation leaves void in Cooperstown

Greg Klein | The Daily StarRichard Reich of Cooperstown orders a bat from Sawyer Haney at the Cooperstown Bat Company on Main Street in Cooperstown on Friday, July 24.

COOPERSTOWN — More than a hundred people roamed Main Street on Friday, July 24, in the village devoted to baseball, but it couldn’t match what could have been for the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend 2020. 

“The best year for business during an Induction Weekend, of course, was 2007,” said Cooperstown Bat Company co-owner Tim Haney during a phone interview Friday from his Hartwick factory. “We were thinking it would be that kind of year this year.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many postponements and cancellations in 2020 and the induction of Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons to the Hall is no exception. It was rescheduled for July 25, 2021.

But for many people in and around Cooperstown, the loss of a weekend of business, even the most anticipated induction weekend since 2007, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were inducted, is only part of the damage left by the pandemic. 

The loss of the baseball camps, the Glimmerglass Festival season, summer events and all of the Hall of Fame festivities is greater than any one part, several people told The Daily Star this week. 

“It isn’t the weekend,” said inn keeper Pat Szarpa on Friday. “It’s the season.”

Szarpa is a former director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce who also once sold ads for The Daily Star. She and her husband, Darryl, own Owl’s Landing B and B of Cooperstown in the town of Otsego, but she said they decided not to open it this year. 

“In our case, it is people staying in our house,” she said. “So, how do you do that safely? We didn’t want to be in a situation where we are looking at our guests suspiciously or they are looking that way at us.”

Szarpa is also the executive director of the Otsego Land Trust and she said the lack of tourism has an effect on the nonprofit world, too. 

“It is everywhere here,” she said. “It’s everyone.”

Brookwood Point, for instance, one of OLT’s showcase properties, would be hosting a party for the Colorado Rockies and Walker this weekend, she said. The site normally makes as much as five figures a year from wedding rentals, and every event brings donations and exposure for the Trust’s mission, but those are mostly canceled. There are also fewer donors during economic downturns generally.

Haney said his bat company’s online business has stayed steady and sales to players have picked up as professional and amateur baseball began again this month. But Main Street sales are a different story, he said. 

“It is probably like late-March, early-April traffic in the store,” he said. “Sometimes there’s a lot of people on the street, but they aren’t all baseball people. They’re just here for a day trip to see Cooperstown or because we have a lake or they are staying the night outside of the village. It isn’t the same as when we have baseball tournaments going on and bats to engrave.” 

Still, he said, he knows he is better off than some of his neighbors on Main Street. 

“Induction Weekend-wise, I am sure it is a big hit to the card shops,” he said. “I know they do huge business every induction. And lodging, you would probably find people affected all the way to Albany, Oneonta and Binghamton. Everybody throughout the region that would be getting our overflow overnight guests is losing that business.”

The lost Induction Weekend ends a string of great attendance weekends for Cooperstown and the HOF that began in 2014 with the induction of Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Frank Thomas, which drew 48,000 fans and a visit from “The Today Show.” 

The successful induction came after a washout 2013 year, which had no living inductees, a rain storm just as the ceremony started and only about 2,000 people in attendance. 

The inductions since 2014 have been strong attendance years for Cooperstown, including three more of the best-attended inductions in the history of the event: 55,000 for the 2019 induction of Harold Baines, Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith; 53,000 for the 2018 induction of Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Alan Trammell, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman and Jack Morris; and 50,000 for the 2016 induction of Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr.

Ripken and Gwynn’s induction crowd has been estimated at 82,000, the record attendance. The 2019 attendance was expected to be a placeholder at second place until this year’s ill-fated induction. 

“This was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Yankee years, right? The induction of the new generation of Yankee legends, Mariano then Jeter,” said baseball writer Charlie Vascellaro during a phone interview Tuesday. “This was supposed to be the one that brought the biggest crowds of them all, except for 2007 and maybe Ichiro (Suzuki).” 

Vascellaro, a baseball vagabond, lives in Baltimore but typically follows the game around, starting in Arizona every spring, with a stopover most Julys in Cooperstown. He has written about baseball for dozens of publications and websites, including The Daily Star. 

Vascellaro said he was giving a tour for an old-timers’ fantasy camp of San Francisco Giants fans in Scottsdale, Arizona, when the pandemic halted much of society including sports in March. They were in the press box getting a presentation from longtime San Francisco broadcaster Marty Lurie, when a baseball writer interrupted them with the news. 

“A writer, John Shea, was looking at his cell phone and he said, ‘Well, that’s it. They’ve canceled the season.’” 

Vascellaro sent his campers home and left Arizona before the virus flared out west and he was in Cooperstown for two week earlier in the summer, covering the June 26, reopening of the Hall of Fame for The Daily Star. Now back in Baltimore, he said he wonders if Induction Weekend will ever be the same. 

“I just don’t know if you are going to see large crowds again in our lives,” he said. “I mean, even with Ichiro, in a couple of years, it will have an effect. Right now, can you see thousands of people coming over here from Japan for an induction?”

While Vascellaro is skeptical, Haney said he is naturally optimistic. Baseball is fit for an easy transition to social distancing, including spacing players and crowds, and he said he thinks once travel restrictions are lifted, the crowds will return to Cooperstown, too.  

“If the camps are open, I think we’ll all be fine again,” he said. “They’re already playing baseball tournaments in other places. I think once people can travel here again, they will.” 

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