The streets in the quaint village are empty, the charming stores and restaurants are shuttered, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum remains closed.
This was supposed to be the most glorious and most profitable summer in the history of Cooperstown, New York. This is where Yankees legendary shortstop Derek Jeter was scheduled to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, highlighting an illustrious class that was projected to draw perhaps 100,000 people, eclipsing the 2007 class with Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn.
Now, that sheer joy and enchantment is blanketed by the despair of the inevitability that lies ahead.
The Hall of Fame is expected to announce this week that their induction ceremony weekend, scheduled to take place July 24-26, will be postponed until 2021.
The Hall of Fame is scheduled to meet this week with their board members before finalizing a decision, but with the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the country — with 292,000 cases in New York — there is little choice but to push it back a year and combine the two Hall of Fame classes.
“How could you have an induction ceremony?’’ Hall of Famer Andre Dawson told USA TODAY Sports. “I wouldn’t want to see it happen. You got to look at well-being of people. You look at the older guys that come here. Think about the crowd. It’s just way too risky.’’
There are 38 Hall of Famers who are 70 years or older, including 19 who are least 80 years old. The idea of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax endangering their lives to be at Cooperstown this summer is senseless.
“I know how important it is to the people in upstate New York for the induction, and how pleasurable it is to us to all of the Hall of Famers, but you can’t bring in everyone, not when people are dying at home," said Dawson, who owns and operates the Paradise Memorial Funeral Home in Richmond Heights, Florida.
“How could anyone go?’’
Former New York Yankee Derek Jeter answers questions during the Hall of Fame induction press conference at St. Regis Hotel on Jan 22, 2020. (Photo: Danielle Parhizkaran, USA TODAY Sports)
Hall of Fame executives dismissed any idea of a virtual ceremony, and the logistics of trying to delay the ceremony a few months created too many complications. So the simple solution is to delay it for a year. They would combine the 2020 class of Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller with the 2021 class, with Curt Schilling the lone favorite to be elected.
“Let’s face it, with what’s going on with the whole country, and if people aren’t supposed to travel, how could there be a Hall of Fame induction?’’ said Andrew Vilacky, who owns the Safe at Home Collectibles store on Main Street in Cooperstown. “People can’t come up here. You’ve got to be realistic. You listen to Governor (Andrew) Cuomo, and this thing is going to be around all summer. People don’t want to leave their homes. It’s dangerous.’’
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And for a community of 1,700 full-time residents, who rely on their restaurants and shops being packed with kids and families, with hotels, rental homes and Airbnb’s being filled, the economic loss could be as much as $150 million.
“It’s catastrophic what it has done to businesses up here,’’ Vilacky says. “This is a tsunami without the water. It’s a total wipe-out.’’
The Cooperstown Dreams Park, a youth facility that draws more than 17,00 players and coaches (paying $1,300 apiece) with about 50,000 family members, has already canceled its entire 2020 season. Officials at the Cooperstown All-Star Village and Cooperstown Baseball Camps said they will delay their decisions one month ahead of each week of its 12-week season.
“This virus has stopped the world,’’ says Marty Patton, born and raised in the Cooperstown area, who had 775 teams booked for his All-Star Village. “I worry what’s going to happen here. You have all of these wonderful entrepreneurs, who put all of their life savings and work into these small places, and without a season, it could be a catastrophe."
Jeter, one vote shy of joining Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera as a unanimous Hall of Famer by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, had already rented out the entire Railroad Inn hotel in downtown Cooperstown for his family and friends. It’s a boutique 22-room hotel that goes for about $1,000 per night during the induction weekend, and about $350 during the summer. Now, it sits empty except for the nurses who are staying free courtesy of owner, Perry Ferrara, who also owns the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum on Main Street.
“Everyone gets wrong impression how lucrative Cooperstown is,’’ Ferrara said. “It’s a long winter. If we miss this summer season, it could be disastrous for a quite a few people.’’
You’re talking about deserted pizzerias, ice cream parlours and restaurants. Empty collectible and memorabilia shops. Vacant batting cages. Unoccupied summer rental homes.
“My friends in the village are predicting a 50% to 80% drop in revenue this summer,’’ says Larry Petraglia, who owns Doubleday Batting Range, across the parking lot from Doubleday Field. “I should be open by now. I may not be open all year.
“This might be the final nail in the coffin if they postpone (the induction ceremony) and move it to next year.’’
Perhaps no business is being hit harder than the Cooperstown Bat Company, owned by Tim Haney, who has 18 full-time employees. He has two stores, including a mill and a factory, that produces about 40,000 bats a year — including several dozen for 475 minor-league players. It designs custom engraved bats for the kids that play in the Cooperstown tournaments each summer, including those for coaches and high school seniors. And, yes, they were ready to make a mint off personalized bats with Derek Jeter’s name.
Now, there may be no induction ceremony, no youth tournaments and no minor leagues.
“It’s very surreal,’’ says Haney, 51, born and raised in Cooperstown, class of 1987 Cooperstown High, who still plays in adult baseball leagues. “To go from what was going to be the biggest year we ever had, to the lowest retail since we’ve owned it (since 2008), is tough. This would normally be our busiest time of year getting ready for Jeter being inducted for the biggest celebration ever, getting bats out for the players, and having our commemorative bats ready for corporate gifts and senior gifts. Now, everything is on hold.
“But no matter what happens, I just want to watch baseball again. That’s what we all want.
“I can’t imagine a summer without baseball.
“Not in Cooperstown.’’
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