Summer Collegiate : : Story
Friday, June 28, 2013

Doubleday overcomes obstacles

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Internet

Doubleday Field Both A Blessing
And Curse For Cooperstown Team

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.—In many respects, the surge in popularity of baseball at the summer-league level in recent years parallels the spike in popularity of the game in the minor leagues a quarter century ago.

Every community in America, it seems, wants a baseball team to call its own—even one as historically relevant as the Village of Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Cooperstown Hawkeyes, are currently in their fourth year of operation, and third as members of the 10-team, New York-based Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

While the number of teams that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (i.e., Minor League Baseball) is limited because of the number of affiliates each major-league team chooses to have, and numbers roughly 180 in all, the growth in summer-college teams has no limiting factor, and the number of leagues and teams throughout the country (and Canada) has grown exponentially in recent years. Today there are some 35 recognized summer leagues, with upwards of 300 teams.

Because no national organization exists to monitor the wave of unchecked expansion and impart minimum ballpark standards, such as exist at the professional level, summer-league teams are occupying facilities of all shapes and sizes—some old, some new, some just plain unique. Many of the facilities are inadequate by professional baseball’s strict stadium standards, or by any ballpark standard.

Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field is historic by any measure, from its old-time construction dating to the 1920s, to its location in the heart of Cooperstown (just a block and a half from the Hall of Fame), to its cozy home run dimensions.

Once the home base of the annual Hall of Fame game matching two big-league teams that was a staple of the Hall of Fame ceremonies for years until the contest was recently abandoned, the near 10,000-seat facility lives on as the home of the Hawkeyes, instantly making it one of the more famous summer league fields in use around the country.

In contrast to having the largest facility in the PGCBL, the Hawkeyes have the smallest population base in the league to draw from as the Village of Cooperstown numbers less than 2,000 residents, and the Hawkeyes are further hampered in their bid to draw crowds that are representative of the rest of the league, and summer teams with a similar population base, as they are the only club in the PGCBL with no lights, forcing them to start home games at 5 p.m.

Still, Tom Hickey, owner of the Hawkeyes, is determined to make summer baseball work in Cooperstown, and recognizes the benefits that both his franchise and PGCBL overall gain by having a team in famed Cooperstown, and playing games at historic Doubleday Field.

Having a team in Cooperstown, and playing our games at historic Doubleday Field, gives our league some national identity,” Hickey said. “Nobody else has that. And it’s beneficial to us because many of the fans we draw to our games are true baseball fans, in town to see the Hall of Fame. I would estimate that about half the fans we attract are from out of town.

The name Cooperstown is also beneficial with our ability to recruit players. When you consider that about 95 percent of the players here won’t make it (to the major leagues), what better remembrance of their career will they have other than to say they played baseball in Cooperstown?”

That’s not to say that Hickey is enthralled with playing his home games at old, outdated Doubleday Field, where his summer rental fee of some $17,000 is considered excessive—especially for a facility without lights and few modern amenities. Hickey openly questions the commitment of the town’s administration towards having a summer-league team in Cooperstown—or a primary tenant for Doubleday Field, if you will—but is quick to praise the Hall of Fame itself for the support it has shown his franchise.

Village administrators several years ago rejected an offer to add lights to Doubleday Field when a set became available from Boston’s Fenway Park.

According to Hickey, “It would be like night and day the difference it would make to our operation by having lights here.”

Hickey has even hinted at exploring other options in the immediate vicinity for his Cooperstown-based team—enabling the Hawkeyes to still capitalize on the magic name of Cooperstown—to make his franchise more viable financially in the future, particularly when he looks no further than just down the road at the unqualified financial success that the Cooperstown DreamsPark youth-baseball program is enjoying with its expansive, 24-field location about five miles south of Cooperstown.

Even as Hickey agonizes over the viability of his team from a business standpoint, he is otherwise encouraged by the inspired play of his team on the field this season. The Hawkeyes are 9-6 to date, good enough for the second-best record overall in the PGCBL and a marked improvement over the team’s first three years of existence.

Hickey is quick to credit the turnaround to veteran first-year field manager Dan Shwam, who coached in the league at Elmira the last two years and holds the distinction of being the second-winningest manager in independent league history.

All the credit with how we’ve played so far goes to him,” Hickey said. “I gave him the full authority to recruit all the players for this year’s team, and not only did he do a good job of that but his veteran leadership on the field has been integral to our success."

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