When my family and I went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame last week, part of our trip to Cooperstown also included a visit to another piece of baseball history just a little further up Main Street. Nestled in the middle of baseball heaven with all the sports memorabilia shops, hotels, and restaurants lies a place that will give even the most casual of baseball fans goosebumps.
It’s historic Doubleday Field, a ballpark that opened in 1920 the Miles Commission was appointed in 1905 to determine the origin of baseball. In 1907, the committee ruled that “the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York in 1839.”
To be able to walk up the ramp into the seating area and take in the atmosphere, even without a baseball game taking place, was just breathtaking. The ballpark has had so many great players on that field over the years and you can feel the history just by sitting in the seats or just walking around. It’s also easy to see that Doubleday Field needs a little TLC and that’s about to happen.
Thanks to financial help from New York State, the ballpark is set to undergo a $5.8 million renovation project that has the community of Cooperstown excited.
“The village owns Doubleday Field and the village does the best it can by renting it out to cover costs,” said Jeff Katz, President of “Friends to Doubleday” (friendsofdoubleday.org), a not for profit 501 3c organization that was established to help raise money in order to preserve and enhance the ballpark.
“The village was never in the position to do the huge improvements that the field needed.”
The ballpark was built on the “Phinney Lot”, a plot of land believed to have been used by Doubleday and some Cooperstown schoolboys to play the first game of baseball in 1839. Today, it hosts over 300 events a year including high school games, Pony League and American Legion games, people who rent out the ballpark for events, the Frick and Spink Award portion of Hall of Fame induction weekend, and an annual old-timers game called the “Classic”.
The improvements in the project include a structure to be built down the left field line with new seating, a pavilion that could be used a press box, locker rooms and bathrooms. The rest of the ballpark will get a face-lift but will still retain its historic look. There will be improvements to the general seating area as well as changes to satisfy ADA requirements.
Other aspects of the renovations will include moving the famous “Sandlot” statue closer to the front of the ballpark, a new entrance way with a Doubleday Field sign right at Main Street, a walkway from Main Street to the ballpark, and a grass area in front of the ballpark that could serve as a meeting place.
“We are hoping that things like that and bringing in portable lights can start leading us to some higher profile usages,” said Katz who is the former Mayor of Cooperstown.
The renovations could potentially bring a Major League Baseball game back to Cooperstown…but this time, once that counts.
Doubleday Field hosted a Major League All-Star game after the induction ceremony on June 12th, 1939 and that led to the creation of the “Hall of Fame Game”, an in-season Major League Baseball exhibition game that took place from 1940 to 2008. Katz is hoping to bring college tournaments to the ballpark after the renovations, but the ultimate goal is to convince Major League Baseball to hold a special regular season game in Cooperstown.
Major League Baseball currently has the Little League Classic in Williamsport and they have held a game on an Army base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They will also have a game between the Yankees and White Sox at the Field of Dreams movie site next year.
So why not Cooperstown?
“If they’re going to play regular season games off-site with some kind of baseball hook, there should be a regular season Major League game at Doubleday and I’d love to work towards that goal,” said Katz who has authored three books about baseball.
After the renovations, Doubleday Field will seat about 7-8,000 fans which is in the ballpark (no pun intended) of what the pop-up ballpark at the Field of Dreams will seat. So, for Major League Baseball, it wouldn’t be a case of “Build it and they will come” because the stadium is already there.
They would just have to tinker with it to be Major League ready as opposed to having to build a stadium.
“If MLB came in and did an upgrade to the field that they needed to get it to a point where they like it that would still be vastly cheaper than building a ballpark,” said Katz. “There’s definitely interest on the village’s end so it will just take some convincing but now that this is a yearly thing with a regular season game, outside of a normal Major League ballpark, why wouldn’t we be at the top of the list?”
Whether you love baseball or just a casual observer, a trip to Cooperstown is not complete with just a visit to the Hall of Fame. One should definitely take some time to walk over to Doubleday Field and check out this amazing slice of baseball history. If the community gets its wish, the soon to be renovated ballpark will one day host a real Major League Baseball game.
I’m sure Abner Doubleday will be smiling down on the ballpark…come to think of it, he’ll probably have a box seat.