With all levels of American baseball shut down amid the social distancing orders due to the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. economy facing its worst contraction since the Great Depression, it might seem like a strange time to sell the general public on a $2.3 million capital campaign to build a “Field of Dreams” baseball park.
But that’s what happened on Friday when Mayor Vince DeSantis hosted a Zoom presentation broadcast onto the city’s Facebook page with David Karpinski, the executive director of the Parkhurst Field Foundation.
“The mayor reached out to me and said ‘you’ve done these presentations from anywhere from five people to 150 people, why not use this platform as we’re talking about reenergizing Gloversville for a wider audience?’ ” Karpinski said.
Karpinski told the Common Council in October that his nonprofit was soliciting bids for Phase 1 of the project to transform Parkhurst Field into a nationally recognized venue showcasing the field’s importance to the history of baseball. Phase 1 is supposed to have three fields with dugouts and lighting, and includes water and sewer infrastructure work necessary for Phase 2, which would include construction of a new grandstand, a premier field and a concession stand.
Now all of those plans are on hold due to the coronavirus, and Karpinski said Phase 1, which is projected to cost between $750,000 and $1 million, likely won’t begin construction until 2021. He said he doesn’t want to say how much money the organization has raised so far.
“Our donations and commitments from our donors is in the range that that’s a possibility, so we know we don’t have the entire amount for Phase 1 as we’re looking at it right now, but we’re certainly on our way, and we hope to have it this year to get into the ground, but it may extend into next year before we start Phase 1,” he said.
The foundation also received a $500,000 New York State Consolidated Funding Grant in 2016, which Karpinski said is set to expire in 2021, but he said he’s been in talks with state officials about extending the expiration of the grant. The grant only pays back the foundation after all of the work has been done.
Friday’s Zoom presentation was meant to spark interest in more members of the community and the video on Facebook had over 1,000 views before it was taken down.
Karpinski said he thinks now is actually the perfect time to make his pitch to support the idea of rebuilding the Parkhurst Field little league park into a nationally recognized, lighted little league park with five regulation fields, one of them a premier field set up with the same 1906 home plate location of the former A.J&G Park that major league baseball legends Honus Wagner, Cy Young and Moonlight Doc Graham played on.
“There’s such a propensity right now to search out these stories, where before you might have scrolled past it in your news feed,” Karpinski said. “Right now people have the bandwidth to sit and enjoy, in this case, a 45-minute story. I think, coming out of all of this, people are going to realize the importance of community and the importance of the simple pleasures and of improving their own backyard, and I wanted to tap into that.”
During his presentation, Karpinski explained the history of the field, how Cy Young, the man for whom the award for the best pitcher in baseball in named, managed games there, how the park was a stop for the Negro League baseball teams when some communities wouldn’t allow them in and the field’s connection to the movie “Field of Dreams.”
Karpinski said his nonprofit foundation received the license use the “Field of Dreams” name from Universal Studios, which owns the Kevin Costner movie of the same name, because Parkhurst Field is the only known baseball field still in existence where a character in the film, Moonlight Doc Graham (played by Burt Lancaster), is known to have played.
“This is the only time they’ve licensed out the Field of Dreams name to any other entity, so we thank them for that,” he said, during his Zoom presentation.
Numerous other members of the Baseball Hall of Fame also played at that field, including Honus Wagner, who played shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1897 to 1917, but is better known as having the world’s most expensive baseball card — recently sold at auction for $3.2 million. He also stayed at the former Kingsborough Hotel in Gloversville.
“Vince, if you have that card in your attic, I’ll go halves with you,” Karpinski quipped during the presentation.
“We’ll see!” DeSantis said.
Karpinski said the grand plan for the Parkhurst Field Foundation “Field of Dreams” project is to leverage the park’s historic significance to attract national Little League tournaments, potentially generating a projected $1.8 million in tourism money.
“Our concept is that people will travel to play competitive baseball on this historic land and spend money in the area, if they have this great facility to play on,” he said. “People need to realize that travel baseball is a $7 billion industry. I’ve been through it being my son’s travel baseball coach, and we’ve spent ten years traveling to destinations to play tournament ball. Gloversville Little League is done using the park every year by July 10. At that point you still have the season where you could draw these travel teams to play on this historic park and stand on the same spot as these all-time greats.”
DeSantis asked if the plan was only for little league teams up to age 13 and Karpinski said yes.
Karpinski provided DeSantis with an economic breakdown from the National Association of Sports Commissions showing how families and little league travel baseball players spend money. He said the park could attract 500 players per week during the summer time.
“When people go to pay-to-play [tournaments] at these unique facilities, where do they spend their money? Restaurants, gasoline, groceries — and you’ll love this Vince — downtown, 53 percent shop at the local downtown while their kids have downtime between the games they are playing,” Karpinski said.
Karpinski said a vintage baseball game fundraiser the Parkhurst Foundation had planned for the end of May will likely be canceled, but could possibly be rescheduled.
“We typically have that game in August, so it’s still possible we could move that date,” he said. “We haven’t made an official determination yet, but we’re working on it.”
Karpinski, who retired from working as the president of Taylor Made at the end of 2019, said donations to help the foundation’s capital campaign can be made at parkhurstfield.org.
“There’s no gift too small, if it’s going to help us toward our goal,” he said.