The Cooperstown Hawkeyes will not play baseball at Doubleday Field during the 2014 Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League season – or anywhere else, for that matter.
On Oct. 30, PGCBL President Jeff Kunion confirmed that Hawkeyes owner Tom Hickey is looking move his summer franchise from Doubleday Field and has requested a voluntary suspension for the 2014 season as a result.
“They are going to take a year off,” said Kunion, adding that Hickey’s request was officially granted during a Wednesday night conference call involving PGCBL members. “Their negotiations with Doubleday Field reached an impasse, so they’re looking for another facility.”
Kunion said the PGCBL offers the option of voluntary suspensions to owners who may be struggling to sustain a franchise in a particular area.
Hickey said Thursday he’s involved in negotiations to build a new baseball complex in the vicinity of Cooperstown.
“I can’t tell you unequivocally we’ll have it up and running (for the 2015 season), but we’ll be on the road to doing that, if all goes well,” Hickey said. “I can’t be 100 percent, but it looks good.”
Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz said he was sorry to see the Hawkeyes leave, but he said he felt like it became clear that Hickey was moving in that direction since this summer when he began publicly speaking about his dissatisfaction with Doubleday Field, the village and the village’s officials.
“Every year the Board of Trustees approved the contract,” Katz said. “Clearly there was some benefit to having them here in Cooperstown.
“Tom was clearly unhappy with the village and the field,” he continued. “Doubleday Field is still Doubleday Field. It hasn’t changed since he came here. Doubleday Field is no better or worse than when the Hawkeyes started playing here.”
Hickey said he was given assurances that improvements would be made to Doubleday Field when he moved the team there in 2010.
Katz said Hickey gave the village a “take it or leave it offer” to keep the Hawkeyes in Cooperstown. The offer was a flat fee of $1,000 for rentals for 20 to 25 games in 2014, a certification from the state Department of Health that Doubleday Field is safe, sanitary and free from all illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia, and an agreement that the village suspend paid parking at Doubleday Field after 4 p.m. on days of Hawkeyes games.
Hickey said the reason for the stipulation about illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia came because of the way he said Doubleday was left following a mid-July concert by Further, a Grateful Dead legacy band.
Rentals for Doubleday Field are $500 per game Friday through Sunday and $400 per game Monday through Thursday. Under Hickey’s proposal, the Hawkeyes would have paid $40 to $50 per game.
“The reality is those bookings are going to happen anyway, especially the ones on Friday through Sunday,” Katz said.
In August, Hickey told The Daily Star that he was considering a “serious offer” to move the Hawkeyes to another upstate New York municipality. Hickey went on to say Doubleday Field is inadequate for a PGCBL franchise, citing its lack of lights, clubhouses, showers and office space.
Hickey also said in August that paid parking in Cooperstown and a rent increase to use the field led to a loss of fans and revenue during the 2013 season, when the Hawkeyes went 18-25 to finish last in the five-team East Division.
“Other teams pay for facilities with lighting, concession stands and locker rooms and they pay a third, or less than a third, of what it costs to operate Doubleday Field,” Hickey said. “The village under Mr. Katz is completely disinterested in negotiating anything reasonable.”
In 2013, the Hawkeyes paid $10,000 to rent the field for 23 scheduled games. The $10,000 rental fee was slightly more than the per-day rental average. However, the Hawkeyes also had the right to sell banner advertising for the field grandstands, and food and beer at the games. None of those sales are granted to groups that do day rentals. In 2012 and 2011, the Hawkeyes paid $8,000 to rent the field, and in 2010, they paid $10,000.
Kunion said the Hawkeyes’ suspension leaves the PGCBL with nine teams for the 2014 season, but other franchises have expressed interest in joining the league. He added the PGCBL will hold another conference call this week to discuss possible franchise additions.
“He’s a good owner and this was an opportunity for him to step back,” Kunion said of Hickey, whose team drew 599 fans per home game last season, which was up from 2011 and 2012. “What he’s done in Cooperstown has been exceptional considering what he’s had to work with.”
Kunion also said Hickey will be required to pay league dues during the suspension and should the Hawkeyes fail to find a new home for the 2015 season, they will be asked to leave the league, as per PGCBL rules.
“We are going to make every effort to (return to the PGCBL by 2015),” Hickey said, adding that PGCBL rules do not specify that a suspended team must leave the league if it doesn’t field a team the year after a suspension.
“That would come down to a vote by the board of directors,” Hickey said.
Daily Star Sports Editor Dean Russin, and staff writers Rob Centorani and Greg Klein compiled this report.