David Karpinski, who played Little League at Gloversville’s Parkhurst Field as a kid, started out seeking to raise funds to improve the half-century old infrastructure at the ballpark when he served on the board. In the process, he stumbled on a bit of history that he believes will turn the field into an economic goldmine for the county.
He discovered that generations of Little Leaguers had been unknowingly playing ball on the same hallowed grounds that hosted early 20th century baseball greats like Cy Young, for whom the award for the best pitcher in baseball is named. Famed major league short stop Honus Wagner, whose baseball card recently sold for $3.2 million at auction, played there, too, as did Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, also known as “Doc” Graham, who was immortalized in the 1989 Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams.”
At the time, the field was named the A., J. & G. Park and was home field to the JAGs (Johnstown-Amsterdam-Gloversville) team. The park hosted major and minor league teams who came to town on barnstorming tours, playing against the JAGs. Negro League baseball teams also played there when other cities refused to host them, demonstrating the inclusive nature of the Fulton County community.
Until a decade ago, people did not know the history of field as an early 20th-century, state-of-the-art facility that attracted the best in baseball.
Karpinski’s project then became much larger, going far beyond his original intent. Until a decade ago, people did not know the history of field as an early 20th-century, state-of-the-art facility that attracted the best in baseball. After Karpinski unearthed this history, the idea surfaced to build the park out as a destination playing field for Little League teams. He has set out to do just that, not only restoring the park to its original 1906 glory, but also creating Gloversville’s own “field of dreams,” a revenue source that will pump millions into the local economy.
To that end, Karpinski founded the Parkhurst Field Foundation in 2014 and serves as its executive director. He launched a $2.5 million capital campaign called, “The Field of Dreams,” building on the field’s connection with “Moonlight” Graham, who was portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the film. Since the field is the only one remaining where Graham played—left field in seven documented games, to be exact—Universal Studios gave the foundation permission to use the name.
Karpinski has crunched the numbers. He starts off with the fact that with nearly 70 percent of children ages 6 to 17 playing a team sport, parents spend nearly $7 billion per year on youth sports-related travel, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions. The reason for the multi-billion-dollar figure is that the athletes do not come alone. They bring a family member or two with them. “We envision creating the demand here that would be fulfilled by somebody coming in and building out a hotel or an experience on one of the lakes or whatever it might be,” Karpinski said. Families spend an average of $439 on accommodations during a tournament.
When you add in the money they spend on eating at restaurants, groceries, entertainment, and shopping, it adds up to an average of $1,000 per family injected into the local economy.
When complete, the newly renovated Parkhurst Field will have four fields. The premier field will be built on the site of the park’s original field where baseball greats played. “You’ll be able to tell the kids, ‘When you’re standing on this home plate, you’re standing where Moonlight Graham stood. You’re pitching where Cy Young had his pitches,’” Karpinski said.
Three other regulation fields allow for an additional three teams to play simultaneously. “What we would have is a facility that would be able to hold 16 teams a week, 13 kids per team,” he said. Doing the math, that accounts for at least 445 attendees per week coming for three- to four-day tournaments for a total of 10 weeks. “That has a $1.8 million direct spend to the local area,” Karpinski said.
He even pictures the original Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Rail Trail that runs behind the park as a means to transport people from the park to downtown, where they would enjoy restaurants, shops, museums and historical sites during downtime between games.
In addition to what attendees will spend while they’re in town, there is residual spending. Studies also show that 59 percent of attendees return to an area for a visit or vacation after the tournament, and almost three-quarters recommend the destination to others, figures which indicate the potential for even more economic benefit for the region. Another economic impact will be the creation of 32 jobs as well as 20 construction jobs to complete the project.
Along with the playing fields, Parkhurst Field will have a new grandstand, concession stand, gift shop, batting cages, parking lots, and landscaping, all of which would be completed during three phases of construction.
The all-volunteer board of directors is in the process of raising $2.5 million for the project through private donations. New York State awarded the foundation a Consolidated Funding Grant in 2016, which would be payable after the project has been completed.
The park remains the property of the Gloversville Little League, who would use the park through the end of June and then again in the fall, with the benefit of the lighting that is part of the development plan. The collaborative contract between the Little League and the foundation will put the facility to use for much of the year.
His years-long dedication to seeing the project to completion exemplifies the community’s loyalty to the area and commitment to improving the quality of life for its residents. “I was born and raised in Gloversville,” Karpinski said. “I grew up about three miles from Parkhurst Field. It’s my entire roots. I played Gloversville’s Little League in the mid ‘70s, so it’s near and dear to my heart.”