What Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is doing amid the coronavirus shutdown

One trip to the small village of Cooperstown, New York is all it takes. Visitors are immediately drawn in by the town’s charm and a reminder of simpler times. Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, welcomes tens of thousands of visitors every summer, all leading up to the annual Hall of Fame Induction Weekend at the end of July.

Cooperstown is synonymous with baseball, and while some may venture there for a lakeside escape, the Hall of Fame draws in the big crowds every summer, especially with the youth baseball tournaments held all summer long at the nearby Cooperstown Dreams Park and Cooperstown All Star Village facilities. 

This year, however, the Baseball Hall of Fame was forced to cancel the entirety of its Induction Weekend plans for health and safety concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic. On a normal calendar year, the Hall of Fame shuts its doors to the public just for three days: Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The Hall of Fame has been closed since March 15. This will be the first summer in 59 years Cooperstown won’t have an induction ceremony.

For many, the Hall of Fame shutdown means they’ll be missing out on annual traditions, trips and memories. The Induction Weekend — which was set to include Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons, and Larry Walker in its 2020 HOF class — keeps baseball fans connected to the Hall of Fame and Cooperstown every summer. For one father-daughter duo from Saratoga, N.Y., the Hall of Fame Induction weekend is considered to be summer tradition of theirs. Ken Killian and his daughter, Andrea, have volunteered at Induction Weekend together since 2013.

Ken played baseball from youth up through college and spent time in adult baseball leagues in his 30s, but his love for the game and its history was amplified when he was accepted for a volunteer opportunity at the Hall of Fame two decades ago.

“I was living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the time and [the Hall of Fame] accepted me to be a volunteer,” he said.” And that was the year Sparky Anderson, Carlton Fisk and Tony Perez were inducted — 2000. It was a pretty big year. And that was it, I was hooked.”

Ken returned to Cooperstown every summer after to volunteer at various events throughout the weekend. He was sometimes volunteering at Cooperstown’s famed Leatherstocking Golf Course for the Hall of Fame Weekend Golf Tournament or helping work crowd control at Clark Sports Center, home to the induction ceremony.

“The Hall of Fame weekend for me, it’s a magical time,” Ken said. “The induction is not just for the player(s), it’s also for the fans who have rooted for them for so long.”

Ken has racked up stories from his 20 years of volunteering, from George Brett doubting his seven-iron recommendation on the golf course to getting to share with Tom Seaver that Ken named his son, Tom, after him. Ken’s son was born the day after the 2001 HOF Induction, which worked out so that Ken was still able to make the drive up to Cooperstown to fulfill his volunteering duties just 24 hours before he welcomed his son.

In 2013, Andrea, who was 16 years old at the time, began to join her dad on the hour and a half drive to Cooperstown every July to volunteer. The pair would leave the house Saturday of Induction Weekend around 4:30-5:00 in the morning, stop for coffee and snacks and practice baseball trivia during the drive to gear up for the baseball-filled weekend.

“I think volunteering at Induction Weekend was, for a little girl who always really liked baseball growing up, it was a really cool way that I got to participate,” Andrea said. “This is a way that I can participate in this world and be a part of this sport and its culture that I grew up loving so much.”

Andrea, like her dad, has managed to leave Cooperstown with a few Hall of Fame stories of her own. One year while she was walking Main Street, donning a Boston Red Sox hat, longtime Yankees reliever and Hall of Famer Goose Gossage heckled her over it. “Hey, kid, what’s that ‘B’ stand for?”

For Chris Hathaway, Hall of Fame Induction Weekend is a chance for him and his friends to reconnect every summer. Hathaway, a Connecticut native, played baseball growing up and made several weekend trips to Yankee Stadium for games. 

Hathaway was familiar with Cooperstown and the Hall, having played in a tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park while on a travel team, and again on a trip with his high school travel baseball team, where they got to play a game on Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. Still, he says his appreciation for the sport and its history is a lot deeper now that he’s older.

“This [2020] was going to be my seventh year in a row,” Hathaway said. “Myself and one of my good friends from college, started organizing this trip back in 2014. We were like, ‘Let’s just start going to the Hall of Fame every year for the Induction. One, because we love baseball, and two, it’s a good way to stay connected and do something fun.”

Hathaway and his group of friends, who recently became Hall of Fame members, pitch a tent at a campsite in Cooperstown just outside of town and spend the majority of their stay on Main Street. Hathaway already rolled over this year’s campsite booking to next year, to ensure they’d have a spot to see Jeter — one of their all-time favorite Yankees — get his moment on the big stage in Cooperstown.

“We’re in again next year, we’re planning on doing this for pretty much, forever,” Hathaway said.

While Andrea, Ken and Chris are just a few among the many baseball fans who will be experiencing a void with the loss of Induction Weekend next month, the Hall of Fame has responded with virtual offerings for fans of all ages to experience the magic of the Hall of Fame while home. The Hall has made some of its exhibits, collections and artifacts available online, as well as begun to offer online programs like Curator Spotlights, where a museum curator will explore a baseball exhibit in depth and Voices of the Game, where a baseball personality speaks on a specific topic.

For example, the Hall of Fame conducted a Curator Spotlight with Erik Strohl, the Hall of Fame’s Senior Vice President for Exhibitions and Collections, to discuss the museum’s Taking the Field exhibit, which focuses on amateur baseball and the evolution of pro ball and equipment. The exhibit features artifacts like the first catcher’s mask and the oldest surviving baseball uniform in existence.

In a recent Voices of the Game program, the Hall of Fame featured Los Angeles Dodgers Senior Vice President of Planning and Development, Janet Marie Smith, who is best known in baseball for her work on Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In the video chat, she discusses her career and her impact on setting today’s standard for baseball ballpark design. All of the programs are archived on the Hall of Fame’s YouTube page for viewing at any time.

Hall of Famer Chipper Jones even hosts his own weekly Instagram Live show discussing baseball with ESPN’s Jon Sciambi:

And to take things a step further, the Hall of Fame diehards who are desperate for their fix of baseball, can explore the Hall’s exhibits virtually via the Google Arts & Cultural phone app or desktop page. It can’t replicate the same feeling as walking around the Hall’s Hank Aaron exhibit in person, but it’s the closest you can get to that right now.


‘Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream’ is one of two Hall exhibits that focuses on a single player’s story. 
Google Arts & Culture

“Baseball is the heartbeat of our nation in so many ways, the heartbeat of a summer especially, and while we were closed, it didn’t really feel like the time to stay quiet,” said Jon Shestakofsky, Vice President of Communications and Education for the Hall of Fame. “Now more than ever became the time to continue to be a voice to share baseball history and share the stories of our game.”

Shestakofsky says that the Hall of Fame’s digital initiative, namely called Safe at Home, was put together to help those connect with baseball while staying safe at home during the COVID-19 quarantines. “We’re just proud to be a part of the baseball community and to be able to service the community during what’s a difficult time for everyone,” he said.

The Hall of Fame’s education department is also offering virtual field trips and educational resources for parents and teachers to use while e-learning at home. Baseball specific lesson plans are available to help students learn math, science, social studies and the arts, for third grade all the way up to 12th grade. For the Hall of Fame’s virtual field trips, it will include a virtual tour of the museum, and a one-hour long interactive discussion and/or activity with the students, on a selected topic.

“It’s been a great way to connect with students and teachers,” Shestakofsky said. Many of those students and teachers, who are on a typical schedule, had planned for trips to the Hall of Fame this year.

“The feedback has been terrific to hear from parents and from educators who really appreciate this opportunity to have their children and their students connect with education in a different way,” he said. “To have it taught through baseball and give them that opportunity to learn while they’re enjoying something about baseball.”

A summer without baseball will be different. Even more so, a summer without baseball in Cooperstown. But baseball fans and players alike can take solace in knowing that the Hall of Fame isn’t going anywhere and Induction Weekend will bring the tradition back to life again in Cooperstown soon.

As of June 6, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum remains closed to the public. Updated information regarding the Hall of Fame’s closure will be provided at baseballhall.org and via the Hall of Fame’s social media pages. The Hall of Fame Class of 2020 is scheduled to be inducted on Sunday, July 25, 2021 alongside any new members elected as part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2021.

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