Cooperstown gets Braves boost in Hall of Fame rebound


NEW YORK — Cooperstown will have a Southern accent this weekend as 40,000 people — about 16 times last year’s total — visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame for its annual induction ceremony in central New York state.

Former Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who combined for five Cy Young Awards and 438 wins while wearing the team’s colors, are among those being honored July 27. So is long-time Braves manager Bobby Cox, who won 2,149 games and a World Series title.

“Braves fans are coming out in droves,” said Teresa Weybrew, director of sales at Sports Travel and Tours, which has an agreement with the Hall to provide travel packages.

The Atlanta influence has Weybrew’s company providing Braves-specific trips, and memorabilia stores such as Seventh Inning Stretch, Cooperstown’s largest, ordering more of the team’s merchandise to satisfy the demand.

The excitement surrounding this year’s class — which also includes Frank Thomas, Tony La Russa and former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre — is welcomed by local businesses. The 2013 induction group had no living members for the first time since 1965, and drew a crowd of 2,500 for the ceremony.

“In the 14 years that I’ve been working here, that was the lowest induction weekend I had ever seen,” Rick Turner, who runs the website at Seventh Inning Stretch, said in a telephone interview. “We could easily see a 100 percent increase in business this weekend over last year.”

Cooperstown, which in 2010 had a population of 1,852, typically hosts 15,000 to 20,000 visitors for the induction weekend. The town expects more than twice that number this year, according to Matt Hazzard, interim executive director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce.

“The summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day is very big for our local economy, and Hall of Fame weekend is the centerpoint for that,” Hazzard said in a telephone interview. “When you have 40,000 people coming to your town, you obviously get excited.”

More than half of the roughly 900 people that booked travel packages with Massachusetts-based Sports Travel and Tours are Braves fans. They signed up for what Weybrew called the “Braves Package,” which includes a special reception tonight in Albany and a presentation by baseball author Dan Schlossberg. His book, “The 300 Club,” focuses on pitchers who have won 300 games, a list that includes Maddux and Glavine.

Located two blocks from the museum, Seventh Inning Stretch has former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, a Cy Young Award winner who played under Cox with both Glavine and Maddux, signing autographs for fans during the weekend.

“We definitely ordered more Atlanta Braves stuff for the summer season, so that is a little more prominent in our store,” Turner said.

The Braves host the San Diego Padres in Atlanta at 5:05 p.m. on July 27. They are opening their ballpark at 1 p.m. for fans who want to arrive early and watch the ceremony on the stadium’s 1,102-square-foot video board.

Glavine, 48, a first-ballot selection, pitched for the Braves from 1987-2002 and again in 2008, with a five-season stint for the New York Mets in between. He had five 20-win seasons, winning Cy Young awards in 1991 and 1998, and was chosen World Series Most Valuable Player in 1995.

Also a first-ballot choice, Maddux, 48, joined Glavine in Atlanta in 1993 after seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs. He won four straight Cy Young Awards and a record 18 Gold Glove Awards as the National League’s best fielding pitcher.

Cox, 73, managed the team for 25 years, winning five NL pennants and the 1995 World Series. While he and Glavine will wear Braves hats on their Hall plaques, Maddux has elected for a cap with no logo.

The business boost in Cooperstown this weekend extends well beyond Braves fans. Weybrew said Sports Travel and Tour’s weekend Hall packages range from $795 to $1,295, and they’ve chartered 17 buses. Last year, they needed one bus.

“Quite frankly, we could only go up from last year,” Turner said. “But the next five years, up through 2020, will include names like Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. Those should all be good years.”

 

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