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May 19, 2014

Cooperstown agog over president's visit to Baseball Hall

Itinerary still up in the air for Thursday

Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

COOPERSTOWN — The atmosphere in the village of Cooperstown is electric in anticipation of President Barack Obama's visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Thursday, according to local officials and merchants.

Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz said he has been given no specific details regarding Obama's itinerary other than he will be visiting the Hall of Fame to promote tourism.

The fact that the leader of the free world has selected Cooperstown as one of his destinations this week is a recognition of the village's reputation as a beacon for those who understand its appeal as a place with a many attractions, from art museums, to the Glimmerglass Opera and to the Hall of Fame.

"People in New York City don't hop in the car to go to Binghamton or Unadilla," Katz said.

Given the expected influx of people who hope to get a glimpse of Obama as well as a huge police presence in the village, locals may have to put up with some inconveniences for the day.

Meanwhile, Bassett Medical Center spokeswoman Karen Huxtable Hooker confirmed that the parking lot at the Clark Sports Center that is used by hospital employees will be closed to them on Thursday. She said more information about parking limitation's will be made available to hospital workers this week.

Bassett is the village's largest employer, and parking is spread out across several lots.

The Hall of Fame said on its web site that it will be closed to the public all day Thursday. It will re-open 9 a.m. Friday. 

Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, said Obama's visit is great news for Otsego County and the surrounding region. "This is definitely going to be good for tourism," he said. "We're big supporters of the Hall of Fame, and it's great for the Hall of Fame that this is happening."

Gibson said he was one of the congressional promoters of legislation that this year prompted the U.S. Mint to issue distinctive new coins commemorating the Hall of Fame's 75th anniversary this year.

The congressman said Obama could further help fuel tourism by getting behind a tax reforms measure that would allow Americans to take home more of the money that they earn, supporting even more infrastructure improvements, expand access to federal broadband funding and doing more to contain the spread of tick-transmitted Lyme disease. Focusing more on the latter problem, he reasoned, would lessen public concerns that they could be sickened by ticks in rural areas.

Katz said he could offer no predictions as to how many people will be in Cooperstown Thursday. But he said it will likely not come close to approaching the 13,000 people who packed Doubleday Field in 2004 to see a double bill concert featuring Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. 

"This is very exciting stuff for us," Katz acknowledged. The last President to visit Cooperstown was Martin Van Buren, and that happened in 1839."

Because president's must always ben willing to respond to unanticipated events, Katz acknowledged there is a chance that Obama may have to scratch the Cooperstown stop if more pressing events arise.  "We're told it's been 'penciled in' on the schedule," he noted.

The forecast from the National Weather Service for Cooperstown for Thursday is calling for cloudy skies, with a 50 percent chance of showers, and high temperatures of 64 degrees.

Gene Marra, proprietor of the Cooperstown Distillery on Railroad Avenue, said he learned from an associate with a White House connection that Obama will be in Cooperstown for approximately one hour, will have address a hand-selected gathering of less than 200 people at the Hall of Fame. While it has not been confirmed, he said, there are indications that the visit will take place close to noontime.

He said he is planning to offer the distillery's award-winning Abner Doubleday Double Play Vodka at a discount all day Thursday in celebration of the significance of the presidential visit.

Marra said Obama's visit should trigger an uptick in local tourism this summer.

 "This is timed beautifully - right before the Memorial Day weekend," Marra said. "I think it portends good things to come for Cooperstown."

Some local residents said there are rumors Obama will get a tour of the village.

But Mayor Katz, who has served as an ad hoc tour guide in recent years to elected officials visiting "America's Perfect Village," said he has gotten no official word about such a tour.

"I would love to show the president around Cooperstown, if they want me to," he said. "I try to give as much information as possible about Cooperstown when we have visitors here."

He said there has also been no request by the White House to allow access to village-owned Doubleday Field. If the event planners wanted to incorporate a presidential stop at Doubleday, Katz said he would grant the request.

Many local merchants are hoping Obama stops into their shop or restaurant," the mayor said."Everyone wants him to visit their business," he said.

The first word of Obama's trip to Cooperstown came in Saturday's edition of The Daily Star. In his radio address later that day, Obama stated: "On Thursday, I'll be heading to Cooperstown, New York – home of the Baseball Hall of Fame – to talk about tourism. Because believe it or not, tourism is an export. And if we make it easier for more foreign visitors to visit and spend money at America's attractions and unparalleled national parks, that helps local businesses and grows the economy for everyone."

Over the weekend, local activists opposed to gas drilling were exchanging  emails, debating the tone of the message they want to send Obama, who has been supportive of shale gas development as a way to make the nation more self-sufficient in energy production.

Julie Huntsman, a town of Otsego board member, said she's like to get the opportunity to explain to Obama why so many people in the Cooperstown area are opposed to hydrofracking.

Her message to him, she said, would be: "President Obama - welcome to Cooperstown and Otsego County - one of the most beautiful regions on earth.  So many of us have been working so hard, for years, to protect our clean water and air here.  These are irreplaceable assets on which our health, tourism, agriculture, breweries and wineries absolutely depend.  And these irreplaceable assets are increasingly vanishing from the American landscape because of an irresponsible, toxic fracking industry run rampant.  We need you to lead a critical shift in our national energy policy towards clean renewable energy - now.  Lacking that, the American Dream, and clean water and air for all -plus the well being of the planet from climate change - are all imperiled."

Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said his deputies will be out in force, working cooperatively on security with the Secret Service, State Police and Cooperstown Village Police. He declined to discuss any specific plans for the day, citing the need for security. 

The visit comes on the eve of the kickoff of the busy summer season for the Hall of Fame, the local museums and the village itself. Among former big league stars slated to participate in teh Hall of Fame Classic on Saturday are Steve Garvey, Pedro Martinez, Hideki Matsui and Jim Thome. The Classic will be preceded by the Cooperstown Game Day Parade at noon, followed by the Home Run Derby at 1 p.m.

Obama's visit comes two month's before this year's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, featuring six retired major leaguers. 

The electees include: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas, and three expansion era committee electees -- Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. They will be enshrined in a July 27 ceremony at the Clark Sports Center.