Nader's 100, '69 O-Yanks' 50 to be celebrated

DAILY STAR FILE PHOTOIn this 1994 file photo, Sam Nader (left) sits in his box seats at Damaschke Field with the late George Steinbrenner (center), then owner of the New York Yankees.

The year 1969 saw a man land on the moon, the Woodstock music festival, an Oneonta Yankees league championship and Sam Nader's 50th birthday.

Fifty years later, Oneonta is again celebrating the last two items on that list.

The Oneonta Outlaws are hosting a 100th birthday celebration for Nader and a 50-year reunion for the 1969 New York-Pennsylvania League champions before Saturday's game at Damaschke Field. And while the two events happen to coincide, celebrating them together is more fitting than accidental.

"For Sam, it's a lifetime of dedication and hard work creating a great environment for Oneonta baseball fans every summer. His commitment to Oneonta is unmatched, he is truly Mr. Baseball. We owe him a true debt of gratitude for 50 years of baseball here," Oneonta High School baseball coach and Outlaws general manager and head coach Joe Hughes said.

It was fantastic having a professional team in town. (The '69 Yankees) symbolize the respect that Sam has in the baseball community. They are one of the successful teams from that time and having them here is a great way to celebrate his legacy and give him a night he well deserves."

Prior to Saturday's Outlaws game against the Amsterdam Mohawks, returning members of the '69 team will walk on the field and be introduced to the crowd before Nader receives the same treatment. National Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson and and a representative* from the office of Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, will also be in attendance to honor Nader, who said he would "die trying" to make the celebration.

Delgado's representative will present Nader a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in his honor and a letter from the congressman.*

It is because of Nader, who served as Oneonta's mayor from 1961-1969, that professional baseball returned to Oneonta in 1966 and stayed until 2009. The Oneonta Indians (a Boston Red Sox affiliate) played at Damaschke Field from 1940-1942, and after World War II returned as the Oneonta Red Sox from 1946-1951. But the Canadian-American League in which those teams played folded in 1951, leaving Oneonta without a professional team.

When Nader took office, he saw America's pastime as a way to bring the region together in the face of the decade's social turmoil.

"Nothing was right in the 60s," Nader recently told The Daily Star. "Baseball would get the people to be more community-minded."

Nader went to a 1965 NY-Penn League meeting, and discovered that the Red Sox were looking to relocate their Single-A club. The Oneonta Red Sox returned in 1966, with Nader as the club president, beginning a still-active streak of 53 years with summer baseball at Damaschke Field.

The Red Sox lasted just one season as the league transitioned to short-season Single A before the 1967 season. The league told Nader that he could have an affiliate from the Cincinnati Reds, the Kansas City Royals or the New York Yankees. As a lifelong Yankees fan governing in the state of New York, the choice was obvious; the Yankees played their first season in 1967 and stayed until 1998.

"I remember the whole Hughes family being around the ballpark in some fashion, from the beginning until today," Hughes said. "My brothers and sisters, my father announcing the games over the PA system...and here I am 40-some years later still working with the Outlaws."

Outlaws owner Gary Laing, like Nader and Hughes, grew up in Oneonta. Having brought the Outlaws to Oneonta after the Tigers' departure, he understands the challenges Nader faced and remembers the way he treated area residents at the ballpark.

"Sam did such a great job with the minor league team here. He had baseball in a small town where it didn't exist and he kept it here for such a long time," Laing said. "I used to shag balls as a kid and he'd give us a hot dog for returning balls."

In 1998, then-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (who Nader calls a friend) moved the team to Staten Island under pressure from Mayor Rudy Giuliani to move a team into New York City. A Tigers affiliate moved into the city, playing in the NY-Penn League from 1999 until 2009. Nader and Sid Levine, the remaining partners from the club's founding, sold the club in 2008, and after one more season in Oneonta the team moved to Norwich, Connecticut.

Thus ended 43 years of professional baseball in Oneonta, but not before famous ballplayers like Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Curtis Granderson and many others came through the area on their way to the majors. John Elway also played in the city during his foray into minor-league ball in 1982.

Yankees teams also brought 10 league titles to Oneonta, the first of them in 1969. Ed Waters was a 21-year-old outfielder on the 1969 team that, according to Baseball Reference, tallied a 52-27 record.

"It was a team that really gelled together. We won so many games from behind in the eighth and ninth innings," Waters said during a phone interview with The Daily Star. "It's hard to describe how much fun it was, it was like every night was an adventure."

Those fond memories made Waters begin organizing the reunion about three years ago. He recalled the "true fans of the game" in town and said that baseball in Oneonta benefited more than just the supporters.

"The setting, with the hills in the background, it was just idyllic. The people, the restaurants, the businesspeople, we were treated really well," Waters said. "Where do 50 years go? When we talk on the phone to guys all over the country, we all have similar memories. They are happy memories for all of us, and (in the minor leagues) there were places I wouldn't want to go back to."

And of course, there was Sam Nader. Waters said that Nader helped him register with the Army National Guard so he could fulfill his conscription duties in the reserves.

"It was a crazy time. The moon landing, Woodstock, Charles Manson; the Mets, the Jets, and the Oneonta Yankees all won championships," Waters said. "It was a great time for music and Oneonta was such a fun town."

Now, Nader remains the unmoving constant, and much like their traveling days in the minors, the players return to Oneonta to make memories. Saturday's festivities again celebrate that dynamic 50 years after its establishment.

Gates open Saturday at 5:30 p.m. before ceremonies begin at 6:15 p.m. and first pitch at 7:05 p.m.

*changed at 10:49 a.m. July 11 to correct who will attend, and to add information.

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