Traverse City Record-Eagle

Z_CNHI News Service

May 20, 2014

Cooperstown astir over news of Obama's visit to Hall of Fame

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The atmosphere in this idyllic upstate village - source of the Susquehanna River and home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum - is electric in anticipation of a visit by President Barack Obama.

Few details are available regarding the presidential stop in the place that bills itself as “America’s Perfect Village,” aside from a planned visit to the baseball shrine on Main Street.

But, for locals, the fact that the leader of the free world has selected Cooperstown validates a self-image as a destination of many attractions including art museums, an opera and, of course, the Hall of Fame.

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

Word of Obama's trip broke in Saturday's edition of The Oneonta Daily Star. He confirmed plans to visit Cooperstown to talk about tourism during his weekly radio address later that day: “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."

Katz offered no predictions as to how many people will be in town Thursday, though he said it's unlikely to approach the 13,000 who packed Doubleday Field in 2004 to see a double-bill concert of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.

The village's population is about 1,900.

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

U.S. Congressman Chris Gibson said the visit is great news for the region.

"This is definitely going to be good for tourism," Gibson said. "We're big supporters of the Hall of Fame, and it's great for the Hall of Fame that this is happening."

Gibson, a Republican from Kinderhook, south of Albany, said he was a promoter of legislation that prompted the U.S. Mint to issue distinctive coins commemorating the Hall's 75th anniversary this year. Obama, he said, could further enhance tourism by getting behind tax reforms to allow Americans to take home more earned income.

Gene Marra, proprietor of the Cooperstown Distillery on Railroad Avenue, said he learned from an associate with a White House connection that Obama plans to stop for about an hour and will address a hand-selected gathering at the Hall of Fame.

Marra said he’ll celebrate the day by offering the distillery's award-winning Abner Doubleday Double Play Vodka at a discount.

 "This is timed beautifully - right before the Memorial Day weekend," he said.

Some residents noted rumors that Obama will tour of their village, but Katz, who has served as an ad hoc tour guide in recent years, said he's gotten no official word.

"I would love to show the president around Cooperstown, if they want me to," he said.

Over the weekend, local activists opposed to gas drilling exchanged emails debating the tone of the message they want to send Obama, who has supported shale gas development to make the nation more energy self-sufficient.

Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said deputies will be out in force during Obama’s visit, working with the Secret Service, State Police and village police. He declined to discuss specifics, citing the need for security.

The visit comes near the kickoff to a busy summer season in Cooperstown. Big League stars expected to play in Saturday's annual Hall of Fame Classic include Steve Garvey, Pedro Martinez, Hideki Matsui and Jim Thome.

The Hall of Fame's induction ceremony is scheduled later this summer, on July 27. This year’s ceremony features six retired major leaguers: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.

Joe Mahoney writes for The Daily Star of Oneonta, N.Y.

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