By Greg Klein • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN — About 75 residents of Pathfinder Village got to play on their own field of dreams Sunday, Aug. 15, as they received instruction from former major league players at Doubleday Field.
“This is just unbelievable,” said Pathfinder President/CEO Paul Landers.
“There’s a lot of happy faces here today, a lot of lifetime memories,” said former MLB player and manager Clint Hurdle, who is an advisor for Baseball Miracles.
The event took form over the summer as Baseball Miracles, a nonprofit group dedicated to bringing baseball to “underserved communities around the world,” contacted the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and asked if it would be possible to hold an event in Cooperstown.
According to Hall officials, they connected Hurdle and Baseball Miracles with Pathfinder, the Edmeston home for children and adults with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities, as well as local doctor Joseph Dutkowsky, a Cooperstown surgeon who specializes “in the care of children disabled from cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome and other afflictions,” according to a New York Times feature.
Sunday, Dutkowsky, local officials and clergy, and Pathfinder officials and helpers looked on as the adult residents rotated through six stations and a photo tent for about 90 minutes of thrills. Helping them were former players David Palmer, Tom Carroll, Dave LaPointe, Dickie Noles and Gary Holle, as well as Hurdle, who played for the Royals, Reds, Mets, Cardinals and Mets, again, and managed Colorado for nearly a decade and Pittsburgh for most of another decade, until 2019.
“We have a lot of people here that most people don’t give a second thought,” Dutkowsky said, “but here they are playing with the elites. You’ve got a guy on this field today who threw a no-hitter in David Palmer for the Expos. You’ve got three guys with World Series rings, including Tom Carroll, who got his throwing to Johnny Bench. You’ve got a guy like Clint Hurdle who managed two major league teams. And they are all here today volunteering their time, teaching and making memories. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Dutkowsky, who also works with Columbia University in New York City, said he had already been aware of Baseball Miracles before the Hall made the connections this year. He said he always thought about bringing the group here once he saw a similar program with the ballet.
“I said, ‘I live in Cooperstown, New York. If they can do this with the New York City Ballet, why can’t we do it with baseball?'”
The Hall already partners with Pathfinder on an annual golf fundraiser Labor Day Weekend that includes an annual visit by a Hall of Fame player to Pathfinder Village for a tour and kickball game with the residents. Multiple people agreed Sunday at Doubleday was like a kickball game times six.
“We will talk about this for years,” said Monica Clark, a developmental assistant at Pathfinder. “We have a Hall of Famer come for our golf tournament every year and they still talk about that. Now they have this to talk about forever, until the next thing happens.”
Baseball Miracles provided the Pathfinder residents with their own baseball caps and jerseys. The jerseys not only had the Baseball Miracles logo on them, but they said Cooperstown across the front and had the residents’ last names on the back. The trip to the photo station will lead to baseball cards of their own for each resident, too.
For the Hall, once the connection was made, it was more an event to enjoy than direct, a stark change from normal induction-season activities. However, watching the joyful faces Sunday, Hall of Fame Vice President of Communications and Education Jon Shestakofsky said the event made him think of the essence of baseball.
“From my perspective, this event embodies the possibility of baseball to do good and bring people together,” he said, “regardless of where they are from or what their situation is. Baseball has a way of bringing people together and that is what we celebrate at the Hall of fame.”
The residents’ abilities varied but many of them impressed their instructors. Sometimes verbally and sometimes through expression, they said they enjoyed the day, too.
“I love Baseball Miracles,” said one resident. “They are a great team.”
Go to www.baseballmiracles.com for more information.