Against a backdrop of pure Americana – the Stars & Stripes, Doubleday Field and the Sandlot Kid – U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, the state’s senior senator, this afternoon pledged federal support that would go directly to local governments in the support package now being negotiated in Congress. He appeared with county board Chairman David Bliss, left, and Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who have been pleading for that kind of direct aid to municipalities (if the money goes through Albany, it can never make it here), as well as, inset left, Mayors Gary Herzig of Oneonta and Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch of Cooperstown, who detailed how their municipalities’ financials have been stricken by the coronavirus threat. He called Cooperstown “one of the hardest hit” communities due to its dependence on tourism. The senator, who makes a swing to Otsego County at least once a year, had begun the day in Buffalo and, his airplane grounded at Oneonta Airport by the weather, drove on to New York City. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
COOPERSTOWN – “Personally, for me, The Sandlot Kid, in a place of prominence,” said Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch when asked about the most meaningful part of the $5-million-plus redevelopment of Doubleday Field. “He’s so special.”
Victor Salvatore’s bronze sculpture of a barefoot farm boy with a bat on his shoulder was installed in 1939, when the Doubleday Field grandstand was completed. “One of the true icons of the game,” the Dickson Baseball Dictionary calls it.
The mayor recalled her dismay in the 1990s when renovation around the statue made it look like it belonged to adjacent Key Bank, not the village and the baseball community everywhere. “He was fenced off and not given the space he deserved,” she said.
Now, it’s been moved to the center of the main, brick-covered walkway from Main Street to the grandstand entrance, to inspire and be admired by hundreds of thousands of fans heading into Classics and Hall of Fame award ceremonies in the years ahead.
“My favorite part is the grandstand piece,” said Trustee and Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, a CGP historic preservationist who walks her dogs daily through the construction site. “We found ways to make this really fantastic structure increasingly accessible. Most of the stuff from that era is slipping away. We found a way to highlight it and keep it functional.”
“It looks beautiful,” said former mayor Jeff Katz; the planning began in his administration. He cited the new archway, the prospective informational signage, the pedestrian walkway, The Sandlot Kid.
“Those are just a handful of things that people said could never get fixed – they’ve gotten fixed, and they are continuing to be fixed,” said Katz, a baseball writer who is also president of the Friends of Doubleday, a private fundraising entity.
The rethinking of the Doubleday parking lot and renovation of the 1939 grandstand was supposed to be finished by last Friday, May 15. But with the COVID-19 threat cancelling the May 17 Hall of Fame Classic game, the urgency dissipated. The mayor says the work will now wrap up in mid-June.
Also remaining is the redevelopment of the third-base bleachers. When the 1950s-era cement seats were removed last year, the soil beneath was too soft to support and bleachers, rest rooms, offices and pavilion planned there.
Delaware Engineers and Saratoga Associates, a landscaping firm, are now conducting “value engineering” to see how much of the original plan the village might still afford, the mayor said. That work may be delayed until 2021.
But that did little to allay the mayor’s excitement at what has been done since May 21, 2018, when she and state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, announced a $1 million grant from his office and another $3 million in anticipated state funding to renovate the Doubleday Field property just a few months past its 100th anniversary on Sept. 6, 2019.
Then-Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, came up with another $1 million grant that December.
The grandstand, a WPA project, was completed in May 1939, in time for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s first Induction of Babe Ruth and five other early heroes of the game. So this month is that structure’s 80th anniversary.
In a tour of the near-complete site the other day, the mayor was enthusiastic throughout, from the new “Doubleday Field” entrance archway at Main Street, to the sweep of pedestrian walkways on the parking lot’s east and west side, to the burial of all electrical conduits leading to the historic grandstand, a $300,000 project. (If those are your sneakers thrown over the wire, claim them now.)
The outer walls have been repaired, using some of the original shiny yellow-brown tile saved from previous repair jobs. The gable, vintage lighting and the sign on the front entrance are repaired and painted, and will be illuminated by spotlights set in the new brick sidewalk below.
Inside the grandstand, handrails have been installed for the first time. The painting and repairs are being finished. The pressbox – it was discovered the support posts were rotten – had to be repaired. The dugouts, damp and earthen-floored, have been renovated.
The one disappointment is the cavernous depression along the third-base line, but that has been
stabilized sufficiently to allow the new plan, when determined and funded – with perhaps a mezzanine instead of a pavilion – to go forward.
On the way out, the mayor paused at a doggy water fountain, attached to one for human beings, at the entry arch.
Back on Main Street, the mayor points out that the $2.2 million federally funded TEP (for Transportation Enhancement Program) – in the works for seven years – is being completed at almost exactly the same time.
She pointed out the two sets of poles to string promotional banners across Main Street – one at Key Bank, the other at the former general store. At Main and Chestnut, the new traffic signal and pedestrian walkway lights went into service last Friday, May 15.
She is particularly looking forward to the installing of new “way-finding” signs, in a design developed by the late Art Calhoun in his metal-working shop on Linden Avenue.
One side will direct visitors to local shops, restaurants and attractions; the flip side will be interpretive, one detailing The Doubleday Myth, another Otsego Lake, others the Clark and Cooper families’ contributions.
Katz called the lack of interpretive signage “a time-honored problem … Everything that’s happening now is addressing decades-old issues – group space, beautification. Some study in the 1970s said the Doubleday parking lot was the only example of urban blight in the village.”
“In the’40s, the Bursey playground was there. There were gazebos there. It’s just a thrill to see it’s moving forward,” he said.
Begun inauspiciously in March 2014 with the felling of 37 trees on Main Street, a remarkable series of successes has followed in the reinvention of downtown Cooperstown for 21st century tourism.
The environmentally sensitive rain gardens, new sidewalks, streetlights, replacement of 19th century water mains and sewerage – even a new flag pole, embroiled in controversy as it now is – have followed in quick succession.
But it’s not over, as observed in the past few days, as the Upstate Companies, which is growing
into a Mount Upton-based behemoth, began working on the latest projects:
• One, the reinvention of pocket Pioneer Park, at Main and Pioneer, with a low stage, bike racks and water fountain, more benches and new plantings. The more open center will provide more elbow room around Santa’s Cottage, often packed as it is from Thanksgiving Weekend until the Big Day.
• Two, a new traffic signal setup at Pioneer and Chestnut. The Upstate crews are replacing curbs and sidewalks (with brick pavers) from Pine Boulevard to the intersection. The traffic light will be replaced with a single signal, just as it is, but adjustable to easy entry and exit from the nearby fire station.
Chestnut Street will be narrowed, for less-stressful pedestrian crossings, and a small plaza created in front of Mel’s. Plus, Walk/Don’t Walk signals will further ease pedestrians’ minds as they navigate more clearly delineated crosswalks, courtesy with long-lasting stripes from Andela Glass, the Richfield Springs recycling concern.
(That last piece depends on the weather, according to Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch: Blacktop requires a stretch of 50-plus degree weather to cure.)
While this isn’t the beginning, it isn’t the end, either.
At Doubleday Field, water and sewer lines will be laid from the Main Street entrance to the left side of the grandstand to provide service to the restrooms, locker rooms and pavilion that will be part of next year’s third-baseline reconstruction.
Depending on how soon winter arrives, work may begin on the Main Street entrance, including the fancy arch pictured with this editorial.
Next summer, the construction should be going strong along Doubleday Field’s third-base line. The mayor isn’t sure how much will be done by next year’s 100th anniversary of the baseball landmark, but there should be enough to be impressive during ceremonies planned by the Friends of Doubleday.
That’s a lot in five years, but it’s not over – probably never over, Mayor Tillapaugh
Fowler Way, which leads to Doubleday from Chestnut Street, next to the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, is much used, but narrow, bumpy and lacking sidewalks, all of which could and should be addressed.
She is particularly interested in upgrading Hoffman Lane, across from the Hall of Fame, to lead more of the quarter-million fans that visit the Hall each year to Lakefront Park and James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass. Locals are often surprised to learn that many visitors are unaware the lake is even there.
Then, attention could turn to Railroad Avenue, which is becoming a center of local life and commerce, with Mike Manno’s 21 Railroad office building, and Attorney Michelle Kennedy’s office building next door, Cooperstown Distillery, the Railroad Inn, the renovated Spurbeck’s, Butch Welch’s recently redone parking lot,
and the Susquehanna & Western Railroad headquarters.
With the empty “Where It All Began” warehouse and other space for apartments, Railroad Avenue is a promising next center of population growth.
Will it ever end? Listening to the mayor, you have to conclude: Never, and it shouldn’t.
COOPERSTOWN – Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch will update the public on several village projects due to begin right after Labor Day at an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, in Village Hall’s second-floor ballroom, which is accessible by elevator from the Fair Street entrance.
Topics to be covered include the waste-water treatment plant improvement project, Pioneer Park upgrades, the continuation of the Downtown Pedestrian Improvement Project (TEP), and design and construction plans for Doubleday Field. Engineers and contractors will be on hand to answer questions.
COOPERSTOWN – If you’ve ever dreamed of setting foot on historic Doubleday Field, Jeff Katz and the Friends of Doubleday can make that happen.
“People always want to get on the field,” he said. “There’s lots of signage telling people the story of Doubleday, but it doesn’t get them out there.”
The Friends of Doubleday – Katz is president – have begun offering tours 8-9 a.m. every Wednesday and Thursday to take fans through the grandstand, into the dugout and onto the historic field, where they can take pictures or take a run around the bases.
Jeff Idelson, Baseball Hall of Fame president, left, and Hall board Chairman Jane Forbes Clark, right, stand with members of 30 Major League Baseball teams who made up the roster for the 2019 Hall Of Fame Classic game at Doubleday Field this afternoon in Cooperstown. Despite some sprinkles, professional ballplayers gave their fans a great game as well as T-shirt give-aways, children’s competitions, as well as signing autographs and memorabilia. At right, Maria Noto, Cooperstown, backed by the Cooperstown Sign Language club, sings the National Anthem at the beginning of the afternoon’s game. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
From the starting line in front of Doubleday Field a few minutes ago, Cooperstown’s Frankie Panzarella, top photo, center, and his pal Justin Wolfe, left, led the 8th annual BASE Race 5K “Fun Run” now underway through the streets of the village, the first activity in a day of Hall of Fame offerings. At 10 a.m., ribbon-cutting on the new exhibit on baseball cards, “Shoebox Treasures,” will happen at 25 Main. The 11th annual Hall of Fame Classic, featuring six Hall of Famers and many MLB standouts, begins at 1:05 p.m. at Doubleday; tickets are still on sale at the Hall. Between Frankie and Justin is Bradley Weldon of Cooperstown, who is running with Ashlyn Wolfe, an assistant Otsego County Dairy Princess. Inset, the Hall’s Shirley Tyler, who is emceeing, chats with the two celebrity starters, Grant Balfour, who played with four teams, from the Twins to the A’s, and, with back to camera, Ryan Rowland-Smith, who played with the Mariners and Diamondbacks. Both are rare Australian players who made it into the Majors. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
LEGENDS GAME – 1:05 p.m. The 11th annual Hall of Fame Classic 7-inning game w/6 HOF legends & players from all-30 MLB teams will play 7-inning game. Tickets $11-12.50. Pregame Home Run Derby at noon. Doubleday Field. Info, 607-207-9519, www.BaseballHall.org