By JENNIFER HILL & JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Induction 2019 was notable for what didn’t happen as much as did.
One, the folks who didn’t collapse from the heat.
A violent storm late Saturday broke the humidity that created a steamy high of 88, making way for much drier Induction Day Sunday, July 21, with highs in the low 80s and a slight breeze keeping the Induction crowd feeling more comfortable than expected.
Two, the parade that didn’t happen.
Due to a pending thunderstorm that didn’t happen (until later), the Hall cancelled what’s become a weekend highlight: The Parade of Legends. Still, as most the Hall of Famer stayed enclosed in the cabs of pickup trucks as they rolled down Main Street past thousands of fans, Johnny Bench, 71, hopped out and walked the distance, and other stars followed suit as 25 Main neared.
Three, the attendance record that wasn’t broken.
While the crowd of 55,000, as reported by the Hall, was 3,000 more than last year’s class that included Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero, it still fell significantly short of the 2007 Cal Ripkin Jr./Tony Gwynn 82,000 record.
COOPERSTOWN – When OHS retired athletic director Joe Hughes discovered his former teammate, 16-season MLB shortstop Ozzie Guillén was in Cooperstown last weekend, he and wife Jane jumped in the car and drove up.
“He was there to see Harold Baines get inducted in the Hall of Fame,” said Hughes, who continues as Oneonta Outlaws manager this season. “So, we went over to where he was signing autographs on Main Street and talked for 20 to 30 minutes. It was great seeing him again.”
Hughes and Guillén met 38 years ago when they played together on a Venezuelan professional baseball team in Valera, a small town in the western part of the country.
P.J. Carter, left, son of famed Expo and Met Gary Carter, gives his dad’s best wishes to Tommy Lasorda, famed two-decade manager of the L.A. Dodgers, who is signing autographs today on Main Street, Cooperstown. Behind Lasorda is another great, Lou Pinella, who finished up his 16-year playing career as a Yankee. Crowds are bigger than usual for a first day of Induction Weekend, said Vinnie Russo, proprietor of Mickey’s Place who can compare hour-by-hour records from past years, and are only going to grow tomorrow as Induction Weekend gets underway in earnest. Inset, part of the Hall of Fame’s brain trust – from left, Vice Presidents Ken Meifert, sponsorship & development; Doug Jones, finance & administration, and Sean Gahagan sponsorship & development – slipped out for a quick hot-dog lunch in front of Danny’s Place. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Welcome, Induction attendees! Will there really be more than a record-breaking 84,000 of us? Excitement.
If you’re been here before, look around: You will see many changes and improvements to Cooperstown’s downtown that have occurred since the last record-setter, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn set the record for attendance in 2008.
If you came then, you might be astonished by what you see now. Then, all the sidewalks were cracked. Main Street needed paving. The whole downtown had a bit of a well-worn sense about it – endearing, yes, but still…
Beginning in 2012, that began to change quickly.
Now-Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch remembers being a bit nonplussed at her first Village Board budget meeting after being elected a trustees in March 2011.
“The budget wasn’t balancing very well,” she recalled the other day. “There was a big surplus in the Water Fund, and $400,000 had to be shifted from Water into the General Fund” just to stay even.
“That was maintenance level,” she said.
The next year, the village trustees made a decision after the most angrily debated local issue in decades: In the face of a sharply divided electorate, they voted to extend paid parking to all downtown streets between Labor Day Weekend and Columbus Day Weekend.
Almost immediately, Village Hall’s financial picture brightened.
The first year, paid parking added $250,000 to the $5 million village budget, and that’s continued to grow in the years since to $400,000 in the fiscal year that ended May 31. Village taxes haven’t gone up in five years.
At the same time, a freshman Village Trustee (now Deputy Mayor) Cindy Falk, began developing prowess in grantsmanship. Successes soon followed:
In 2013-14, a $600,000 state Green Innovation Grant paid for “rain gardens” around newly planted trees. In part, the idea was to slow runoff into Otsego Lake and the Susquehanna River. The first brick sidewalks were also installed.
About the same time, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $2.2 million for downtown enhancements, from repaving, to sidewalks, to redone and new lampposts (with LED lights), to street furniture, on Main but also on Pioneer.
The final step will come this fall: Narrowing the Main and Chestnut intersection, adding walk/don’t walk signs, and generally making it less scary to pedestrians. (If you’ve tried to cross there, you know what we mean.)
Local money, $1.2 million, was used for more routine projects, albeit important: the replacing of water lines and sewerage under Pioneer Street dating back to the 1880s.
A $5.8 million renovation of historic Doubleday Field, the symbolic – if not actual – Birthplace of Baseball is now underway. Go and take a look.
In all, Falk estimates $10-15 million has been spent to make this village of 1,769 people more welcoming to a half-million visitors a year.
Throughout this period, now-retired Trustee Lou Allstadt led the charge on upgrading the historic Village Hall. Stop by and take a look, and stop by the library and Cooperstown Art Association gallery while you’re at it.
No one has a ready tally of all this. $5 million. $10 million. Maybe more. Whatever, a lot for a village of
There’s more still to come, particularly at Pioneer Park (Main and Pioneer), where initial work – a bike rack and water found – has already begun.
A stage is planned against the Tunnicliff Inn side wall for the popular “Music on Main” programs during the summer. Brick pavers will add handicapped accessibility. And landscape – a London plane tree and birches – will be added, three lampposts and new furniture.
“We all recognized new sources of revenues were needed, and aggressive grant application, to take care of infrastructure that was just going to deteriorate,” Tillapaugh said, who was fully involved in all of this as deputy mayor to Jeff Katz, who retired from office a year ago April 1, and now as mayor herself.
She also pointed out that merging village court into Otsego Town Court, and repositioning the municipal library as a school-district library, paid for by a separate levy, further helped the village’s financial picture.
The free-wheeling nature of the 2008 Ripken-Gwynn weekend is no more. Everywhere you’ll see high-security measures: from temporary iron fences to such additions as $4,000 trash cans that can be locked during the Legends of Baseball parade Saturday evening. You’ll also notice a much greater police presence.
Regrettably, that’s the nature of our post-9/11 world, intensified after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It can’t be helped for now; maybe in a better world to come. We can at least be assured that state-of-the-art measures are in place to ensure the security of the at-least 84,001 of us this weekend.
Enjoy – the Induction of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Harold Baines and Lee Smith will likely be one for the record book. In beautified downtown Cooperstown this weekend, we may be participating in history.
Standing in front of Minnesota Twins infielder Rod Carew’s plaque, Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera reflected on the legacy of the first Panamanian elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” he said. “He made it possible for me to follow him.” Rivera, the first player elected to the Hall of Fame with 100 percent of the votes on the ballot, toured the Hall this morning as part of his pre-induction initiation, signing the spot where his plaque will be hung during the July 21 induction and posing with a fan, at right. “If you told me when I got on a plane to the United States at age 20 to play baseball, that after playing 19 years I would be sitting here, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “It’s freezing outside, but being here warms my heart.” (Patrick Wager, AllOTSEGO.com)