COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — Call it a walk-off home run for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
President Barack Obama is traveling to Cooperstown on Thursday to stress how tourism can lead to good-paying jobs, and he’s delivering his speech inside the baseball mecca.
That will make Obama the first sitting president to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and it’s a big deal for the small venue that celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer.
“It’s historical,” Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said Tuesday. “The fact that he would recognize that we are a cultural icon and use Cooperstown to deliver a speech on tourism is big.”
Obama announced the trip during his weekly radio address on Saturday. The event will be private but the president’s speech will be streamed live on the Internet.
“Believe it or not, tourism is an export,” Obama said. “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.”
Idelson said he found out last week, and learned that the idea originated from the White House.
“The fact that a sitting president has not visited here in our first 74-plus years, it was surprising to get the call, but exciting to realize that the chief executive would be delivering a speech on tourism from a place that thrives on it,” Idelson said.
Local reaction has been positive.
“It came out of left field. I think it’s fantastic,” said Gene Marra, proprietor of the fledgling Cooperstown Distillery. “It’s a great Americana story, an iconic village, as Norman Rockwell as it gets, the home of baseball, Abner Doubleday, the whole nine yards.”
Ironically, the village’s biggest tourist attraction — the Hall of Fame — will be closed. Marra noted that it’s a security issue.
“We’re only closed three days a year — Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving,” Idelson said. “But I guess in our diamond anniversary year, one more day because the president is coming to visit is OK.”
The president’s visit will provide a kick-start to what’s expected to be one of Cooperstown’s best summers in years. This season’s highlights include Saturday’s Hall of Fame Classic at Doubleday Field, the Hall of Fame’s 75th anniversary in June, and induction ceremonies in July.
Still, like other sports museums, the Baseball Hall of Fame has experienced a steady decline over the past five years in the struggling economy. Attendance has gone from 289,818 in 2009 to 253,649 last year.
Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz offered no predictions on the public turnout Thursday to catch a glimpse of the president.
“This is very exciting stuff for us,” Katz told the Oneonta Daily Star. “The last president to visit Cooperstown was Martin Van Buren, and that happened in 1839.”