by Dan McClelland
Village leaders yesterday morning made a commitment to spend as much as $37,000 on capital improvements to the municipal park ball field to accommodate the arrival of Tupper Lake's new Empire League semi-pro team next summer. As a follow-up to that motion the local officials went on record that from now on only baseball will be played there.
Baseball fans in the community have been buzzing for over a week since it was reported that Empire League President Eddie Gonzalez wants to expand his upstate league to include a team from Tupper Lake, the River Pigs.
Village board members have been courting the official this past month, after Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau was coaxed by Trustee David “Haji” Maroun to get an Empire League team for Tupper. The Saranac Lake mayor since last year secured for his community its new Surge team Mr. Rabideau set up a meeting between Mr. Gonzalez and a fired-up village delegation at the Hotel Saranac, where this whole venture began to take shape.
That meeting was followed by two others at the local diamond to give the league president a view of the local facilities and he was impressed by what he found here. The big lights, recently overhauled by the village, will give him the opportunity to schedule evening games which he said he liked.
Working with the board to bring a team to this community is a committee chaired by Trustee Maroun and with members who include Rick and Jay Skiff, Royce Cole, Jed Dukett and Trustee Ron LaScala. Members Rick Skiff, Fire Chief Royce Cole and Mr. Dukett attended Monday's board session.
After a 45-minute long briefing of the improvements to the ball field that will be needed to bring the team here by Trustee Maroun and Rick Skiff that morning, Ron LaScala called for a commitment from the board.
He offered two motions. The first was for the board to develop a new policy for all groups using the municipal park going forward. “From each organization we'll need a site plan and the boundaries of the park it will use” before this board should give its approval.
“It'll tell us exactly what footprint of the park they intend to use!”
He called for that policy to be drafted by the end of next week for board review.
He said the village has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the municipal park through its recent waterfront revitalization grants and “it needs to protect its assets.”
“There needs to be strong rules” to guide events and activities there from now on, he continued.
He said too if the board is “going to commit” to hosting a new semi-pro baseball team here and spend taxpayers' money to that end, “the only thing that will be going on inside the ball field will be baseball.”
That became the meat of the second motion.
Mayor Paul Maroun hoped a new policy could be drafted in time for next Wednesday's village board meeting.
Asked by Jim Lanthier about the fate of events like the Woodsmen's Days and Rock the Arc which have traditionally used the ball field area, it was explained they would be moved to the outer and larger areas on the west side of the park. Mr. Lanthier, who attends most village board meetings, also made a pitch for the return of the horse pull to the Sunday of Woodsmen's Days.
He said when he took photos of the event during the Sundays when the horse pulls were held, the grandstand was packed. In recent years, since their departure, there has been no one sitting there.
“This board wants to work with every group” to help them use the park better, Mayor Maroun told him.
“We want more events in our park, not fewer!” echoed Ron LaScala.
He and the mayor both said the big events now in the ball field can be moved over to the west side of the site, where the annual Masonic Lodge flea market is always held.
They said between the village, town and school district all events here in the park can be served. Trustee LaScala suggested help could come in the form of bleachers, new lights, etc. in the western portion.
He thinks the events and their organizers will be better served by that help and by consolidating their footprint in that section of the park.
Concern has been expressed in the past week by officers of the Woodsmen's Association about the relocation of their big event.
“They are a private organization, and if they decide to pull out that's their decision. But we're not looking to get rid of anyone...to force anyone out...we're looking for more events for the park,” said Trustee LaScala.
Fire Chief Royce Cole suggested convening a meeting between the organizers of the events in the park and the new baseball committee. He suggested joint events could be staged there with a big event on one end, a baseball game in the ball park, a Little League game in its new field and music at the bandshell.
“I'm 100 percent in favor of all of this,” he told the board. “-And if we all work together we can make it happen!”
Speaking of his committee members feelings, he said “we have no desire to push anyone out!”
The new baseball committee, directed by Trustee Maroun, will assist the team to make it successful here- everything from promoting the 26 to 28 home games each summer to fundraising to making repairs to the grounds and its buildings.
Trustee LaScala said he and Mr. Maroun committed last year to bringing more events to the municipal park and the new Empire League's arrival is one way.
He said for eight to ten weeks next summer there will be activity there almost every day. There could be as many as four Empire League games a week during its season which begins mid-June and ends in August.
He estimated it might take five years to bring the facility and local interest for the baseball play to its full potential, but the end result will be worth it.
With the ball field's development, he said, he hopes will be the arrival of food and drink concession there, including beer sales.
He predicted the new league, with its minimal $5 per adult admission charge and free for children, will develop the park “into something as American as it can be!”
Mr. LaScala noted that during their meeting at the Hotel Saranac when this entire venture began to gel, he met a father of one of the players on The Surge.
He said he told us many families will come here on their vacations to see their sons play and stay for a few days.
Trustee Haji Maroun, who attends all the Surge games in the afternoons with his son, Carson, said the games “attract a ton of people” even though they are held at 1p.m.
He said he recently ran into Frank Camelo, originally of Tupper Lake, who attends many of the games at the Petrova field, and he mentioned he was a bat boy when the Yankees had an affiliate team in Tupper Lake in the 1940s. “Frank told me the attendance at the local games during those years when the semi-pro team was here was amazing!”
The field and stadium developed here as part of the Civilian Conservation Corp projects of the 1930s were somewhat modeled after Yankee stadium, it was noted yesterday morning.
Trustee Clint Hollingsworth asked his colleagues what they thought the overall economic impact of the new baseball team would have on the community, compared with the village's investment in the ball field this year and in the years ahead.
Trustee Maroun said the players will live here and spend their small salaries here. The players receive about $200 week, but the principle purpose of playing in the league is giving them exposure to major league scouts, he explained. He noted six players from the Empire League have already been called up so far this summer.
He added families of players will also visit here to see the 18 to 25 year olds play.
Next week, we'll look at the punch list of expenditures Trustee Maroun and his committee pitched to the full board yesterday.