COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- In 75 years, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has attracted more than 160 million visitors and, at last, one sitting president.
Seven-year-old Cooper Hodgdon’s bright orange sign emblazoned with "President Obama, Play Ball" welcomed the president to Cooperstown, where businesses were preparing for the first big weekend of tourist season that holds much promise, for a speech on tourism.
Obama visited the quaint upstate village on Thursday in a bid to promote a resource he said he feels can give the country more of an economic jolt than it already does.
"It’s a great honor to be the first," Obama said at the start of a speech inside the Hall of Fame’s Plaque Gallery, with Babe Ruth’s bronze likeness hanging on the wall behind him and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson sitting in front. "The good news is we have a great product. People want to come here. We’re trying to make it easier. We want to bring in more visitors, faster. Then they can get to Cooperstown faster.
"We’re making great strides, but we can do better."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was late arriving after accepting the Democratic Party nomination on Long Island and watched the president’s speech backstage.
"It’s great publicity for Cooperstown and the state," Cuomo said. "His message resonates with us. Tourism is big business in the state, a business that we have invested in heavily."
The visit was enough to make Cooper’s parents, physicians Travis and Gretchen Hodgdon, pull him out of school for the day.
"We think this is wonderful for tourism," Gretchen Hodgdon said. "This is such a historic event, and for such a small town like Cooperstown it really represents hundreds of small towns across the United States where tourism really is a major economic driver. We’re really excited about that."
With birds chirping and trees beginning to blossom after a long winter and cold spring, the town is gearing up for what could be a big summer. The Hall of Fame will celebrate its diamond anniversary in three weeks and the class of 2014 to be inducted in July includes pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, slugger Frank Thomas and managers Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox.
"It’s supposed to be an exciting year for the Hall of Fame, being the 75th anniversary and a good induction, so Obama visiting is only going to enhance the excitement around here," said Sarah Mower, manager of Mickey’s Place on Main Street.
The baseball shrine was closed for the day for security reasons, giving Obama a rare chance to do a quick tour with no distractions.
"It’s certainly a positive impact on Main Street, but people who have come to Cooperstown to specifically visit the Hall of Fame today are out of luck," she said. "We had a couple in from Boston who can’t see it now, but they’re shopping instead, so that’s a good thing."
Outside, about 100 activists against hydraulic fracturing toted placards to help deliver their message: ‘Keep fracking out.’
"He’s got to stop it with a nation ban because these resources will go away," said Abbie Tanber, of Oxford. "It’ll ruin the environment and, more importantly, our water."
A smaller group of proponents of the method used to extract oil and gas from shale also made the trip.