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May 21, 2014

Baseball veteran notes symbolism in Obama visit

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — President Barack Obama plans to stop at one of baseball's most iconic shrines Thursday to cheer American tourism as a means to entice foreign spending in the U.S. economy.

Robert Scott sees the presidential visit as something more than a talk on economics.

Scott, a veteran of baseball's Negro Leagues who travels to Cooperstown each summer to autograph baseball cards, said he's excited that Obama, the nation's first black president, will be the first sitting president to visit the Hall of Fame since Martin Van Buren in 1839.

Scott, 83, a retired bricklayer living in New Jersey, said he hopes Obama checks out exhibits that feature “the great players who played years ago.”

“I hope he gets to see all the guys - white or black,” said Scott. “These were talented guys who came up and played hard, and they did it for so little money. By going to Cooperstown, President Obama is making some history of his own.”

Having grown up in Macon, Ga., Scott played five seasons from 1946 to 1950 for the New York Black Yankees and Memphis Red Sox. He was a first baseman and pitcher, according to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. He was paid $175 per month at the height of his professional career.

In 1999, two days before Obama was inaugurated as the country's first African-American president, Scott told the New York Daily News: "All the things that we accomplished, everything that we did and everything we (had done) to us, it's all going to be worth it … ."

Scott recently said he hopes Obama, when visiting Cooperstown, reflects on the actions of those who went before him. He said he hopes Obama appreciates that it was Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams who used his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966 to urge the inclusion of Negro Leagues stars, who are represented there today.

"Ted was his own man,” said Scott. “He said what he knew was right.”

The president's visit will be timely for other reasons, coming just as Memorial Day weekend begins the summer season in Cooperstown.

On Saturday, nearby Doubleday Field will hold the annual Hall of Fame Classic, a seven-inning game expected to include appearances by Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Andre Dawson, Rollie Fingers, Eddie Murray, Phil Niekro and Ozzie Smith.

This year marks the Hall's 75th anniversary, and tourism officials in the region are hoping for a jump in visits after several years of decline. The Hall counted only about 262,000 visitors in 2012, compared to more than 380,000 in 1999.

Details for this story were reported by The Oneonta, N.Y., Daily Star.

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