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Tupper has long to-do list to land baseball team

Village would move Woodsmen’s Days out of upgraded ball field

From left, Tupper Lake village Trustee Ron LaScala, Rick Skiff, Trustee David “Haji” Maroun, Empire Professional Baseball League President Eddie Gonzalez, Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau and Tupper Lake village Mayor Paul Maroun meet at the Hotel Saranac in late July to discuss Tupper Lake Empire League getting a baseball team, likely to be called the River Pigs. (Provided photo — Ron LaScala)

TUPPER LAKE — The village board met Tuesday morning with the River Pigs Baseball Committee to discuss the work that will need to be done to the Municipal Park softball field to secure an Empire Professional Baseball League team.

The board also fielded questions on Woodsmen’s Days being pushed out of the ball field if the team comes there. Woodsmen’s Days organizer Neilson Snye said he wants to talk with the village board and the rest of the organizers before being quoted in a newspaper article.

The committee, which overlaps two members with the village board, is working for the Empire League as volunteers to possibly get a new team to call the field on the shore of Raquette Pond its home.

It’s not final, but the committee members are pretty set on league President Eddie Gonzalez’s name, the Tupper Lake River Pigs, named after the brave workers who used to walk on floating logs to break up log jams in Raquette Pond during the village’s logging heyday.

After seeing Saranac Lake get the Surge, its Empire League baseball team, Tupper Lake village board Trustee David “Haji” Maroun spent July working to get this village a team of its own. After talking with Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, he set up a meeting with Gonzalez, who said he is highly interested in bringing a team to Tupper Lake. Village board Trustee Ron LaScala said Gonzalez’s lawyers are writing up a contract now.

However, Gonzalez has some stipulations for the field that he said must be met, and he wants a guarantee that everything will be done in time for next year’s season in June.

The board had a list of 29 work items before it Tuesday.

“If those things don’t happen, then there is no team,” Gonzalez said. “It hasn’t been a baseball field for many, many years.”

The field, now a softball field, was initially built for a Yankees baseball affiliate team decades ago and shared the same dimensions as the old Yankee Stadium, according to Haji Maroun.

“I would say we will start within a week,” village Mayor Paul Maroun said. “These guys are gung-ho.”

“Seventy-five percent of it will be complete by early September,” Haji Maroun said.

The big things will be focused on first: removing old fencing, seeding the outfield, digging out and renovating the buried dugouts, sodding and raising the infield, and constructing the “Pig Pen,” a two-tiered party deck on the first-base line.

LaScala said he also wants the contract to have language stating: “As long as the Empire League is operational, Tupper Lake has a team.”

Construction costs

The estimated cost of this work comes out to a little over $50,000, and currently the committee has around $30,000 in private, village and donated assistance.

“We’re looking to have not a whole lot of taxpayer dollars,” LaScala said.

The village is re-allocating $20,000 it was going to spend on new bleachers at the field after Tupper Lake Supply donated enough lumber to build the Pig Pen. Mayor Maroun said the bleachers there will be removed and the good wood will be used toward repairing the third-base side bleachers.

The Mayor also said the Clarence-Bell Softball League donated around $9,000 to the project.

The $20,000 in village money will go toward other field improvements, including creating bullpens, installing netting, improving lighting, purchasing Amish-built clubhouse sheds, improving the parking lot, improving storage and getting new fencing.

Haji Maroun and LaScala said this work will be done by volunteers from local companies, village and town government and the committee.

LaScala described himself as the “village watchdog” on the committee, making sure money is spent well. Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Royce Cole is focused on public relations. Rick Skiff is focused on organization. Jay Skiff and Jed Dukette have Little League baseball experience.

New policies

On Tuesday the village board voted to draft two new policies that will be voted on at the next board meeting.

One requires event planners looking to use the park to present the village board with a site plan detailing the boundaries of the event and uses of the land.

“If we’re going to put millions of dollars into 27-and-a-half acres, you should at least know (how it is used),” LaScala said.

The other motion was to make use of the field strictly for baseball, similar to a policy passed earlier this summer putting the same stipulation on the new Little League field.

The two major events discussed were Woodsmen’s Days and Rock the Arc, with most of the focus on Woodsmen’s.

Mayor Maroun said that the Woodsmen’s Days organizers were upset by the decisions about the field use. He said the village’s decision had nothing to do with hurting Woodsmen’s but was about doing something new at the park.

“We all respect the past, but we’ve got to look to the future,” the mayor said.

He said Woodsmen’s Days events would be shifted down the park, toward the Sunset Park Motel side.

LaScala said he is not looking to get rid of events but wants to fully utilize the park all summer long.

“Are you willing to work with the other groups and make them happy?” asked Tupper Lake Free Press Editor Dan McClelland.

“Absolutely,” was the response from the board.

Economy and community

Village Trustee Clint Hollingsworth asked what the economic impact and cost of the team will be.

“Are we fronting the bill for these guys?” he asked.

“They are paid for by the Empire League,” Haji Maroun responded. “They don’t make a lot of money, but they’re here to make the pros.”

He said the 18- to 24-year-old players stay in town with their families, spending money while they’re here.

“This is their home field for two months,” Haji Maroun said. “A lot of (their) families come up.”

They also said games off the side of state Route 3 might attract people driving through to stay, will bring in baseball-lovers from around the Tri-Lakes area and will get residents out on weeknights.

LaScala said the field can be used by youth baseball leagues, too. After kids turn 12 or 13 they move on from Little League to the Babe Ruth and American Legion leagues, which can’t play on a Little League-size field but can play on a professional-size one.

River Pigs

Not everyone has responded well to the team name River Pigs, with some online saying it is “degrading.”

Lanthier said many people don’t know what a river pig is.

Rick Skiff said most initial ideas for the name are already copyrighted.

“Major League Baseball has a trademark copyright on a ton of these names, including the Timberjacks, including the Lumberjacks, including the Woodsmen,” Rick said.

Gonzalez did research on Tupper Lake and logging to come up with the River Pigs name, digging up a logging industry term many have forgotten.

Some at the meeting saw the name as representing the tough spirit and dirty work that built Tupper Lake.

“You are never going to make everyone happy,” LaScala said.