Upstate at Damaschke Field, the New York-Penn outpost in Oneonta, Sam Nader takes a sober view of family fun. "I run the only stadium in organized ball that doesn't sell alcohol," says the president and general manager of the Tigers. "I don't think kids should have to sit next to some drunk with a dirty mouth and an open fly. Do I drink? Hell, yeah. But at Damaschke we're purists. Or something. Or nuts."
Twenty-three hilly miles from Coopers-town, the field has seen pro ball since 1905—Babe Ruth barnstormed through in '20. The minor leagues came to town in '40 and left in '51. Nader was mayor of Oneonta in '66, when he led the movement to bring back a Class A franchise. In the years since—32 of which Damaschke served as the home of a Yankees farm club—Nader has resisted numerous offers to sell out to investors he feared would hawk beer and "McDonaldize" the joint.
A vital man of 84, Nader devotes his life to preserving Damaschke from progress. Both clubhouses are behind the grandstands; to reach the field, players must mingle with fans. The concession stand has no cash register: Money for sausage-and-pepper sandwiches goes straight into a wooden lock box that would make Al Gore envious. Nader takes no salary. Any profit is plowed back into the team. "One season Dad saved all the pennies from the snack bar," says his son, John, a college professor and the club's unpaid business manager. "At the end of the season his take was 18 cents."
Sam and his sister-in-law, Susan Plantz, often watch the action from a ground-level box just past the home dugout. "I love the players' eternal hope," he says. "They really believe that someday they'll make the majors." During the Nader Era more than 150 have. There were Amos Otis, Bernie Williams, Al Leiter, Bob Tewksbury and Jorge Posada. There were Don Mattingly and Willie McGee, the 1985 American and National League MVPs, respectively. And there was John Elway, a perfect gentlemen who could throw perfect spirals. "John batted .318 here in 1982," Nader recalls. "He was a hell of an outfielder."
"Don't be fooled," cautions Plantz. "Sam says everybody's a hell of an outfielder."
Nader honors former Oneonta players with unfailing kindness and welcomes newcomers to Damaschke with unpretentious support. "When a Bernie Williams makes the Show or a Bob Tewksbury stops by the stadium with his kids, those are great moments," he says. "To me, that's what minor league ball in New York is all about."