Old Timer's Day Proclaimed Tom Downey Day

© Peter Wallace – Register-Citizen, 8/24/07

Inaugural Hall Class Completed

When you reach age 75, the world owes you some nostalgia time. The Tri-State Baseball League, which hit that venerable age this season, took advantage of the local baseball world’s debt to its nostalgia file with a Tri-State Old-Timers’ Day/Tom Downey Day last Friday night. They held it in the hometown of one of the solid pillars of the original Inter-State League, honoring both the Amenia Monarchs and their long-time player/architect/director/coach Tom Downey. More than 250 spectators and 55 former players made the trek to Amenia, just across the border from Salisbury, for a night that combined the dedication, passion and fun that’s defined the league for 75 years.

First up were the final three members of an inaugural class for the League’s brand new Hall of Fame. Two of the three – Mike Kohut and Bud Kniffen – were individual institutions as players for the Monarchs. The third, Eddie Freimuth, played the same role as a long-time pitcher for the Litchfield Cowboys. They joined Marc Damelio, George Cantadore and Bill Neller, who were inducted before Game 1 of the League’s 2007 best-of-three championship series on August 19.

Last Friday’s game, pitting former New York Tri-State players against their Connecticut counterparts, leaned more toward cheerful bragging rights, but one more ceremony lit up the night before the game began. A proclamation declared it Tom Downey Day in Amenia, complete with a renamed street leading to Amenia Park . Players now reach Doc Bartlett Field, within the Park, on Downey Drive . It’s appropriate because Downey was a driving force on the volunteer committee that designed, built and raised money for Amenia Park ‘s construction. Downey became the Monarchs’ player/coach in 1968 when the Tri-State baseball league was born out of the Inter-State League. He won multiple MVP awards as a player and carved one of the highest season batting averages in league history with a .528 mark during the 1980 season. The Monarchs have won nine league championships in 19 league championship series behind Downey. A member of the Dutchess County Hall of Fame, he is also an advisor to the Tri-State Baseball League’s Board of Directors.

The Old-Timers’ Game that followed the ceremonies went 0-0 into the final inning before the Connecticut Old-Timers pushed three runs across the plate in the top of the seventh, then held on for the win over New York’s past stars. It was a fun night for everyone involved, but it was also proof that nostalgia can slip over that subjective line into “history.” The proof? The Amenia Historical Society and the Tri-State League co-sponsored the event.