Backman speaks at Mohawks’ Hall of Fame event

AMSTERDAM – A pair of former Amsterdam Mohawks and two old-school baseball icons from Amsterdam’s past were named hall of famers Saturday at the seventh-annual Hot Stove and Hall of Fame Dinner at St. Mary’s Institute in Amsterdam.

Each year, the well-attended event serves to honor individuals being inducted into one of two Hall of Fame wings: the Amsterdam Baseball Hall of Fame or the Mohawks Baseball Hall of Fame.

The keynote speaker for this year’s event was 1986 World Series champion Wally Backman. The former New York Mets infielder mingled with attendees and signed autographs prior to the induction ceremony. Backman, a career .275 hitter over the course of 14 major league seasons, is the fourth straight keynote speaker at the Hall of Fame Dinner that played on the Mets’ 1986 championship team. Dwight Gooden, Mookie Wilson, and Ron Darling spoke in 2013, 2012, and 2011, respectively.

Several special guests were on hand for the ceremony including state Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk, Representative Paul Tonko, and Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort. After opening remarks from Mohawks PA announcer Bob Malicki, Mohawks President Brian Spagnola took to the podium to speak about Mohawks news – past, present, and future. Spagnola took extra time to highlight what fans can be in store for when the Mohawks take the field this summer.

The number-one rated high school player in Alabama, outfielder Anfernee Grier, will be joining the Mohawks this coming season. Grier is set to be a starter at Auburn University this spring. A pair of freshman at Kentucky, Connor Heady and Javon Shelby, are also signed on to play for Amsterdam. The Mohawks will have the services of Taylor Blatch, a Florida State pitcher who reportedly throws upwards of 94 miles per hour. The Mohawks are poised to continue their long-standing tradition of bringing in players from high-profile Division I programs.

One notable change for this upcoming season is the time of first pitch at Shuttleworth Park. In order to accommodate fans that have to get up early for work, game time will be pushed up from 7:05 to 6:35. Following Spagnola’s talk, the induction ceremony was held.

The first inductee, Luke Maile, hit .353 with 35 RBI and eight home runs as an Amsterdam Mohawk from 2010-2011. Maile was a big part of Amsterdam’s 2010 championship and led a late charge to the title game in 2011 while setting a Mohawks single season record with eight home runs and a .378 batting average. Maile was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the eighth round of the 2012 MLB draft and finished fourth in RBI in the New York-Penn League in 2012. Maile was named the Midwest League’s top defensive catcher in 2013 while hitting .283 for the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

Josh Colafemina a Schenectady native, played two seasons for the Amsterdam Mohawks and was part of the 2003 and 2004 championship teams. Colafemina was a four-year starting infielder at The College of Saint Rose and was a three-time Northeast-10 Conference All-League selection. Colafemina led the league with 26 stolen bases in 2005 while batting .337. He ended his career as a Golden Knight in the top five all-time in hits, doubles, triples, stolen bases, runs, and assists. After being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 24th round of the 2005 MLB draft, Colafemina played in the Pioneer League before going on to play in the Canadian-American Association for the past seven seasons. Colafemina helped Les Capitales de Quebec win four straight league titles from 2009-2012.

Walt Sievert was the first inductee into the Amsterdam Baseball Hall of Fame. When Sievert took over sole ownership of Dungar’s Sporting Goods, a warm relationship between the business and the local sporting community began. Sievert and his store, since known as Sievert’s Sporting Goods, have sponsored numerous baseball teams in the Wee Men, Babe Ruth, and Rookie Leagues. Sievert donated uniforms, baseballs, and trophies to local teams that couldn’t afford them and was known for donating money to a variety of local causes. Sievert was a local umpire and the 1981 Babe Ruth League season was dedicated to Walt’s memory following his passing. His daughter, Roxann, accepted Sievert’s plaque.

The final inductee, Louis Noto, was involved with youth baseball in the city of Amsterdam for 21 years. Noto coached in the area from 1951 to 1961 and served as both President and Commissioner of the Wee Men Majors League throughout the sixties and seventies. Noto was integral in expanding the league and creating a minors division for eight to 10 year olds. It was Noto’s idea to create an intermediate baseball diamond for younger players that still exists at Veterans Field. Noto was an active umpire in the area later in his career. The 91-year-old Noto was in attendance Saturday, but his son accepted his plaque on his behalf. After dinner and a silent auction, Backman took the stage for a question-and-answer-style discussion. Backman, who has managed in the minor leagues for 15 years and is currently the manager of the Mets’ AAA-affiliate Las Vegas 51s, touched on a variety of relevant topics.

Backman discussed steroids in baseball, noting that the difference in salary from minor league baseball to major league baseball is a key motivator for a ball player to make wrong decisions. Backman also voiced his support for disgraced baseball legend Pete Rose.

Having managed in the Mets farm system since 2010, Backman answered without hesitation when asked which young stud Mets pitcher, Matt Harvey or Zach Wheeler, has the brightest future. His answer – 21-year old righty Noah Syndergaard. Backman explained that if the Mets plan on winning a World Series in the near future it will be on the backs of their young arms.

Among other topics discussed by Backman were umpires, interleague play, sabermetrics, bowling over catchers, and his favorite opponent of all time Kirby Puckett. Backman was also asked if he thought today’s ever-increasing MLB salaries were “outrageous.”

“I wish I was 20 years younger then I’d say no,” said Backman.

Backman ended with some advice to the children in attendance regarding education and following your dreams.

“I was very fortunate to become the major league player that I was, and for you it’s all about education,” Backman directed to a young baseball fan. “Your schooling is so very, very important. Get your education and let the dream follow. If you try to be the best at what you are and think about that everyday, then you’re going to be as good as you can possibly be and that’s what everybody is striving to do.”