Hall of Fame Classic thrills fans, players on a perfect day in Cooperstown
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Former big league pitcher Frank DiPino may have been speaking for all the former players on Sunday when he said after the conclusion of the 2011 Hall of Fame Classic, "This is our heaven down here."
Heaven on this day was Cooperstown, and Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, presented by Ford Motor Company, began at noon with an old fashioned parade down Main Street with thousands of people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of a favorite player from the past. Featured along the parade's path were Hall of Famers Jim Rice, Ozzie Smith, Goose Gossage, Phil Niekro, Andre Dawson and Dick Williams waving to the crowd, and two full trolley cars carrying the likes of Dale Murphy, Rick Wise and Bill Lee – some of more than two dozen former major leaguers in town for the Classic.
Along with the former players, the parade featured both classic and new cars, a fire truck, a pair of bands, a Mickey Mantle impersonator, and even a snowman walking along route posing for pictures and shaking hands.
Soon enough the crowds headed to historic Doubleday Field for the day's main event, which began with a Legends Hitting Contest won by two-time All-Star Dmitri Young in a finals showdown with Reggie Sanders.
"It felt great," Young said minutes later. "It took a couple of swings but once you get in the swing of things and the mentality comes back with all the baseball players. I just started feeling comfortable up there.
"I was here in for the Hall of Fame Game in 2005 and came in second against Big Papi (David Ortiz). But now I'm the champ and have a watch to prove it."
This wouldn't be the end of the accolades for Young on this day as he also captured the Hall of Fame Classic's Bob Feller Player of the Game Award. Young, who played the entire game at first base for Team Knucksie, hit a three run homer far over the left field wall against Bill Lee in the bottom of the fifth to give his squad an 8-3 lead.
"That was a great game, a great event," Young said after the announcement. "I'm glad the fans are happy because I certainly am. And I was hitting behind Jim Rice. How many people can say they actually protected Jim Rice in a lineup?"
During the interview with Young, Niekro interrupted and joked, "I don't want to bust in, but he's already trying to renegotiate for next year. I've got to talk to his agent but I think we can work it out."
When asked if he was coming back in 2012, Young replied with a big smile, "You better believe it. I want to win whatever they're giving away next."
As for the game, Team Knucksie came away with an 8-6 win in six innings over The Wizards. But according to the players, the final score meant little when compared to the event as a whole.
Pitcher Mike Timlin played in the Hall of Fame Classic two years, missing the 2010 edition with a sore thumb.
"It's great to back," Timlin said. "It's like you've never left. The game we're playing today makes you want to come back and continue playing. To play here with some of the guys I played with and some of the guys I watched play, to play with them and just have a good time at the game, that's what it's all about."
"I'm a little tired but then I look over and Phil Niekro was pitching and realize I have nothing to complain about," said outfielder Doug Glanville. "It was so much fun because the history part of it is so cool. You are on the same team as guys you grew up watching, guys you played with and against, and it's almost like a time capsule."
For the players and almost fans 6,000 fans in attendance, it was not only a sunny Father's Day but also a great time.
Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum