A Classic Start

Hall of Fame Classic Weekend gets under way with the Youth Skills Clinic

May 24, 2013
Former big league pitcher Joel Bennett talks about character in baseball at the Youth Skills Clinic at Doubleday Field. (Milo Stewart Jr./NBHOF Library)

While the forecast correctly predicted a consistently cloudy and drizzly day, the wet weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the 125 children attending the Legends for Youth Skills Clinic at Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field on Friday afternoon.

The opening event for the fifth annual Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, the Skills Clinic, presented with the cooperation of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, featured such former major league players as Brian Boehringer, John Doherty, Robert Fick, Chuck Goggin, Todd Haney, Jim Leyritz, Mark Whiten and Dmitri Young.

But due to the poor conditions on the field, a rain plan took effect which kept the event at Doubleday Field but took place entirely in the covered area of the grandstand behind home plate.

Instead of taking the field and being instructed on different aspects of the game with the big leaguers, the children, age 5-12, learned about the game from Hall of Fame educators as well as interacting with the former players.

“My whole approach is to help a young player understand the proper mechanics that puts him on a path to success,” said Haney, a former infielder who now runs a baseball academy in Waco, Texas. “And for me it’s having fun. As long as you’re having fun in what you’re doing, you’re going to be successful.

“And so I want players to work hard, but at the same time I want them to learn what it takes to go out and be successful. But at the end of the day we’re playing baseball, and if you’re not having fun then it’s not worth it.”

This is Haney’s second straight year as part of the Hall of Fame Classic Weekend. Last year, he was accompanied by his wife and son; this year his parents made the trip.

“I’ll come back every year,” he said. “I love it and I love Cooperstown. It’s an honor to come play with Hall of Famer players. It’s a humbling experience for me and I just love it, love everything about it.

Boehringer is also a veteran participant, having taken part in the Classic Weekend three of the past four years.

“This event’s awesome,” said the former right-handed pitcher with the Yankees, Pirates Giants and Padres. “I’m lucky I’ve been invited to this the last few years. I love coming up here. It’s just such an awesome feeling to be in this town anytime. Everything that this place represents is unbelievable.”

This Memorial Day weekend has special meaning for Boehringer, a native of St. Louis, who still calls “The Gateway to the West” home.

“Everybody in my family pretty much was part of the military,” he said. “My dad was in World War II, I had some cousins in Vietnam, I had some cousins in the Korean War, so pretty much everybody in my family was been involved in it. And so for me, Memorial Day is always a special day.”

The busy weekend of activities continues on Saturday and begins with the Cooperstown Game Day Parade at noon on Main Street. Besides Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Phil Niekro, Goose Gossage and Rickey Henderson, more than 20 former big leaguers will take part.

After the parade, fans can head over to Doubleday Field for the Hall of Fame Classic, which is preceded by Hall of Fame Classic Hitting Challenge starting at 1 p.m. Tickets for the Classic will be available starting at 8 a.m. at the Doubleday Field Parking Lot.

And following the Classic, the Hall of Fame will host “A Night at the Museum,” a meet-and-greet Museum fundraiser with the Hall of Famers and former big leaguers from 7 to 9 p.m.

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum