Just the beginning

Families connect on Friday at Hall of Fame Classic Weekend; Tickets for legends game Classic on sale Saturday at Doubleday Field

June 15, 2012
Former Major League player Ben Davis instructing kids on the proper throwing mechanics. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – “It’s going to be one of those Father’s Days that you’re just never going to forget … from my end and from his end,” said former big league infielder Todd Haney, pointing to his 12-year-old son Tanner (who was named after the character Tanner Boyle from the movie The Bad News Bears).

Haney, talking near the third base dugout of historic Doubleday Field on Friday afternoon, may just as well have been speaking for a number of families in Cooperstown over the next few days taking part in a number of family-oriented activities planned as part of Hall of Fame Classic Weekend.

The Weekend got under way on Friday with approximately 200 children aged 5-12 participating in the Legends for Youth Skills Clinic at Doubleday Field. With the cooperation of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, 15 former big league players, including such former MLB All-Stars as Jesse Barfield, Darrell Evans and Rick Wise, broke up into eight different stations and instructed on different aspects of the game. 

“Teach them to respect the game, that’s first and foremost, and be respectful of your teammates and your coaches,” said former catcher Ben Davis. “And have fun. Kids these days… Parents put a lot of pressure on their kids, and I think they’re losing the fact that it is a game and you should have fun doing it.

“I was actually up here when I was 13 years old,” Davis added. “We played in a tournament up here right on this field. We came up from outside Philadelphia and got to play a game here. It was great.”

According to Dmitri Young, a fan favorite after last year’s performance in the Classic, it’s about educating the kids on simple tasks. “Just a little tidbit of information that a kid can say, ‘Hey, I learned this from Dmitri Young.’ We’ve been to where they want to go.”

Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith was also in attendance, remarking, “For us now that are members (of the Hall of Fame), it’s like coming home.

“For most of us that do this, we’ve been doing it for most of our careers,” said Smith, referring to assisting children with their baseball. “It’s just an extension of that continuing, and what better time and place than Father’s Day Weekend here in Cooperstown.”

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 Bert Blyleven, Carlton Fisk, Eddie Murray, Phil Niekro, Tony Pérez and Ozzie Smith, more than 20 former big leaguers will take part.

After the parade, fans can head over to Doubleday Field for the 2 p.m. 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 9 a.m. Saturday at Doubleday Field.

“I had a great time last year winning the Hitting Challenge and also being the first Bob Feller MVP Award winner,” said Young, who has dropped almost 40 pounds since last year’s game. “I’m not looking to defend any of those titles. I just came this year to have fun.”

As for the Classic, former Pittsburgh Pirate Rob Mackowiak said, “I’m fortunate that I was able to being both my father and son here with me this Father’s Day Weekend, which makes it that much better. We’ll play hard but we’ll try and be safe. This might be the last time my son sees me play in a uniform, so I’m excited about it.”

“I think the biggest thing is just praying that I don’t get hurt,” Haney said with a smile. “But beyond that just putting on the uniform and getting out here and competing. That’s probably the one thing that I’ve missing the most since I retired: Just competing.”

Davis, who is scheduled to catch in the game, laughed and said, “I better get some sleep tonight. I’ll see how I feel on Sunday.”

After the Classic, the Hall of Fame will host a Voices of the Game program with the six Hall of Famers – Blyleven, Fisk, Murray, Niekro, Pérez and Smith – for a one-hour roundtable program beginning at 7 p.m. at Doubleday Field.

The Weekend comes to an end on Sunday, Father’s Day, with the Cooperstown Golf Classic. A fundraiser for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the six Hall of Famers in town will participate.  

“The magic is the camaraderie and getting together with good friends for good times," said Russ Daniels of Mechanicsburg, Pa., who has participated in each of the two previous Cooperstown Golf Classics and will be on the course in Cooperstown on Sunday. "It's a great way to support the Museum and you also get a good time out of it.”

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