Prelude to a Classic

Roberto Salas helped open a photo exhibit featuring his father’s work on Friday, and kids thrilled to the words of big leaguers at the Youth Skills Clinic

May 23, 2014
Marlon Anderson and Joel Bennett sign autographs for the Legends for Youth Skills Clinic participants. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF)

Overcast and drizzly afternoon weather couldn’t dampen spirits of the many smiling children attending the 2014 Legends for Youth Skills Clinic at historic Doubleday Field on Friday afternoon.

What once was scheduled for on-field instructions for boys and girls ages 7-12 for a host of former big leaguers instead, because of the inclement conditions, became a question-and-answer session between the youngsters and the one-time major leaguers.

It marked the start of Hall of Fame Classic Weekend in Cooperstown.

“The biggest thing is that you always do your best no matter what,” said former middle infielder David Eckstein, a two-time World Series champion and who spent 10 seasons in the majors before retiring after the 2010 season. “The game of baseball, if you are fortunate to play, that’s great – but if you just make the right decisions and do your best, that’s all you can do. And hopefully you make those decisions in the game of life.

“Where I’m from, Tim Raines was the player who had the ability to come back and run a clinic that I was able to be a part of at one point in time. And that was something that was very special.”

Another former infielder, Marlon Anderson, who left the game in 2009 after a dozen seasons in the big leagues, wanted to impart on the youth the need for a personal passion for baseball.

“Someone can’t give that to you,” Anderson said. “I think that’s the thing takes Little Leaguers and makes them big leaguers.”

Besides Eckstein and Anderson, other former big leaguers involved in the Skills Clinic event included Mark Kotsay, Aaron Rowand, Joel Bennett, Dave Criscione, Brian Fisher and Steve Grilli. 

For Eckstein, this was his first trip to Cooperstown since he was five years old when the family made the drive from their home in Florida.

“My dad was a big baseball fan and we were coming to see the Yankees play so we drove by Cooperstown to check everything out,” he remembered.

Last year, his dad visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum again to see a pair of artifacts David donated – the spikes he wore in the 2002 World Series and the cap he wore in the 2006 World Series, the year he was named the Fall Classic’s MVP.

“Definitely an honor to have something in the Hall of Fame,” Eckstein said. “Actually, my dad came up last summer and took pictures and showed me. So now having the opportunity to see it for myself is definitely fun.”

As for Anderson, he donated a bat he used in 2006 when he went 5-for-5 in a game and hit the final of four straight home runs for the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the Padres.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the bat,” Anderson said. “It’s special for me to know that I’ll always have something in the Hall of Fame that means so much to me and my family.

“It’s funny because the following day someone came in and said when you break the bat don’t throw it away. When I asked why, the person said the Hall of Fame called up and wanted the bat. Well, I told him I wasn’t going to send a broken bat to the Hall of Fame so I gave him the bat right there. For me, it was a great experience from my career that I can cherish forever. “

Anderson was part of a Phillies team that came to Cooperstown to play the Hall of Fame Game in 2003.

“This an awesome place. If you’re a baseball fan and you love the game of baseball this is the place to come. It’s such a huge part of what baseball is,” Anderson said. “Playing under Frank Robinson with the Washington Nationals was such a great experience for me because I was one of the players that really didn’t understand what a great career he had. And Eddie Murray was my hitting coach one year with the Dodgers. So it has been really fascinating for me, someone that was around baseball for so long, having had relationships with real Hall of Famers. So that makes it even more special for me to here to celebrate the great history of the game.”

Eckstein’s Hall of Famer memories include having played under manager Tony La Russa, one of six members of the Class of 2014 who will be inducted this summer.

“That’s awesome,” Eckstein said. “I was with him the Saturday before the announcement was made and he was a little nervous. He didn’t know if he was going to get in. I’m very thrilled having that opportunity to play for him and for him to that honor he definitely deserves.”

As for playing in Saturday afternoon’s Hall of Fame Classic, Eckstein first laughed and then said, “The key is not to be injured on Sunday. That is the number one key. I still throw, I still hit, but I haven’t faced life pitching since that last game.

“I don’t miss playing one bit. I loved the game, I’m at the field any chance I can get, but to actually get back to that mentality to go play every single day, oh gosh. I do not miss that one bit.”

Friday afternoon at the Hall of Fame also included the debut of the Osvaldo Salas’ American Baseball Photographs exhibit. Located on the Museum’s third floor, the exhibit features 48 examples of Salas’ baseball portraits, the greatest number ever presented to the public. Salas documented the game’s biggest stars of the 1950s with his camera, and six decades later his work is in Cooperstown.

“I don’t have words to be able to tell you what I’m thinking about. I really am speechless. But I’m representing his feelings,” said son Roberto Salas. “In other words, he would have liked to have seen it himself. This was one of his passions because he played baseball as a kid. His passion was baseball – he always liked it.

“Sometimes you do something and it becomes important with the years. At the moment he did it, it didn’t occur to him or anybody else what he was doing.”

“Every time anyone would ask him what was the best photograph you’ve ever taken, he had a saying that my best photograph I’m going to take tomorrow. At the beginning I thought that was sort of a line, but as I grew older I found out that was the way of approaching a career. No matter what you do you can always do it better.”

The Hall of Fame Classic will be held Saturday at Doubleday Field, with the first pitch scheduled for 2:05 p.m. Remaining tickets will be on sale starting at 8 a.m. at the Doubleday Field Parking Lot. 

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