Rookie among the Legends

Cooperstown Golf Classic welcomes first woman participant; Team Fisk captures title

June 17, 2012
Johanna Perez carved her own spot in Hall of Fame history, becoming the first woman to join the Cooperstown Golf Classic. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

COOPERSTOWN, NY - A celebration for Roberto Alomar to honor his contributions to baseball history introduced Johanna Perez to Cooperstown for the very first time in July 2011.

On Sunday, she carved her own spot in Baseball Hall of Fame history, becoming the first woman to join the Cooperstown Golf Classic, a fundraiser now in its third year to raise funds to support the Museum's educational mission.

But her role in becoming the first woman to play in the event is only half of the story.

Before Sunday, Perez had never even played golf – in any duration or form – before hitting the links with six Hall of Famers – Bert BlylevenCarlton FiskEddie MurrayPhil NiekroTony Perez and Ozzie Smith.

"The only thing I have ever done even close to golf is that I played pitch and putt with my children," said Johanna Perez, who was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico (the same birthplace as Alomar) and now resides in Queens. "I was lying in bed last night at the Otesaga Hotel, and I will never forget those emotions. I never thought I'd ever be here. No one would believe it if I told them the story."

Her road to Cooperstown history began with her first visit to the Hall of Fame in honor of Alomar's induction in July. She became so enthralled with Cooperstown and its natural beauty that she became a Museum member during her visit to support the Hall of Fame's educational mission the year-round. It was then that she learned of the Golf Classic, and she knew then it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.

"Becky (Ashe of the Museum's development office) was a good saleswoman. She sent me the package after we talked, and even though I told her I had never golfed before, she said that it would be a wonderful experience. And that I'd be the first woman. She didn't tell me that I'd be the only woman, but it has been a really enjoyable experience."

The 2012 Cooperstown Golf Classic, part of the three-day Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, presented by Ford Motor Company, featured the six Hall of Fame members as the capstone to a weekend celebration of families, connecting generations and the celebration of baseball's illustrious history. Each participant contributed $2,500 to the Museum's educational mission for a three-day weekend that featured an opening dinner in the Hall of Fame Gallery, Saturday's Hall of Fame Classic Game at Doubleday Field, and Saturday night's Voices of the Game moderated program featuring the six Hall of Famers, in addition to the golf tournament.

Perez's preparation in Cooperstown started Saturday as fellow golfer Kerry Demarco spent an hour with Johanna at the driving range. On the course, Ozzie provided helpful tips and encouragement as well.

"I didn't want to confuse her by overloading her with information," said Smith. "I just told her to move the ball forward. For this being her first time out, she did very well. She was great. She moved it forward, every shot. Golf is not a game where you step out and have success right away. She was wonderful."

Even though her first exposure to Cooperstown came less than two years ago, the village and the pastoral countryside have already captured Johanna's focus and future plans. Though Sunday afternoon would feature return travel home to Queens, she already has grand plans to be a more frequent participant at the home of baseball.

"This was a great experience for me," said Perez, who admittedly didn't become a big baseball fan until later in life. "I am now going to make it a regular event for my children to experience Cooperstown. This weekend, I wanted to do it just for me. Now with this experience, I want to get them into golf, to make it a family activity to enjoy outdoors, away from the video games and to be an experience for my children to learn and enjoy together."

Though Team Ozzie finished behind the champions for the day, the experience was one that Perez will treasure for many years to come. The winning team -- captained by Carlton Fisk -- featured Peter Daigle of Mississauga, Ontario, Brian Glowacki of Albany, New York, along with Bill Janetschek and Ken Wood, both of Garden City, New York. Each member of the winning team received a SGXw golf GPS, donated by SkyCaddie.

"This was a fantastic experience," said Perez. "I will never forget this opportunity. Now, it is my goal to get both of my children involved in golf, so that we can spend quality time together."

And that time together will include most assuredly feature many return trips to Cooperstown.

Brad Horn is the senior director of education and communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum