Rain washed out the Hall of Fame Classic, but the legends of the game thrilled fans at the Museum
While poor weather conditions forced the cancellation of the Saturday’s Hall of Fame Classic, the day was anything but a total washout as fans had the opportunity to meet, shake hands and have their photo taken with a couple dozen of those who had the rare opportunity to play in the big leagues.
Saturday’s rain cancellation forced the relocation of the Hall of Fame Classic at historic Doubleday Field down the street into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where the "Afternoon at the Museum" – featuring programming with players and guests – was held from 1-3 p.m. for all game ticket holders free of charge.
“It’s an event that we’ve looked forward to and planned for a year but I believe we have a rain plan that’s pretty phenomenal where we are going to bring the Hall of Fame to life today,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson soon after the late-morning decision was made to cancel the game. “We’ve been monitoring the weather all morning and unfortunately this is a pretty nasty system that doesn’t have any intentions of clearing out in the next few hours. So rather than provide a very uncomfortable setting for the fans and a potentially hazardous experience for players, we felt it best to cancel.
“It’s all about providing a great interactive fan experience. While we are not able to do it between the white lines today, we’re able to do it in the three-story, red brick building on Main Street.”
Though David Arthur, a former college pitcher who now serves as a captain in the 10th Mountain Division stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., missed an opportunity to play ball with some of the game’s legends, he understands what the weekend represents.
“It’s an awesome time to hang out with former big league ballplayers on Memorial Day Weekend, but simultaneously for the Memorial Day, what it is, what are soldiers have done over the years for our country and meeting the needs of whatever one calls us to do,” said Arthur, who joined the military in 2008 and has spent a year fighting in Afghanistan, during a pregame press conference held at the Clark Sports Center for all Hall of Fame Classic participants held Saturday afternoon. “It’s exciting to be here with the baseball players, but at the same time your heart breaks for soldiers that have passed on.”
Memorial Day is also special to Chuck Goggin, a three-year big league veteran who served in Vietnam.
“I reflect every Memorial Day,” Goggin said. “In my outfit we lost 38 men, men who did not make it to the age of 21, all killed in my 13 months in Vietnam. We have a memorial to our unit at the Marine Corp Museum and we built a memorial out there and those 38 people are honored with their names on a memorial. And every year I reflect on them.”
Dmitri Young is not a military veteran, but a veteran of the Hall of Fame Classic who was hoping to continue his winning ways this year. The 13-year major league veteran had won the Legends Hitting Contest, an event held prior to the game, the last two years.
“Unfortunately, Mother Nature took a turn for the worse for us so we are unable to put on a show and I couldn’t be a three-time hitting contest champion,” said a grinning Young. “I was definitely going to have some competition this year but I was going to come out on top like I always do.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers, still sporting his famous handlebar moustache, said it’s always fun coming back to Cooperstown.
“And this year we’re going to do some things with the fans,” he said. “We hate to see people miss out on something like this so we’re going to do what we can to make sure they’re taken care of and they’re having a good time.”
Former slugging second baseman Bret Boone, on his first visit to Cooperstown, felt like a fan himself.
“I think back to my life in the game, and it has been my whole life, and I’ve never been to Cooperstown. So this was a good opportunity to bring my 8-year-old twins,” said Boone, whose grandfather (Ray), father (Bob) and brother (Aaron) also played in the majors. “And it’s a neat thing for fans to come out and get to shake hands with players they followed.
“But I’m like a little kid today. I’m looking forward to seeing the Museum. I’ve been in this game a long time and I’ve never seen it so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Unlike Boone, Will Clark, a six-time All-Star first baseman, had been to Cooperstown in 1984 with the U.S. Olympic Baseball Team and in 1991 when his Giants played the Twins in the Hall of Fame Game.
“When you are on the field, you don’t get a chance to meet people up close and personal and so these kinds of events you do,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, with the younger crowd I get, ‘Who are you?’”
While this year’s Classic was canceled, former hurler Dennis Rasmussen, who played in two of the previous three games, was happy the fans had a chance to meet some their heroes. Rasmussen and other players were stationed throughout the Museum on Saturday, greeting fans and posing for pictures in what became a very crowded Hall of Fame.
“Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate this year but we’re going to have a chance later to interact with the fans, some who came from very long distances,” Rasmussen said. “So we’re glad that we can still have some part of the weekend to give back to the fans.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum