The Start of a Classic
Saturday featured blue skies and family fun at Classic Weekend; Tickets available at Doubleday Field for Sunday's game
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – A bright sun was shining on the faces of thousands of smiling baseball fans as they roamed in and around historic Doubleday Field for a host of activities throughout Saturday.
On the day prior to the playing of the third Hall of Fame Classic, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum not only introduced its first Classic Fest, which featured booths for local businesses spread around the Doubleday Field parking lot, but also the Hall of Fame Showcase, highlighting a dozen or so activities that were lined up around the venerable field's warning track.
Doubleday Field's green field was abuzz with activities in the morning hours with the Legends for Youth Skills Clinic. With the cooperation of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, more than a dozen former big league players, including such recognizable names as former pitchers Bill Lee and Rick Wise, broke up into eight different stations and instructed approximately 200 boys and girls aged 7-12 on different aspects of the game.
"This is fantastic," said Joel Bennett, a former pitcher with both the Orioles and Phillies in the late-1990s who was working at the pitching station down the left field line. "The kids are attentive, they're making adjustments, and I think just the opportunity to get out here with some ex-ballplayers is a great opportunity for them. And it's great for us because it's our life – it's what we do."
For Bennett, from nearby Binghamton, it was also an opportunity to emphasize the importance of throwing mechanics.
"If you struggle mechanically hitting, you might not hit the ball, but if you struggle throwing you're going to get hurt. I'm hoping that the kids really paid attention to that," he said. "Every throw has a purpose. I remember when I was a kid, just because I had a good arm I would show off and that didn't help me at all."
The recently retired Frank Catalanotto, a multi-position player who ended a 14-year big league career in 2010, could be found in center field explaining the finer points of outfield play.
"I think it's great that the kids can come out here and meet some former players," he said. "I wish when I was a kid I was able to do something like this. So it's nice to give back to baseball and I'm happy to be here. I hope that not only can they learn from what they got taught by some former major league players but also that they can remember this experience and it will inspire them to continue to play baseball."
A pair of local friends from Cooperstown not only enjoyed the experience, but said their favorite part was spending time with a former slugger at the hitting station.
"It was really fun and interesting," said 10-year-old Sam Bonderoff. "My favorite part was probably the Dave Henderson part."
"It was fun and I learned a lot," said 11-year-old Ted Mebust. "It was fun to hang out with Dave Henderson because he was pretty upbeat, and all the other guys were nice too."
For Henderson, a longtime center fielder who finished his 14-year major league career with almost 200 home runs, it was about getting everybody excited about baseball again.
"My big thing was keep your eye on the ball, kissing your shoulders when you swing, and hot-dogging a little bit after you hit a home run," he said with a big grin. "You always have fun playing baseball. During my career I always had fun, and I just reminded kids that you have to make outs or the game would never end."
While the Doubleday Field parking lot throughout much of the day was awash in the smells of ballpark fare, such as hot dogs and hamburgers, it also gave such local organizations as the Fenimore Art Museum and the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce an opportunity to share information to the passing masses.
After the Skills Clinic exited Doubleday Field, the afternoon saw the arrival along the outfield wall of the Hall of Fame Showcase, featuring, among other things, an inflatable MLB Network Strike Zone game, the creation of balloon animals, a Hall of Fame Trivia Zone, and a display of four new Ford Motor Company vehicles.
"We're having a ball," said Frank Pagano, who was in Cooperstown with his 19-year-old son Jake from the Rochester, N.Y area to attend their third Hall of Fame Classic. "It's just a memory with my son. It started a few years ago and it has turned into something my son and I both look forward to."
Frank and Jake Pagano were part of the crowd enjoying the Hall of Fame Showcase, standing in line in order to secure a free autograph from Dmitri Young, a two-time All-Star who finished his 13-year major league career in 2008.
"All of this has been a Father's Day Weekend memory that I will cherish, that my son still wants to do this and wants to do it with me," Frank Pagano said. "I'm lucky because my son is my best friend."
"It's great," Jake Pagano said. "I get to spend time with him and bond a little bit, too."
As day turned into night, Saturday's schedule at Doubleday Field ended with a Voices of the Game roundtable discussion held on the field facing the seats along first base featuring Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, Dick Williams, Phil Niekro and Rich "Goose" Gossage.
Earlier in the day, Gossage's team captured the Cooperstown Golf Classic, a fundraiser for the Museum held at the Leatherstocking Golf Course.
Before the six Hall of Famers took to the stage, Williams, who remarkably is scheduled to skipper both Hall of Fame Classic squads, gave a preview to the next day's strategy.
"I just hope that the best team wins and the best manager wins. It's a no-lose situation," Williams said with a laugh. "Strategy? Don't anybody on the offense or defense get hurt. And have some fun. We're out here to have fun and we hope the people enjoy it."
The six Hall of Famers will participate in the Hall of Fame Classic, along with more than 20 former big leaguers.
Tickets remain for the Father's Day Hall of Fame Classic and are available for purchase at the Will Call tent at the Doubleday Field parking lot on Sunday starting at 9 a.m. Tickets are $12.50 for first and third base seats and $11 for outfield seats.
The Hall of Fame Classic will be preceded by the Cooperstown Game Day Parade beginning at noon on Main Street. Game participants will ride in the parade on their way to Doubleday Field. Following the Cooperstown Game Day Parade, the Legends Hitting Contest will be held at Doubleday Field at 1 p.m., followed by the Hall of Fame Classic at 2 p.m.
Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum