Thrill of the Game
Hall of Fame Classic brings smiles to players, fans
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – They came back to the home of baseball with their old uniforms and gloves, ready to play the game they love one more time. They came back to reminisce with old rivals and teammates, savoring a chance to swap stories and renew friendships.
But mostly, they came back for the fans. And the near-capacity crowd at Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field loved every minute of the Father’s Day Hall of Fame Classic, which resulted in a 9-0 win for Team Feller over Team Killebrew.
“It’s fun coming back to see some of the guys and share the old war stories,” said Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, who started the game on the mound for Team Killebrew. “Not to mention, it’s Father’s Day in Cooperstown. Where would a kid rather be?”
Thousands of kids, fathers and fans of the National Pastime celebrated June 20 at the Classic, enjoying one more chance to cheer their heroes. The “kids” on the field, meanwhile, soaked up the atmosphere and rarely stopped smiling during the seven-inning legends game in front of 7,006 sun-soaked fans.
“Classic Weekend in Cooperstown was a rousing success on every level,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “The diverse repertoire of programs staged with the players who participated gave families the opportunity to connect generations and allowed adults the chance to take a step back in time to their own childhood. We undoubtedly provided lasting memories for the 7,000 fans who chose to spend Father's Day at the ballpark, and the players who participated and gave glowing reviews of their experience. It was a most memorable weekend.”
On the field, Team Feller – led by Hall of Famer Bob Feller – a broke on top in the first inning thanks to the bat, glove and arm of Mark Whiten. The 43-year-old veteran of 11 big league seasons threw out two runners on the bases to snuff out a Team Killebrew (led by Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew) rally in the top of the first, then homered with Bill Madlock aboard in the bottom of the first to give Team Feller a lead it would not relinquish. Military All-Star Robby Hisert homered in the bottom of the third – again with Madlock aboard – to give Team Feller a 4-0 lead, and Whiten followed with another homer to increase the lead to 5-0.
“It’s a great opportunity for some of us younger players to play with some of the greats,” said Whiten, who was active in the big leagues as recently as 2000 and hit four home runs in a game with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1993. His batting helmet from that game is part of the artifact archive at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Dennis Rasmussen added a two-run single to score Kevin Bass and Desi Relaford later in the third inning to increase to lead to 7-0, Hisert scored on a wild pitch in the fifth to make the score 8-0, and Relaford followed with a double that plated Whiten with Team Feller’s ninth run.
The second annual Hall of Fame Classic Weekend was presented by Ford Motor Company, and the game featured Hall of Famers Gary Carter, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Harmon Killebrew, Phil Niekro and Ozzie Smith along with 22 former major leaguers. The former big leaguers included Kevin Bass, Paul Blair, Brian Boehringer, Fred Cambria, Bert Campaneris, Frank DiPino, John Doherty, Dave Fleming, Steve Grilli, Jim Hannan, Jeff Kent, Tim Leary, Bill Madlock, Tim McIntosh, Dickie Noles, Mike Pagliarulo, Dennis Rasmussen, Desi Relaford, Tony Saunders, Rich Surhoff, Jon Warden and Mark Whiten.
The day got under way with the Cooperstown Game Day Parade in Cooperstown featuring the Hall of Famers and former major leaguers. The players arrived at Doubleday Field following the parade and then participated in the hitting contest, which was won by Whiten, who hit 105 home runs for eight teams in his 11-year big league career.
The play of the day, however, was turned in by Team Feller second baseman Tim McIntosh in the sixth inning. Team Killebrew’s Jeff Kent flared a ball toward right field, but McIntosh tossed his glove in the air – knocking the ball right into his bare hands for the out.
Kent, however, was too busy having fun to be upset.
“I had so much fun last year,” said Kent, who played in the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic in 2009. “This year, I got to play second base with Ozzie and see a play at second base that I never really saw before.
“It’s fun to be here and to dive into history in this hallowed town. It’s an experience you can’t really trade.”
McIntosh, meanwhile, savored his time in the sun.
“The last time I did that was in eighth grade, and at that time my coach said it was illegal,” said McIntosh, who played five years for the Brewers, Expos and Yankees. “If anything, I thought it would just be funny. So what are the chances? But it’s something they’ll remember me by.”
Hall of Famer Phil Niekro picked up the win on the mound after pitching one scoreless frame to start the game, and Hall of Famer Goose Gossage closed the contest out in the top of the seventh with a strikeout to preserve the victory.
“They had me a on a 10-pitch count, but I could have gone out for the next inning,” joked Niekro, who playfully tried to bribe home plate umpire Jim Johnson at the start of the game.
Hall of Fame Classic Weekend featured several other family-friendly events in Cooperstown, including the Family Catch at Doubleday Field, the Youth Skills Clinic for kids and the Jun 19 Voices of the Game event featuring the seven Hall of Famers.
Feller, who threw out the first pitch on Sunday after facing three batters in the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic in 2009, participated in several weekend events and drew the loudest ovation of the day when he was introduced before the Hall of Fame Classic. The longest tenured Hall of Famer – having been elected in 1962 – thanked the fans and paid homage to baseball’s home.
“Cooperstown,” Feller said, “is the greatest place on earth.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum