A Little Piece of Baseball Paradise

Ozzie Smith’s PLAY Ball gets Hall of Fame Weekend under way

July 26, 2013
Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal and Ozzie Smith interact with fans prior to taking the field for PLAY Ball. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF)

When Hall of Fame hurler Juan Marichal was asked how he was doing Friday morning, he replied enthusiastically, “Oh my God … I’m in heaven.”

The Dominican Dandy’s response may have been in part due to the perfect summertime weather, with the sun shining and blue skies, but many fans of the National Pastime might answer in a similar way at the official start of the 2013 National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.

Marichal and fellow Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry were guests of Ozzie Smith, the longtime defensive whiz at shortstop, for this year’s PLAY Ball museum fundraiser. The Friday morning event began at the Hall of Fame’s Plaque Gallery and continued on at a ball field at the nearby Clark Sports Center. In between, fans were able to interact with the legendary trio, who shared stories and instructional tips on the game.  

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“It’s the 12th year and this time I have a chance to bring two guys who haven’t been here before – Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry,” said Smith, before taking the field. “I had the chance to play with Gaylord my rookie year and Juan is somebody I admired from a distance for a long time. I think the experience for the people that have come here, and we have a lot of repeats and some newbies, (is) a good time.”

PLAY Ball is a Museum fundraiser that supports the Hall of Fame’s educational programs and internship scholarships. Since hosting the event annually beginning in 2002, Ozzie Smith has helped raise more than $115,000 for the Museum’s educational outreach programs and the Ozzie Smith Diversity Scholarships, presented annually to members of the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.

This year’s PLAY Ball event included more than 20 participants and raised more than $5,000.

“Anything that Ozzie does I want to be part of because Ozzie was a great baseball player, great human being, and he loves the game,” Marichal said. “And I think that’s the most important thing – when you love something, you give back something. And that’s why we’re here.

“And I think that every member of the Hall of Fame should give back something to the Hall and to the Museum and to the fans.”

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Smith, sporting his Hall of Fame baseball jersey and not his familiar St. Louis Cardinals garb, said it’s always great to get back in uniform. 

“I don’t have to do it every day,” he said with a laugh, “so it’s always great to put a uniform on and come out and have a chance to visit with the people one-on-one. I think they get a big kick out of it and I think that’s the important part of this – allowing people to get to know us a little bit better as people.”

Smith and third baseman Brooks Robinson were on hand a few hours later at the Museum when the Hall of Fame and the United States Mint teamed up to unveil the design options for a new coin to celebrate the Cooperstown institution’s 75th anniversary in 2014. The pair of Hall of Fame infielders were part of a panel that selected design finalists.

The common reverse (tails side) design for the United States Mint’s 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coins is currently displayed in the Museum’s Class of 2013 exhibit adjacent to the Plaque Gallery. Also unveiled were the 16 finalists for the obverse (heads side) of the coin, of which the final design will be selected this fall. The United States Mint will release the coins in early 2014.

“The Hall of Fame turns 75 next year and the coin program is the first step of what will be a few initiatives to put the spotlight on Cooperstown even more so,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “And the coin is terrific because it allows all fans of the game to be able to share in our anniversary.”

The coins’ reverses will be convex to more closely resemble a baseball, and the obverses (heads side) will be concave, with a design emblematic of the game of baseball.  The obverse design is being selected from a public design competition.

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“I think my wife enjoyed the selection process more than I did,” joked Robinson. “We had 30 designs to look at and they were terrific. All of them represented baseball and I even see some of the ones that I picked. This is terrific.

“This is big for the Hall of Fame and I know it’s big for the U.S. Treasury because they don’t produce special coins very often. And for us to be a part of this is a real tribute.”

Smith concurred, adding he was most impressed with the creativity of the designs.

“This is a great way for fans to be a part of the selection,” Smith said. “I think it’s very important for the fans to be a part of this selection, and what better way to get them involved than to allow them some creativity and show off some of their work.

“You can see it is all very creative and they put a lot of thought into this whole process. We just had the hard part of just sitting down and selecting the things that we liked. You can see there are some pretty creative people out there and it’s great that they were able to be a part of this.”

Before his busy morning was over, though, a smiling and cheerful Smith reflected on what brings him back to Cooperstown for Induction Weekend every year.

“The one thing that we miss the most when we retire is the camaraderie that we develop with the guys through the years. And this is a great fraternity here,” Smith said. “I’ve always enjoyed coming here and spending three or four days with guys that I competed with and against. It always makes for a fun weekend.

“This is baseball Americana right here. It doesn’t get any better than this … just take a walk down Main Street. We know the people that make the pilgrimage here are true baseball fans. So this is always a special weekend that we look forward to at the end of July.”

The action continues Saturday in Cooperstown with the Awards Presentation at 4:30 p.m. at Doubleday Field. The one-hour program will feature the presentation of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing to Paul Hagen of MLB.com. Longtime Blue Jays voice Tom Cheek will be honored posthumously with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcast excellence, with Cheek’s widow Shirley accepting the award. Also as part of the Awards Presentation, the Museum will salute Thomas Tull, who produced the Jackie Robinson biopic “42”; and Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered the groundbreaking ligament replacement procedure now known as “Tommy John Surgery.” John, who won 288 games in the big leagues, will also be on hand. The returning Hall of Famers will watch the Awards Presentation from seats on the Doubleday Field stage.

Following the Awards Presentation, the Parade of Legends will be held along Main Street in Cooperstown, with the returning Hall of Famers arriving at the Museum via trucks provided by Ford Motor Company.

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