Unforgettable Weekend begins with Classic Clinic

Written by: Bill Francis

More than 150 baseball-loving youngsters, some wearing caps, others sporting a jersey from their favorite team – and all toting their special glove – congregated in Cooperstown hoping to learn a thing or two from those fortunate enough to play the game at its highest level.

Historic Doubleday Field was the place to be for this group of ballplayers on Friday afternoon as the National Baseball Hall of Fame hosted its annual Cooperstown Classic Clinic for boys and girls ages 7-12 as part of Hall of Fame Classic Weekend. Former big leaguers on hand to lend two hours of on-field instruction were Steve Avery, Jim Eisenreich, Brian Holman, Bengie Molina, Eddie Taubensee, Dan Wheeler and Jack Wilson.

Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine, inducted in 2014, began the program by delivering a special life skills message.

The children’s on-field experience included eight stations run by the former players, which included tips on base running, pitching, outfield, hitting, bunting, throwing, infield and catching.
“This is something I enjoy doing. I enjoy passing on what I know to these young kids,” said former major league catcher Eddie Taubensee. “They’re here because they love baseball. And I let them know that we were just like them at their age.

“If you work hard, some great things might happen to you.”

Tom Glavine, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014 after a 22-year big league career, shares some wisdom with kids at the Cooperstown Classic Clinic at Doubleday Field on May 22, 2015. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Former shortstop Jack Wilson agreed, adding, “Just have fun. Try and give them some tips but for the most part just try and have a good time.”

When pitcher Brian Holman was asked what he hoped to impart of the kids, he said, “The first thing I always try and get across to kids is you have to have fun, to enjoy this game. This game does not last very long (Holman played four seasons with the Expos and Mariners from 1988-91). Enjoy it and have a blast.

“The second thing is there’s a lot of failure in this game, and if you can handle failure and move on to the next thing you can have a lot of success. But if you dwell on that failure, you’re not going to last very long.”

According to fellow hurler Steve Avery, it’s just fun coaching kids.

“They really, truly play just to have fun,” said Avery, who won 96 games in 11 big league seasons and was a Braves teammate of future Hall of Famer pitchers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Glavine. “Sometimes when I’m coaching, a loss will really bother me and I look up and the kids are all running around playing with the team that just beat them. It kind of puts everything back in perspective. Hopefully the kids have a great time today, and I know I’m going to enjoy trying to teach them a thing or two.”

All the former major leaguers involved in the Clinic are also scheduled to take part in the Hall of Fame Classic, to be played on Saturday at the same venue. Avery, who took part in the game last year, smiled broadly when asked about his experience in 2014.

“It’s great to be back,” Avery said. “Last year was awesome and I had a great time.”

As for his fellow Atlanta Braves teammate and fellow pitcher Smoltz, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26, Avery said, “He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met, anything from walking off the bus he’d want to race you to the clubhouse. I think that’s one of the things that made him so great. He got up to the big league a little bit before me and he really helped me out my first couple of years.”

Besides Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Craig Biggio will also be honored with a bronze plaque this summer.

Like Avery, Wilson is also returning to Cooperstown for his second consecutive Classic.

“I think my family is more excited than me. I told them I got invited back, and I was looking forward to it, but when the family found out we were going back they were ecstatic,” said Wilson, who said a total of 10 family members made the trip to Cooperstown. “My littlest one kind of remembers my playing career, so it’s good for her to come and see her dad play a little bit.”

When asked about the Hall of Fame’s 2015 class of inductees, Wilson had to share a special memory.

“My favorite story about this new class of Hall of Famers is when I was going to face Randy Johnson for the very first time,” Wilson explained. “I was scared, having grown up watching that guy, and my wife told me about an hour before the game that we were having our first child. At that point Randy Johnson became secondary. I was actually calm in those at bats that night – something had taken the fear away.”

Holman also had stories to share about Johnson, a fellow pitcher he was traded along with, from the Expos to the Mariners, in a 1989 transaction.

“Randy and I were texting today about stuff. He and I are good friends and we came up through the Expos organization,” Holman said. “We were traded to Seattle together, we spent five years in Seattle, we played 10 years together, locker partners, roommates, so we know each other very well. In fact, he invited me to go to (the) Induction Ceremony in July.

“To be a part of that trade, you leave an organization that you came up with, that felt like family, but it turned out to be a great trade for Seattle,” he added. “Randy threw extremely hard but he just had trouble learning how to pitch and throwing strikes. We always knew as soon as he figured it out it was going to be unfair. It was very exciting to see how his career ended up. But I don’t think I ever thought he would get to this pinnacle. You always knew he had the ability to be dominating but maybe not a Hall of Fame pitcher.”

A busy Saturday schedule of events around Cooperstown includes the BASE Race beginning at 8 a.m., the Hall of Fame Classic Game Day Parade at noon, and the Hall of Fame Classic Game with its 2 p.m. start. Tickets for the Classic will be available starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday at the Doubleday Field Parking Lot.

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

Game Tickets

Classic Connection
Features a Hall of Fame Classic ticket and a one-day Museum admission pass for just $12.50, a savings of $23 off the regular rate.

Tickets will be available for purchase at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Ticket Booth on Friday, May 22, and again at the Doubleday Field Will Call tent beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 23.

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