Classic brings the best of baseball to Cooperstown

Written by: Bill Francis

The 11th edition of the Hall of Fame Classic ended in a tie – but the annual Cooperstown legends game had enough action and unique plays that no one left disappointed.

In an early afternoon Saturday matchup at historic Doubleday Field, with slightly overcast skies, temperatures in the high 60s and occasion drizzle, Team Rollie and Team Goose, skippered, respectively, by Hall of Famer closers Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage, ended the exhibition in a 9-9 tie. Hall of Famers Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Trevor Hoffman and Bert Blyleven served as coaches.

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Orlando Cabrera, the starting shortstop for Team Rollie and representing the Angels, captured the Bob Feller Player of the Game Award by batting 2-for-5 with a grand slam home run, a sacrifice fly and five RBI. Cabrera also played in the 2015 Hall of Fame Classic while representing the Red Sox.

“I can’t believe it. I hit a home run!,” said an excited Cabrera minutes after the announcement was made. “And my kids are here, my wife, my friends. I’m very excited.”

The 44-year-old Cabrera, a native of Colombia who now lives in New Hampshire, ended his 15-year big league playing career in 2011 with 123 homers.

But his two daughters, ages seven and five, were happy to witness Saturday’s game.

“I haven’t swung a bat in forever,” Cabrera said to the media, his daughters draped over him with affection. “It’s nice for them to see me in uniform. They hear people talking about me, so it’s nice for them to see it.”

The seven-inning contest, which featured recently retired players from all 30 major league franchises, saw Jason Marquis start and toss two scoreless innings for Team Rollie, while Brett Tomko pitched the first and last innings for Team Goose. Besides Cabrera, Team Rollie’s offense was helped by two hits each from A.J. Pierzynski, Todd Zeile, Orlando Hudson and Marquis. Team Goose saw Chris Snyder go deep twice and Charles Johnson once, while Willy Taveras and Jack Wilson added two hits apiece.

The game, played before a crowd of 4,293, also saw its fair share of unique action, besides Tomko’s appearance and reappearance, including Sammy Fingers, the son of Rollie, pinch-running in the sixth inning and shortstop Jack Wilson relieving Joe Nathan mid-inning and tossing a scoreless one-third of an inning.

Before the Hall of Fame Classic Game, the Home Run Derby took place with eight players, the finals of which featured Chris Snyder, Michael Barrett, A.J. Pierzynski and Corey Hart. In the last round, each of the quartet had five swings, with Hart coming out on top for the title.

“I did one (Home Run Derby) in the big leagues and one in the minor leagues,” said the 37-year-old Hart, who was representing the Brewers. “I don’t know if that helped today. I think the best I did in those was coming in third.”

The big leaguers who took part in the weekend’s festivities all had a positive experience on and off the diamond.

Steve Sax, the longtime second baseman representing the Dodgers, said: “I like it – the whole surrounding area. I’m a history buff so I love coming here and seeing the Hall of Fame. Anybody that has a chance to come up in this area should take advantage of it. If you love baseball and you love history, there’s nothing else like the Hall of Fame. It’s really something unique in its own right. It’s pretty special.

“And any time you get to see your brethren, it’s like time has stood still. Nothing has changed. The jokes are the same. You’re finishing each other’s sentences. I really enjoy being around the guys.”

For Mariners pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, it was his third consecutive year coming Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Classic.

“It’s great. Every time I come back here there’s something new to check out. And I brought the family this time around. It’s good to have the family out here,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to pitching. I love this place. I want to come back every year.

“This ignites that passion for the game just for a couple of days – to know that in a small way you’re part of something which is massive. It’s the biggest part of my whole life. Growing up in Australia and coming over here, and here I am able to check out the history of this game. It’s awesome.”

Pierzynski, last year’s Home Run Derby champ, said: “I love coming back here. Any time you get a chance to come to the Hall of Fame and walk around and look at all the stuff and see something different. It’s an amazing place. As a former player and baseball fan still involved in the game, it’s just an amazing place. It just brings goosebumps to me every time I walk in here. It bring you back to your childhood, remembering where you were when you saw certain events. It’s just a special place.”

During his playing career, Pierzynski donated the bat he used for his 2,000th career hit to the Hall of Fame.

“I was joking around with Joe Nathan today that there’s a bat of mine here from my 2,000th hit and I told him I got a couple of those hits off him,” he said. “He kind of growled at me and said he broke my bat a couple of time, too.

“Anytime the Hall of Fame calls and asked for a donation, it’s an automatic yes. No matter how much you want to keep it, you give them an absolute yes.”

Nathan, a New York native, played at Doubleday Field numerous times as a youngster and then as a big leaguer with the Twins in the 2005 Hall of Fame Game.

“This is a special place. Coming here, especially now when I get the chance to bring my kids here for the first time, it’s just full circle for me. It’s always a special place to come to – as a kid, as a player, and now as a dad. It’s just cool for me to be able to bring them for the first time.

“We always knew we were very lucky as players to do what we did. But coming back here and experience what we did as players is really great.”

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, the Hall of Fame held a ribbon-cutting for its new baseball card exhibit, Shoebox Treasures, located on the third floor of the Museum.

At the ceremony, Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark talked about the Museum’s latest exhibit.

“For the very first time we’re taking a comprehensive look at baseball cards, exploring the history, the design, the production of the cards, how this hobby evolved into a multimillion dollar industry, and the joy and the passion that so many fans have in the art of collecting baseball cards,” she said. “They invoke such deep memories, as all of you know, hours spent agonizing over trades with friends, of searching for that Holy Grail, and I think sadly for some, the pain in figuring out your mom – probably not your dad – threw out that shoebox that held those treasures.

“Each baseball card that was ever bought, traded or collected has had exactly the same mission as we have here at the Hall of Fame – they preserve history, they honor excellence, and they connect generations.”

A busy Saturday got off to an early start with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual BASE Race charity runs, a 5K fun run and competitive 10K which celebrate healthy. The winners: 10K Overall Female Winner - Hillary Holden 43:13; 10K Overall Male winner - Cornelius Deep 34:42; 5K Overall Female - Una Broderick 21:33; 5K Overall Male - Charles Hollister 18:47.

Following the Hall of Fame Classic game, the evening saw the Hall of Fame hold its annual Night at the Museum program, an event where the Hall of Famers and former players involved in the Classic greeted fans throughout the Museum.


Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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