Classic Clinic brings kids, players together at Doubleday Field

Written by: Bill Francis

Even a cloudy, gray afternoon couldn’t diminish the smiles on the future stars who came to Cooperstown on Friday.

Doubleday Field played played host to approximately 250 children aged 7-12 who took part in the 2019 Cooperstown Classic Clinic, a prelude to Saturday’s Hall of Fame Classic legends game.

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Instruction on this day was provided by nine recently retired major leaguers, including pitchers Jeff Francis, Brad Hennessey, Brett Tomko and John Parrish; infielders Mark Teahen, Orlando Cabrera and Carlos Baerga; outfielder Willy Taveras; and catcher Michael Barrett.

“Our kids are six, four and two, so explaining to them what exactly the Hall of Fame is and what they are getting to experience is a little difficult for them to understand,” said the 37-year-old Teahen. “They already have the baseball fever, so I’m sure they’ll look at this trip down the road and remember how cool it was.

“Our home is in Scottsdale, Ariz., so we’re a little jetlagged, but it’s worth it to be here.”

Teahen’s only other time in Cooperstown came via a family trip from California with his parents and two brothers when he was eight years old.

“I did a lot of work with children back when I was playing and I really enjoyed it. It’s fun getting to help younger kids. I feel that’s part of the fun of playing Major League Baseball is helping young kids,” said Teahen, an infielder who played seven seasons for the Royals, White Sox and Blue Jays from 2005-11.

“The main thing at this stage is for them to really enjoy the game.” Teahen’s last big league action came in 2011, but he still stays involved.

“I got to play baseball for Italy for a summer, which was awesome, and last year got to play in the Bluegrass World Series, which was a team of a bunch of veteran guys. I think I got invited because Chipper (Jones) was getting inducted into the Hall of Fame so they needed another third baseman,” Teahen joked. “So I try and stay around the game a little bit. I’ve been out of it long enough to where I’m interested in circling back and doing something in the game. We’re busy with the kids, but baseball, obviously, is still important to our family.”

For Taveras, 37, it was his first time in Cooperstown.

“It’s a place where everybody wants to come,” he said. “If you play baseball, it’s where everybody dreams about.”

Taveras is a part of the Hall of Fame, having donated a jersey and cap used during his 30-game hitting streak as a member of the Astros during the 2006 season.

“I’m looking forward to seeing it and taking a photo of it with my family. Some of my friends in Houston came here once, took a picture of it and sent it to me. So we’re looking forward to this. We’re very blessed,” said Taveras, who played seven seasons with the Astros, Rockies, Reds and Nationals from 2004-10. “I know they will be secure here for a long time. Knowing my family and friends here and in the Dominican will be able to see them was important. There was no question when the Hall of Fame asked me to donate them. It’s a blessing.”

Taveras made the trip to Cooperstown with his wife, who is expecting a boy in August, as well as his three children.

“When the Astros reached out to me to participate in this weekend, I said yes right away. I train every day so I’m ready to play,” Taveras said. “And as far as this clinic, I’ve worked with kids on my son’s team and I think I get more out of it than they do. Kids are incredible. Anyway I can help I will. I think the joy comes to us.”

Taveras is not kidding when he says he’s ready to play, as he’s still suiting up as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters, an independent league team in Texas.

“It’s hard not to play baseball. I’m blessed to be healthy enough to do it. God is good,” he said with a smile. “I think we all miss the game. We’re here because the game is hard to let go of.

“My kids love to play and they love to be around the clubhouse. The other day my son had a game and when he finished he came to watch me play. He saw me walk and then steal a base and he couldn’t believe how fast I went. He was very happy, very thrilled, because everywhere we go people talk about it. Now he got to see it. That was a great moment for me.”

Informed he was leading off in Saturday’s Hall of Fame Classic, Taveras first laughed, then said, “That will be nice. I’ll have to lay a bunt down against my former teammate Jeff Francis.”

Francis and Taveras were teammates with the Rockies. This is the southpaw’s first time to Cooperstown since a family trip from their home in Canada 30 years ago.

“Cooperstown is special for me. It’s an honor to be asked to do be involved this weekend,” Francis said. “But then for my kids to be able to come and see me put on a uniform again is a thrill.”

Francis, 38, made the trip with his wife, three kids, ages nine, seven and four (“They all swing left and throw right”), and his mother-in-law.

Prior to the Skills Clinic, the Hall of Fame hosted in its Grandstand Theater a special panel, “A Conference on Cardboard: Talking about Baseball Cards.” The Hall’s new exhibit, Shoebox Treasures, opens Saturday.

Participating in the panel were former major leaguer Steve Sax, longtime Topps photographer Doug McWilliams, SABR president and historian Mark Armour, and Hall of Fame Curator of History and Research John Odell.

“When the baseball card exhibit came down in 2013 with one of our renovations we immediately heard back from our visitors saying they loved the baseball card exhibit,” said Odell.

“It was a wall of cards – it had several hundred cards – and it was really a display. It didn’t talk about baseball card collecting, it didn’t talk about the manufacturing, it didn’t talk about the design. It was just a wall of cards. After listening to the comments from our visitors, we wanted to do it in a way that is more interesting and engaging than simply having a wall of cards.

“It took several years to be able to put together the exhibit that we really felt was going to be a good one that talked about the entire history of the industry but also talked to the heart of the collector. We wanted something that would acknowledge the fact that people love baseball cards and their personal connection to them.”

Sax, the longtime big league second baseman, was asked for his memories of posing for his first baseball card.

“I was down in Arizona in Instructional League. I thought it was great because it was all culminating in one short time, a couple of months, because I got the chance to get my photograph taken by Topps, which was ‘Wow.’ I was somebody then. And I got a bat contract with Louisville Slugger. So all these things were happening within a couple of months down in Arizona,” he said. “I remember getting my picture taken in Mesa and I just thought, ‘Man, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey did this too.’ I thought I was really getting somewhere. It was a thrill.”

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

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