It’s a different feeling sitting in the stands.
For the majority of my professional career, I’ve worked in the media. I’ve covered events. I’ve interviewed, reported and written the accounts as I see them unfold. It made it hard, at times, to be a fan. As the old saying goes, “there’s no cheering in the press box.”
So, even when I was off, it was tough to go somewhere and be a fan.
When I was laid off this past February, it gave me the chance to see things in a different light. I did that today when I decided, at the last minute, to take the jaunt up to Cooperstown and watch the third annual Hall of Fame Classic, a Legends game featuring several Hall of Famers and many former Major League players.
I was always a fan of this game. I called for this type of game in a column when the Hall of Fame game was yanked from under the Hall’s rug. When it was announced the Baseball Hall would do this, I applauded them. I had a huge smile on my face when I witnessed Bob Feller face THREE batters at age 90 during the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic.
In fact, the column I wrote following that was one of three that was submitted en route to helping me win the 2010 New York State Associated Press Association’s first-place award for sports column.
So I was ready to see this in a new light. And I’m glad I did.
After deciding to head to the Classic, I drove up to Cooperstown, parked at the Clark Sports Center (where the Hall Induction Ceremonies are held) and walked the near-mile to Doubleday Field. I hopped into line to purchase a ticket and the day got even better as a nice gentleman walked by and asked if I was buying a ticket. When I said yes, he gave me his and said he was leaving.
After realizing the seats were on the side I wanted, I headed in. After taking a moment to stop by the press area (my former working place, of course) to extend hellos to the staff I knew and a few newspaper people, I walked to the corner of the third-base side where there was a lot of room. I picked a spot and stretched out to watch a couple of hours of baseball. (The photo at the top of the page was from the seat I chose to sit at).
As I said before, I’ve always been a big fan of the concept of this game. And in the past, the games were fun to watch. But as a fan, this was so much better as I could laugh and enjoy all the antics going on.
That being said, I did put the ol’ reporting gloves on for a little bit today as I jotted some notes from the game, specifically, of course, for the blog.
First, it was a perfect day. The blue sky really meshed well with the crisp green grass. The field looked incredible. To me, there aren’t many more beautiful things in this world than a well-groomed baseball field.
Though the crowd wasn’t huge (I would say in the 6,000 range, maybe a little bigger), they seemed very vocal and had a lot of fun, which is what this game is about. The “Goose” chant for Goose Gossage (who pitched two innings and sent a few solid fastballs past players) was loud.
The game even had an old-school feel as there was a kid with a ladder in his yard up against the back side of Doubleday Field on the third-base line. Funny stuff.
Several Hall of Famers took part in the game, including Gossage, Phil Niekro (who also pitched two innings and snared a hard shot off fellow Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith), Andre Dawson and Jim Rice.Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams managed both teams.
There was also a powerful moment during the ceremonial first pitch. Feller, who died in December, had been an advocate of this game. His widow, Anne, delivered the ball to the mound along with Hall officials. In a very nice move, she placed the ball on the pitcher’s mound rubber.
Once the game started, there was fun, humor and some halfway decent ball. Some of the items I noticed:
– During an interview before the teams took the field. Ozzie Smith referred to Goose Gossage as Sparky Lyle. That got a chuckle from some of the crowd (who got the joke!) and a quick stare from Gossage.
– Niekro, now 72, was then interviewed and noted the 82-year-old Williams had Niekro on a 10-pitch count. But Niekro then noted that might be per batter. He then quipped, “I’m going two innings, whether he likes it or not.” Niekro came through on his promise.
– Goose’s first pitch sailed over former outfielder Willie Wilson, getting some looks and laughs.
– Niekro delivered a ball that almost looked like a high-arc pitch to lefty Bill “Spaceman” Lee, a former pitcher who then sent the ball down the third-base line for a double. It’s especially funny because Lee used his version of the eephus pitch during his 14-year major-league career.
Speaking of Lee…
The Spaceman was in full gear as the team’s “designated humorist.” Decked out in a uniform that looked like it probably came from early 1900s, Lee also donned a glove from that era. He played the outfield, hit, pitched and inning and even caught an inning — with that glove and without full body protection. Good stuff.
Former Detroit Tiger Jon Warden, always a funny man, had some great things during the game, entertaining fans of all ages.
The game itself wasn’t the greatest of baseball skills. After all, many of these guys are long past their primes. However, it did what it was supposed to do. It entertained. It was well worth seeing this game and I enjoyed the afternoon. It was nice to sit back, eat a couple of hot dogs and enjoy the antics of some of the players.
As for the players, there were some pretty decent names there, too, besides the Hall of Famers. Dale Murphy, Doug Glanville, Rick Wise, Reggie Sanders, and Dmitri Young were among the former major leaguers who played in the game.
Young won the pre-game hitting contest and was also named the Bob Feller Player of the Game as he was the lone player to homer during the game.
Hopefully, this Father’s Day tradition will continue at the Hall. It’s a great way to enjoy the game in Cooperstown and those who attend seem to really enjoy all the antics and the play that goes on.
Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com.