The legends laughed, the sun shined and the fans cheered – all amidst a little baseball on June 16 at the Hall of Fame Classic at historic Doubleday Field.
At the end of the afternoon, everyone went home smiling on a perfect day-before-Father’s Day in Cooperstown.
“This is where you connect generations through the game of baseball,” said Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, whose Wizards fell to Phil Niekro’s Knucksies 5-4 in the annual seven-inning legends game. “It gives the kids a chance to share this wonderful place. It’s always special to come back to Cooperstown.”
On an 80-degree afternoon in front of 5,116 sun-splashed fans, six Hall of Fame legends and more than 20 former Major League Baseball players laced up their spikes and dusted off their uniforms for another bow on the diamond. The fourth annual Hall of Fame Classic was co-organized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. For the fourth straight year, Ford Motor Company was the Presenting Sponsor of the Hall of Fame Classic.
Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven started on the mound for The Wizards, pitching three innings and taking his legendary curveball out for one more spin.
“It was a lot of fun, but I’m just glad no one hit one back up the middle,” said Blyleven, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011. “It was great seeing everyone again – the Hall of Famers and all the guys.”
The Wizards took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Dante Bichette’s long single off the left field wall scored Smith. Brian Boehringer’s single scored Ben Davis in the second inning to make it 2-0 in favor of The Wizards.
The Knucksies tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the third on a two-run single by Dennis Rasmussen, but Blyleven pitched out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Jesse Barfield and getting Howard Johnson to ground out to Bichette at first base.
Jack Lazorko put The Wizards back in front 3-2 in the fifth inning with an RBI double that scored Jesse Trail of the Military All-Stars, who participated in the game at the invitation of the Hall of Fame and the MLBPAA. The Wizards scored another run in the sixth inning when Military All-Star Karl Seiter singled in Brian Fisher – with Fisher scoring on a belly flop into home plate.
In the bottom of the seventh, Oreste Marrero cut The Wizards’ lead to 4-3 with a leadoff home run, and three more batters followed with hits off Fisher before Bichette – an outfielder in his big league days – came on in relief. But Desi Relaford greeted Bichette with a single to right field, scoring Military All-Star Ryan Hurtado and Will Cunnane to give The Knucksies a 5-4 walk-off win. The hit cemented Relaford’s status as the winner of the Bob Feller Player of the Game Award.
“I’m completely honored just to be here in Cooperstown,” Relaford said. “And now to have an award named after Mr. Bob Feller, that’s unbelievable.”
The fourth annual Hall of Fame Classic Weekend was presented by Ford Motor Company, and the game featured Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven, Carlton Fisk, Eddie Murray, Phil Niekro, Tony Pérez and Ozzie Smith, along with two dozen former major leaguers. The former big leaguers included Jesse Barfield, Joel Bennett, Dante Bichette, Brian Boehringer, Will Cunnane, Ben Davis, John Doherty, Darrell Evans, Brian Fisher, Todd Haney, Jim Hannan, Howard Johnson, Rick Lancellotti, Jack Lazorko, Rob Mackowiak, Oreste Marrero, C.J. Nitkowski, Russ Ortiz, Dennis Rasmussen, Desi Relaford, Jon Warden, Rick Wise and Dmitri Young.
The day got under way with the Cooperstown Game Day Parade featuring the Hall of Famers and former major leaguers. Fans lined the Main Street route five-deep to see their heroes in a traditional summertime processional in America’s Most Perfect Village.
The players arrived at Doubleday Field following the parade and then participated in the Hitting Contest, which was won by Dmitri Young, who hit 171 home runs for four teams in his 13-year big league career. Young defended his 2011 Hitting Contest title, edging Classic newcomer Bichette in the finals. For winning the hitting contest, Young received a Tiffany watch courtesy of Tiffany & Co.
“Now I’ve got one watch for weekdays and one for weekends,” joked Young following the hitting contest. “And if they’ll have me, I’ll keep coming back for more. It’s an honor to be in Cooperstown for this event.”
CLASSIC NOTEBOOK: American Legion National Vice Commander David Voyles presented the 2012 George W. Rulon American League Baseball Player of the Year award to Blake Schmit, who will enroll at the University of Maryland this fall to play baseball and who played for American Legion Post 643 in Eden Prairie, Minn….The Oneonta (N.Y.) High School Yellowjackets were honored during the game for winning the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B baseball championship on June 9…The winners of the Take the Field contest, which brought kids onto the field at the start of the game, included: Sammy Burk, Shamus Evans, Brian Leatso, Vinny Mogavero, Ryan Muzio, Tristan Ng, Jane Place, Rachel Salerno and Jada Winter…Military All-Stars participating included Ryan Hurtado, Bruce Jazwinski, Karl Seiter and Jesse Trail…Hurtado, playing for The Knucksies, made a great diving catch in the seventh inning to rob Brian Fisher of extra bases…Dalton Lamb of Richfield Springs, N.Y. performed The Star-Spangled Banner…Anthony Gargiula of Glenmont, N.Y., performed God Bless America…Paul Hoyt of Broadalbin, N.Y., performed Take Me Out to the Ballgame…The bat and ball boys and girls for the game were all seniors at Cooperstown Central School: Jarrett Hotaling, Kevin Huggins, Linda Kenison and Meghan Vann…The umpires for the game were: Joel Ehrendreich (home plate), Victor Carrascoso (first base), Dale Shuck (second base) and Mike Chase (third base).