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Former stars soak in HOF Classic experience

MLB.com

The unofficial start to the summer season kicked off with the annual Hall of Fame Classic held at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Saturday.

Fans lined up to see some of their favorite retired MLB players join together for a seven-inning affair on the baseball diamond. Each MLB team had a representative in the game. Also, several Hall of Famers like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Eddie Murray, Gaylord Perry, Tim Raines and Ozzie Smith showed up at the birthplace of baseball at Doubleday Field.

The unofficial start to the summer season kicked off with the annual Hall of Fame Classic held at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Saturday.

Fans lined up to see some of their favorite retired MLB players join together for a seven-inning affair on the baseball diamond. Each MLB team had a representative in the game. Also, several Hall of Famers like Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Eddie Murray, Gaylord Perry, Tim Raines and Ozzie Smith showed up at the birthplace of baseball at Doubleday Field.

The Hall of Fame Classic was the star attraction during an exciting weekend for fans in Cooperstown. Fans were treated to tours of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum and a sweet home run derby contest prior to the game. Once the action got rolling, it was nostalgic to see former MLB players in their natural habitat.

The players were broken down into two teams and the action was competitive. Former Phillies and Red Sox great Shane Victorino had two hits and two RBIs. He took home the MVP trophy and raised eyebrows among his teammates.

"It's nice, and what makes it fun for all of us is guys are talking about the game we love and coming out here to play and enjoy it," Victorino said. "We were playing for fun and sometimes at the [MLB] level it becomes a job and a career. Sometimes you got to have fun. Coming out here, we had a blast."

Video: Victorino's 2-RBI single in HOF classic

Several Hall of Famers also enjoyed the chance to catch up with the legends of the game. Each player, like 2017 inductee Raines, just wanted to talk with buddies and guys he grew up idolizing as a player. He was ecstatic this platform allowed for that opportunity.

"I was having conversations with Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith and just seeing the guys, they're always on me about something," Raines said. "Because I'm the rookie now and they like to get on the rookie. Just hanging out with those guys, we don't get to see each other a lot. There are times where we are at the same event, and we're there for two or three days and we don't have a lot of time to be together. But I got in yesterday, we'll be here until tomorrow. We get a chance to kind of rekindle."

Players also enjoyed being able to put the uniform on one more time. Almost all felt it was extra special to be back at Doubleday Field and playing in the Hall of Fame Classic. Fingers felt honored and compared it to walking into Yankee Stadium for the first time.

"I soak it in," Fingers said. "I mean, a lot of great players have been playing ball here forever, and you think back to guys and the teams that have played on this field. It's like when I first walked into Yankee Stadium when I was a young kid. I walked out on the mound with nobody there and home plate, you think, 'Dang, Babe Ruth stood here, Whitey Ford pitched on this mound.' You think about those things as a ballplayer."

Former Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson agreed. He compared his experience to his first year playing in the Majors. However, this time he felt different putting on the uniform once more at Doubleday Field. It brought back memories of suiting up and feeling like a kid again.

"It's phenomenal, especially for me, I played in Pittsburgh for nine years, I take a lot of pride in wearing the black and gold," Wilson said. "Like all the guys do here, just putting the pants on, the whole thing, the high socks, the cleats -- it brings back memories. The smell of the grass, being in the dirt, it's just awesome."

Another player who enjoyed his experience was former catcher A.J. Pierzynski. He took in all of the festivities and ended the day as the home run derby winner. It was his first derby since high school and he admitted he was nervous.

However, he calmed down after talking with his daughter, who was in attendance. Pierzynski said her playful joking and a text message from a former teammate helped to put him in the zone. He ended up beating former Royals great Mike Sweeney to take home the title.

"Good, now [former White Sox teammate] Aaron Rowand can leave me alone," Pierzynski said. "He texted me when he found out I was coming, and he's like, 'I won the HR derby, I won the MVP and I'm the mayor of this event.' So he's like, 'You better represent,' so at least now he can leave me alone about one thing."

While the players enjoyed their time at the Hall of Fame Classic, they understand that it was an event to honor the game they love. Each player created memories, and that is what made the Cooperstown event special.

"It's hard not to get caught up in it, the fact that I can stand here and say I'm one of the guys who has a plaque over there is very, very special in itself," Ozzie Smith said. "... I think you have to give thanks and feel blessed to have had the opportunity to play this wonderful game, and this is the pinnacle, this is it, and to have that plaque over there in the Hall of Fame is much more than I ever dreamed of in my entire life. I dreamed of being a big league baseball player, and I ended up in Cooperstown."

Jaylon Thompson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter at @jaylonthompson.