Former stars show their stuff in HOF Classic
Recently retired big leaguers gather in Cooperstown for annual exhibition
COOPERSTOWN, NY -- Someday, Pudge Rodriguez might be here in an entirely different capacity.
Rodriguez, one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, took on the role of goodwill ambassador at Saturday's Hall of Fame Classic. Six Hall of Famers showed up to serve as coaches in the annual exhibition game at Cooperstown's Doubleday Field, and Rodriguez led a contingent of recent retirees. Rodriguez, of course, was here to enjoy the moment, but he couldn't help but flash forward to his own potential Hall of Fame candidacy two years down the line.
"As the year goes by, you start thinking about it. Now, I'm two years away and I'm looking forward to it," said Rodriguez of potentially earning his induction to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. "I'm excited, but I have to wait and see what happens. It's every player's dream to be in Cooperstown."
And that's the great part about the Hall of Fame Classic: It opens the doors to the game's most hallowed institution to more than just the game's immortals. Several distinguished former players showed up this weekend to shake hands in Cooperstown and to bathe in the applause of a capacity crowd just one more time. The starting pitchers of the Hall of Fame Classic -- former All-Stars Roy Oswalt and Steve Avery -- only intersected for one season during their Major League careers.
The two teams were both managed by Hall of Famers, with Phil Niekro on one side and Ozzie Smith on the other. Tom Glavine, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer, served as a coach on Smith's team, as did fellow all-time great Tony Perez. Niekro's coaches -- Rollie Fingers and Robin Yount -- also had a Hall of Fame pedigree, and they presided over an interesting game of nostalgia that brought several stars of yesterday back to the field.
Vinny Castilla, a three-time winner of the National League Silver Slugger Award at third base, showed that he still has some pop in his bat. Castilla, 47, bashed 320 home runs during his playing career, and he hit a few more as part of the Hall of Fame Classic Home Run Contest. Castilla led all competitors with four home runs in his opening round, and then he outlasted a trio of competitors by drilling two long shots on three pitches in the final round of the derby.
The stands at historic Doubleday Field were packed for both of Saturday's events, and just one day earlier, a bunch of local children got to participate in a clinic with the former big league players. About 150 kids between the ages of 7-12 got pointers on all aspects of the game's finer points, and on Saturday, they got to see their tutors put the lessons into effect between the lines. And just like at an All-Star Game, the players all wore their former team's uniform.
Alfonso Soriano, who began and ended his career with the Yankees, got to put on the pinstripes one last time. Bobby Abreu, just one season removed from the big leagues, got to go back in time and suit up for the Phillies, a team he hadn't played for since 2005. All of the assembled players got a chance to walk around the Hall of Fame on Friday night, allowing them to visit their childhood favorites and to see any memorabilia they may have donated to Cooperstown.
In the actual game, Team Knucksie, Niekro's team of American League alumni, earned a 7-5 win over Team Wizard, which represented Ozzie Smith and the NL. Former White Sox outfielder Aaron Rowand was named the Bob Feller Player of the Game after drilling a two-run homer in the win.