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Legends, fans mix at Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Game

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- One year ago, Rochester resident Johnny Perotti was trying -- albeit unsuccessfully -- to convince his family and friends that collectively, they would be playing a baseball game with some of Major League Baseball's biggest legends in Saturday's second-annual Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Game.

Yet there was Perotti's uncle, Charlie Perotti, in a catcher's crouch warming up Pedro Martinez along the right-field line at Frontier Field. Approximately an hour later, Perotti's brother, Jesse, was breaking into a home run trot after taking legendary closer Trevor Hoffman deep in the second inning in front of the second-largest crowd in stadium history.

The winner of the 2012 Pepsi MAX contest, Perotti, 27, had the honor of playing in and hosting the Field of Dreams Game in his hometown. He, along with four members of his family and one of his friends, joined legends Martinez, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson and Frank Thomas to form the American League squad, representing Rochester.

Perotti's team ultimately dropped the six-inning exhibition, 11-7, to a National League team consisting of contest runner-up Stephen Katchmark Jr., Katchmark's family and friends, and legends Hoffman, Johnny Bench, Fred McGriff, Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith.

Yet for Perotti, the once-in-a-lifetime experience was hardly about the scoreboard.

"I wish it wasn't over. I wish this was happening every week," Perotti said. "But it was great, bringing my family out. It was a good game. Too bad we couldn't win, but we tried, and at least we kept it a game."

Battling a case of nerves, Perotti booted a first-inning ground ball at shortstop before redeeming himself in the final inning. Ranging toward the middle, he picked a grounder and rifled the ball to Thomas to retire Stephen Katchmark Sr. As soon as the ball hit Thomas' glove, Smith -- a 10-time Gold Glove winner and widely regarded as the best defensive shortstop of all time -- charged out of the opposing dugout and congratulated Perotti with an on-field hug.

"It was great," Perotti said of the embrace. "That was one of the best moments there was through this whole thing. One of the best moments."

Another top moment for the Perotti family also culminated in a hug between a legend and an average Joe -- though it wasn't the legend initiating this one.

In the second inning, 26-year-old Jesse Perotti put the AL team on the board with a three-run homer that just cleared the left-field fence. As he rounded third base, Perotti veered out of the baseline toward the mound and embraced a smiling Hoffman.

"We talked before the game, and he said he might give us a little shot, throw a few slow ones in," Jesse said. "So I had to come and give him a hug and handshake and thanked him for it. He just gave me a look and was like, 'Nice hit.'"

Though this was the second Field of Dreams contest, it was the first that pitted the legends against one another. In last year's inaugural game, in Columbus, Ohio, the legends competed together as one team opposite contest winner Tim Wisecup and his handpicked squad.

Despite squaring off against three Hall of Famers in Boggs, Henderson and Jackson, as well as two likely Hall of Famers in Martinez and Thomas, Smith said there wasn't much trash-talking among the legends leading up to the game.

"Not a whole lot," Smith said. "A few of the guys are Hall of Famers, so we get to spend a lot of time together as it is. So we were just looking forward to allowing some of these fans to live out their childhood dreams, playing with some of their heroes growing up."

For Martinez, who as a Class A player once had to borrow money after spending all of his on a baseball signed by Jackson, the mixed lineups brought the added challenge of once again facing Major Leaguers.

"I'll be more careful how I pitch those guys," Martinez said shortly after his pregame warmup with Uncle Charlie. "First of all, you don't want to hit anybody, and second, you don't want to blow anything in your shoulder. I'm looking forward to having fun with the guys who won the contest. It's going to be fun, and I'm the right guy for fun.

"But those guys still know how to hit. Once you know how to ride a bike, you don't forget."

Smith, 58, certainly hasn't forgotten, yet he candidly admitted that he rides that bicycle a bit slower these days.

"We can't play like we used to play," he said before the game. "So whatever we got left is what we'll give these great fans."

By the time the night was over, Smith and his fellow legends had given their teammates -- and the 13,716 fans in attendance -- more than enough to create lasting memories.

"I really can't say enough about my nephew -- and I get choked up just talking about it," Charlie Perotti said. "He's such a great kid, and I'm so happy he had this opportunity and was gracious enough to share it with me and the rest of our family. We'll never forget this day."

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.