My Experience at the Hall of Fame Classic
My day started by talking to Jim Thome. It ended by sitting next to Hideki Matsui on a bus.
The in-point and out-points of the experience were awesome, but so was every point in between.
Those of you who read my work consistently know that I'm passionate about baseball. I played locally at Shen. I played four years at Oswego State. I've coached at a multitude of levels. I've had a lifetime of unbelievable baseball experiences by the age of 24.
But last Saturday, my already great baseball life got even better. And I just had to share my thoughts.
I was invited to be a bullpen catcher at the Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown.
Bullpen catcher? Doesn't sound very exotic. Especially for a former college pitcher. But it was. A chance to catch major league pitchers? Sign just about any baseball purist up for that.
Each major league team sent a player to represent the organization and play in the game. All were recent retirees that could still play. Some were future Hall of Famers, or at least debatable Hall of Famers.
Thome. Matsui. Ivan Rodriguez. Pedro Martinez.
Others were just players I grew up watching. David Eckstein. Reggie Sanders. Mike Sweeney. Aaron Rowand. Brady Anderson.
And oh, the coaching staffs? None other than Ozzie Smith, Phil Niekro, Rollie Fingers, Roberto Alomar and Andre Dawson.
I assumed the position of "only speak when spoken to," but before I knew it Jim Thome was introducing himself to me. Steve Garvey shook my hand. I spoke to Jack Wilson, Eckstein, Kirk Reuter, Luis Gonzalez.
Former Cardinal Kerry Robinson handed me his Samsung version of an iPad to take a group photo at the pre-game lunch.
I rode on a trolley from the locker room area to Doubleday Field. About a one mile ride. Sitting right behind Thome and Sweeney, listening to them make jokes with Sanders and an MLB Network camera crew that had Thome mic'd up.
When we got to the field former Rays pitcher Dan Wheeler had me throw with him in left field. In the home run derby, I had kids screaming at me trying to get any baseball that didn't make it over the fence.
I would have done the same thing.
I had kids asking me for my autograph (I only signed one, I didn't want to ruin anyone's baseballs).
I played catch with Steve Avery prior to the game. I warmed up Avery, former Tiger Todd Jones and former Marlin/Yankee/Twin Carl Pavano.
I had a four-inning conversation with Jones in the 'pen, just picking his brain about baseball and pitching.
And when the game ended, we took a bus back to the locker room area in Cooperstown. And there he was, Hideki Matsui, sitting right next to me.
And oh, the game? Pudge hit a 430-foot homer. Matsui homered. The guys can still play.
Hey, you may not care one bit about my experience. And that's perfectly okay. But to me? It was the coolest thing I've ever done in baseball.
Thank you to the Hall of Fame for allowing me this opportunity and to all of those who made this possible for me.