Results tagged ‘ Baseball Hall of Fame Classic ’

Kent, Timlin savor time in Cooperstown

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Of the 26 former big league players who participated in Sunday’s inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Classic, only two were in the big leagues as recently as last season. One says he’s retired for good; the other is willing to listen to offers.

Jeff Kent was a slugging second baseman who captured the 2000 National League MVP Award, while Mike Timlin a stalwart relief pitcher who helped four teams win World Series titles. Between the pair of baseball veterans are 35 seasons and almost 3,400 games of major league action. 

According to Kent, who ended last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers with 377 career home runs, including his record-setting 351 as a second baseman, he’s ready for the next phase of his life.

6-24-09-Francis_Timlin.jpg“I’m 41 now and my desire to compete is going out a little bit,” Kent said before the Classic. “I’ll probably always think I could compete, but at what level I don’t know. It’s time for the younger kids to start taking on the game.

“I think the last 10 years of my career I played the game a lot better in my mind than I did with my body.”

For Timlin, 43, while he sees the writing on the wall, he’s unwillingly to completely concede his playing career has come to an end.

 “Nothing’s totally official,” said Timlin, who played the last six seasons with the Boston Red Sox. “I had my name out there in spring training, so something could happen this summer. If someone gives me a call that I would deem worthy to walk away from the family for a little while, it could happen.”

Both players have been generous over the years about donating artifacts from their careers to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“They’re probably collecting dust in the basement,” joked Kent, who donated, among other things, the bat he used to hit his 278th homer as a second baseman, breaking Ryne Sandberg‘s former career mark. “It’s neat that I was a part of history for the 17 years that I played.”

Among the Timlin artifacts in the Museum – which like all artifacts are kept in climate-controlled environments – are the spikes he wore when he made his 1,000th appearance as a pitcher. 

“It’s an honor just to be asked to have something in there,” Timlin said. “I know my career numbers are not going to put me in there with a plaque on the wall, so it’s nice to actually have something in there that is part of me.”

Timlin’s last visit to Cooperstown was with the Red Sox as a participant in the 2005 Hall of Fame Game.

“My mom passed away from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), so I took a picture with Lou Gehrig‘s first baseman mitt,” Timlin said. “That was pretty neat.”

6-24-09-Francis_Kent.jpgThis was Kent’s first visit to Cooperstown, but with the career he’s had he could one day find himself with a Hall of Fame plaque of his own.

“I’ve never been a baseball historian, so because of that I’ve never really been able to compare myself to anybody else. I never got caught up in the history of the game because I felt like that might erase some of my competitive nature,” Kent said. “I always competed for the moment rather than competing for the past or competing for the future. When you know that history about me, for me to think about where I stand within baseball history, I have no idea.”

But Kent did admit to some curiosity after being around some of the Hall of Famers as part of the Hall of Fame Classic.

“I’m learning more about the intrigue, the specialness, the mystery of the Hall of Fame and the classiness of these players that are in the Hall. And to say that I can be a part of that in the future I appreciate,” Kent said. “I’ve always tried to separate myself from things I can’t control. I played the game and I played it right and hopefully that’ll stand up for itself. We’ll see.

“Being able to say that I was one of the better players is an honor in itself whether somebody votes for me or not.”

And with his long career possibly having come to an end, Timlin can look back with a certain wide-eyed awe.

“God’s blessed me tremendously just to do what I’ve done,” he said. “It has been awesome.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Fans, players share the fun at Hall of Fame Classic

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

Their smiles were so big, you’d have thought they’d all just won the lottery.

Mike Timlin, bending over near home plate so players could sign his jersey. Jeff Kent, drilling homer after homer to win the pregame Hitting Contest. Lee Smith, signing autographs until every fan was happy at Doubleday Field.

6-21-09-Muder_Timlin.jpgIt was the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic on Sunday in Cooperstown, and the fans cheered lustily at every opportunity — thrilled to have their heroes back on the playing field. But it was the players who seemed to be the most grateful.

“Thank you for having us here,” said Kent, who was playing in the major leagues this time last year. “It’s really a thrill to be in Cooperstown.”

The day’s longest ovation was reserved for Bob Feller, who started the game and revved up his legendary fastball one more time at 90 years of age. When he left in the middle of the first inning, the crowd of 7,069 fans at Doubleday Field gave him a standing ovation. When he received his first standing-O on the baseball mound, Franklin Roosevelt was president.

“Thank you for coming,” Feller said the the crowd after his Team Wagner defeated Team Collins 5-4.

No, Bob.. Thank you for coming.

It could only happen in Cooperstown, the home of baseball dreams — for fans and players.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Classic Hall of Famers thrill packed crowd, promise more

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

There were literally no empty seats in the Grandstand Theater for the Hall of Fame Classic Voices of the Game. And this special Father’s Day edition delivered with the same impact the four Hall of Famers on stage had during their careers.

The sellout crowd listened for as Triple-Crown winner Bob Feller, 300-game winner Phil Niekro, 3,000-hit Club member Paul Molitor and 16-time Gold Glove Award winner Brooks Robinson reflected on their careers and talked about the game they love.

6-20-09-Hayes_VOG.jpgAll four legends and fellow Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins headline the signature event of the weekend, the Hall of Fame Classic on Father’s Day at Doubleday Field.

The theme of fathers and sons has been a principal element throughout this inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend and was present during Voices of the Game. Niekro spoke vividly of his relationship. As a youngster in Ohio, he looked up to his father, who taught him the weapon that would be his bread and butter in a 24 season career.

“”If it wasn’t for the knuckleball, I probably would have ended up coal mining,” Niekro said. “I didn’t know what it was. I just had fun playing knuckle ball in the back yard. Then I was able to get Little League guys out.”

His success continued and he hitched a ride to a tryout with the Milwaukee Braves. He signed for $500. Early on, Knucksie as he became known, was unsure of his talents. When the Hall’s manager of museum programs Steve Light, who moderated the event asked Niekro how he fared against the two accomplished hitters on either side of him, Knucksie started laughing.

6-20-09-Hayes_RobinsonNiekro.jpg“I faced Brooks early on during a Spring Training game,” he recalled. “One of my 77-mph fastballs got away from me and I hit him in the head.”

Robinson countered, “Didn’t hurt a bit.”

“I thought I was going to be done the next day for hitting Brooks Robinson with a fastball,” Niekro said.

Robinson’s start wasn’t something to brag about either, though he did. He played most of the 1955 season for the York (Penn.) White Roses – a B-League team in the Piedmont League. Robinson got the call at the end of the season and got two hits in his first start.

“I called home and said, ‘This is cake. Why did I play in [the minors] all year? I should have been in the big leagues.'”

He then went 0-for-18. He recovered and became one of the cornerstones of the great Orioles teams of the 1960’s and 70’s. He appeared in four World Series, winning a pair of rings. Robinson played on a lot of great teams, but he feels one of the best didn’t achieve to the level that some of his other teams might have.

6-20-09-Hayes_Robinson.jpgIn honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Miracle Mets, Light asked Robinson about the 1969 World Series.

“I thought our ’62 team was our best,” he said. “But anything can happen in a seven-game series. We beat [Hall of Famer Tom] Seaver and lost the next four, straight.”

Baltimore was back in the Series again the next season and Robinson took the MVP honors, hitting .429 against the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. He drove in six and hit a pair of home runs. Molitor like Robinson achieved October glory by winning the MVP Award in 1993 with the Blue Jays.

During that Fall Classic, he hit .500 with a pair of doubles, a pair of triples and a pair of homers while driving in eight against the Phillies. Molitor’s best memory of that Series however, was not one of his personal achievements.

“The ’93 Series, I was on first base when Joe Carter hit that ball over the wall,” he said. “I was thinking if it goes off the wall and I hustle, I can score and end this thing, but then it went out and it was all over anyway.”

Another highlight of Molitor’s career was reaching 3,000 hits. Pure consistency throughout his career allowed The Ignitor to retire with a career .306 batting average and 3,319 hits. In 1987, he took a run at one of the game’s longest standing records, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Molitor hit safely in 39 straight.

6-20-09-Hayes_Niekro.jpg“Whether it’s milestones or streaks, players don’t really play for those, but numbers are big in baseball,” he said. “Falling 17 games short is still a long way away from that number and my perspective changed after that streak.

“I always tell people: The way you handle success is directly related to the way you handle failure, because 3,000 hits means 7,000 outs.”

Knucksie, a member of another elite club – the 300-game winners – applauded Molitor on the achievement. He said pitchers have help in winning games, but hitters are alone. 

Niekro’s 300th came in his last start of 1985 as a Yankee. It was a special moment for him and his father, who was faltering in health. Niekro was 46 at the time and at the end of his contract.

“If I didn’t win it, I would have had to wait until the next spring and he wasn’t going to hold on that long,” he said. “So really that was a blessing for both of us.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Feller.jpgFeller missed 300 wins by 34. But he recorded a career-high 27 in 1940 followed by 25 in 1941 before leaving baseball for most of four seasons to serve in the Navy during World War II. Light noted that the Grandstand Theater is a replica of Chicago’s Comiskey Park where Feller authored one of his three no-hitters and the only Opening Day no-no in the history of the game.

“Well it was 69 years ago and I remember it quite well,” the Indians ace recalled. “It wasn’t my best no-hitter. I didn’t have great stuff that day. I only struck out eight and we won 1-0. I remember that my catcher, Rollie Hemsley, hit a triple with my rommmate on base to score the only run.”

At 90, Feller’s memory is as sharp as if he were reading a box score. Light asked him about his famous high-leg kick and he laughed.

“That high leg kick…You’ve seen the picture taken in Yankee Stadium in 1936 or ’37 with my leg kicked over my head and the photographer laying flat on the ground,” Feller said. “That is all for show. It was just symbolism. But it’s the most popular picture they’ve got of me and it sells well at card shows.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Molitor.jpgAnother Feller myth was confirmed, when Light asked the former fireballer about the motorcycle and his fastball. Feller said that, that also happened in Chicago. He was wearing a tie and a dress shirt during the exhibition, but when he wound up with the motorcycle ten feet behind him, the ball beat the bike to the target. Using a timer and the vehicles speedometer, it was figured that he threw the ball 104 mph. Later a similar event was held and Feller clocked in at 107 mph.

Apparently worried by this, Molitor interrupted the story, “Can I ask him how his arm is feeling, since I have to leadoff against him tomorrow? I’ve heard stories of him hitting the first batter, so I’m just curious.”

Once the laughter subsided, and it was confirmed that Molitor would be the first batter to face the Classic’s starting pitcher – the 90-year-old Feller – Light asked Robinson how he felt knowing that he’d be the first guy to dig in against Knucksie in the bottom of the first.

6-20-09-Hayes_MolitorFeller.jpgRecalling their Spring Training encounter, Robinson looked worried and Niekro laughed, “Put your helmet on big boy, it’s coming.”

It is coming. In less than 24 hours, the legends will take the field at Doubleday and the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic will begin with Molitor facing Feller and Robinson against Niekro. Feller’s words seemed to sum up the entire weekend.

Baseball is a game of luck and there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad,” he said, noting the rain that fell on Cooperstown for most of Saturday. “We’re going to have a lot of fun tomorrow, rain or shine.”

Trevor Hayes is editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Felice Brothers are coming to Cooperstown

Horn_90.jpgBy Brad Horn

Stars from the music industry will head to Cooperstown on Sunday to join the stars of baseball at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.

6-19-09-Horn_Felice.jpgBefore Sunday’s Baseball Hall of Fame Classic, Catskill Mountain natives The Felice Brothers, a band with folk, rock and country roots, will perform the American National Anthem. Band members Greg Farley, Josh Rawson, Jeremy Backofen will join brothers Ian and James Felice in the Father’s Day performance.

The band is home following a successful tour and will leave soon for another national tour.

Tickets for the Classic — which features Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Fergie Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Brooks Robinson, along with 21 other former Major Leaguers — are $12.50 for infield seats, $11 for outfield seats and are available through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hall of Fame’s Museum Store. Starting at 8 a.m. Sunday, tickets will be available at Doubleday Field.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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