We all find ourselves so caught up with the Yankees and the races for both the American League East and the wild card that we sometimes lose sight of some of the most enjoyable and nostalgic events on the baseball calendar. One of those is Hall of Fame Weekend, just completed on Monday here in Cooperstown. Here’s a simple bit of advice: if you live anywhere near Cooperstown and have never experienced Hall of Fame Weekend, make sure you attend this celebration at least once in your lifetime.
As a Cooperstown resident, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to soak in Hall of Fame Weekend each year. There are so many different events going on—from autograph signings to clinics to the actual induction ceremony—that the weekend becomes a non-stop whirlwind of baseball activity that has something to fit fans of just about any sort, from casual to diehard.
One of the best and most underrated events of Hall of Fame Weekend took place last Friday. Sponsored by the Major League Baseball Players’ Alumni Association, the Hall of Fame’s annual youth clinic gave children ages five to 12 the rare opportunity to learn the game from some of its masters. Ten former major league players led approximately 150 children in a variety of instructional drills, including baserunning, pitching, outfield play, and catching fundamentals. Four headline names participated, including perennial Hall of Fame candidate Lee Smith, former Big Red Machine component George Foster, longtime Montreal Expos ace Steve Rogers, and old favorite Jim “Mudcat” Grant. (My nephew Brandon, who took part in the clinic, particularly enjoyed listening to Foster, who has become his new favorite player. After the clinic, we went to a local baseball shop, where Brandon soon asked me if the store had a section containing cards of Foster. Sadly, the store didn’t, but that didn’t quell Brandon’s passion.)
As I watched from the third base dugout at venerable Doubleday Field, I took note of how well organized the clinic seemed to be. Each group of youngsters spent 15 minutes at each station, as former players offered hands-on instruction, before moving on to the next post. The kids completed seven of eight stations, as some late afternoon thunder and lightning forced organizers to cut the event short by about ten minutes. The early termination didn’t matter; by then, the kids had received nearly two hours of instruction at the cost of exactly nothing. Yes, the event was completely free of charge.
Frankly, I’m surprised that more parents don’t sign their kids up for the experience. In addition to being free, it features outgoing instructors who all have a desire to teach youngsters about the game. There are few scenes more uplifting than watching a 75-year-old Mudcat Grant telling five to 12-year-olds stories about his playing days while emphasizing the important of getting an education. Grant did this despite his continued recovery from recent knee and hip surgeries. Mudcat walked with the assistance of a cane, but aside from the effects on his gait, he still looks good some 36 years after last throwing a pitch in a major league game. Mudcat is truly a modern day marvel—and a phenomenal ambassador for the game.