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May 25, 2013

Henderson might steal the show at Classic

By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — There’s Rollie’s mustache, Niekro’s knuckler, Goose’s gas … and then there’s Rickey.

Who knows what Rickey Henderson will bring to the fifth annual Baseball Hall of Fame Classic that will start at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown?

“Knowing Rickey, he might be auditioning for a major league club,” Hall President Jeff Idelson joked of the 54-year-old Henderson, who’ll make his Classic debut.

Of all the Hall of Famers who’ve played in the seven-inning exhibition featuring former major leaguers, Henderson’s credentials top them all. The 2009 inductee retired in 2003 as baseball’s all-time leader in runs (2,295) and stolen bases (1,405), and finished his 25-year career with a .401 on-base percentage.

Windsor’s Joel Bennett — a big-league pitcher in 1998 and 1999 — will appear in the Classic for the third straight year and said he looks forward to sharing Doubleday with Henderson.

“I was not a huge fan growing up, but (Henderson) was somebody I wanted to watch,” said Bennett, who coached Windsor’s varsity baseball team to a 1-1 record against Oneonta High this spring. “He was definitely one of those guys. The first game I saw at Yankee Stadium, he led off with a single to center and I still remember watching it. It’s a great opportunity to play with him.”

Fellow Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Phil Niekro and Goose Gossage — all Classic veterans — will join Henderson on Saturday.

Festivities begin at noon Saturday with a parade on Main Street, featuring the game’s participants as well as the 10th Mountain Division Band and Color Guard.

A hitting contest will start at 1 p.m. at Doubleday, leading up to the first pitch at 2:15 p.m.

The lineups for the exhibition will be announced by managers Bobby Cox and Cito Gaston at 10 a.m. Saturday during a Voices of the Game event in the museum’s Grandstand Theatre. Cox and Gaston, both eligible for Hall induction in 2014, matched wits in the 1992 World Series, with Gaston’s Blue Jays earning a six-game win over the Braves.

Idelson said tickets for the Classic are still available. First- and third-base seats are $12.50, and outfield seats are $11. They can be purchased Saturday at the Will Call tent in the Doubleday Field parking lot beginning at 8 a.m.

The first four classics were held on or the day before Father’s Day in mid-June. Idelson said he thought the switch to Memorial Day weekend would allow more fans to attend.

“We’ve always evaluated after each Classic what we want to keep the same and what we want to do differently,” Idelson said. “The move to Memorial Day weekend was a bit more patriotic and something we could tie to the military in a more defined way. In June, we were also competing with graduations and the end of the high school baseball season, so it made sense to move it Memorial Day weekend.”

Last year’s Classic, a 5-4 Knucksies win over the Wizards, was played before 5,116 people — a little more than half-capacity at Doubleday.

“We’re very happy with the creation of the Classic,” Idelson said. “It continues to be a milestone event on our calendar. It provides great entertainment at an incredibly reasonable price.”

The Knucksies, who’ll be managed by Gaston, are riding a four-game winning streak.

The roster for the Knucksies includes Niekro, Henderson, David Arthur, Bob Boone, Bret Boone, Bert Campaneris, Will Clark, Doug Creek, John Doherty, Brian Fisher, Dave Fleming, Todd Haney, Robby Hisert, Jim Leyritz, T.J. Mathews, Brian McRae and Dmitri Young.

Team Goose, which replaces the Wizards, is made up of Gossage, Fingers, Bennett, Boehringer, Jason Dighton, Robert Fick, Chuck Goggin, Jeffrey Hammonds, Jim Hannan, Blake Helm, Jason King, Al Levine, Oreste Marrero, Desi Relaford, Dennis Rasmussen, Benito Santiago and Mark Whiten.

Three soldiers from Fort Drum — David Arthur, Jason Dighton and Jason King — also will play.

Bennett, an instructor at Raleigh Batting Institute in Endwell as well as a high school and American Legion coach, said playing in the Classic is among the top highlights on his baseball calendar.

“This is very special,” said Bennett, who played with Relaford on the Phillies in 1999. “The reality of who you’re out there on the field with coupled with the nostalgic part, it’s definitely a highlight every year. I pretty much try to soak it all in.”

Idelson added it’s never a problem finding players for the game.

“There are games like this all across the country, but the guys all want to come back to Cooperstown,” Idelson said. “For the guys in Cooperstown for the first time in the shadows of the Hall of Fame, it’s meaningful. It’s not just another game.

“We’re continuing to attract younger players,” he continued. “We want it to be a competitive game while making sure we have a mix of personalities who can interact with fans. A lot of care goes in to picking the rosters.”

From 7-9 p.m. Saturday, the Hall will host A Night at the Museum. A limited number of fans can take pictures with the four Hall of Famers and the other former major leaguers during a meet-and-greet session. Autographs are not permitted. Tickets for that event can be purchased at Will Call tent in the Doubleday parking lot Saturday.

“Ticket sales are strong for that event,” Idelson said.

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.