By Michelle Miller The Cooperstown Crier
---- — The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s annual seven-inning exhibition game featuring former major league players will be held this weekend.
Once again, the Hall of Fame has changed the date. Last year, the change was minor — instead of having the game on Father’s Day, it was moved to the day before. The game had been held on Father’s Day from 2009 to 2011.
When the date change was announced in November, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said: “The Hall of Fame Classic has quickly emerged as one of the highlights of the baseball calendar, and the move to a Memorial Day Weekend date will allow fans to celebrate the traditional start of summer with an opportunity to draw closer to a salute to America’s heroes of the military.”
He added, “We are excited to bring this event to Memorial Day Weekend, with the hopes for even more residents and tourists to celebrate the start of summer.”
Attendance has dropped for the last two Classics, a substitute for the Hall of Fame Game — a Major League Baseball exhibition that had a 68-year tradition in Cooperstown before it was discontinued in 2008.
The inaugural event drew 7,006 people and attendance bumped up slightly to 7,069 the following year. In 2011, 5,687 fans showed up, and in 2012 the number dropped to 5,116.
This will mark the fifth annual Hall of Fame Classic, which is set to begin at 2 p.m., Saturday at Doubleday Field.
Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson will make his Classic debut at the age of 54. Since his 2009 election to the baseball shrine, has heard the same words upon each return trip to Cooperstown: “He looks like he could still play the game.” Now he has the chance to prove it.
The 10-time All-Star who holds the big league records for runs scored (2,295) and stolen bases (1,406), will be one of four Hall of Famers taking the field. The others include pitchers Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Phil Niekro. More than 20 former big leaguers will also participate in the game, which is presented by Ford Motor Company.
Managers Bobby Cox and Cito Gatson will respire their 1992 World Series match up as opposing managers.
As those who have served in the military are honored in Cooperstown on Memorial Weekend, the Classic will feature performances by the 10th Mountain Division Band and Color Guard from Fort Drum, as well as appearances from other military organizations. Four individuals from Fort Drum will suite up to play in the game.
The Classic will be preceded by the Cooperstown Game Day Parade at noon, taking place on Main Street. The Legends Hitting Contest will be held at 1 p.m. at Doubleday Field.
Following the Classic, the Hall of Fame will host “A Night at the Museum” – a new event that provides a limited number of fans an evening with Hall of Famers and other big league stars. Fans can take pictures with their heroes while sharing a meet-and-greet experience throughout the museum.
On Friday, the museum will host the Legends for Youth Skills Clinic, from 4-7 p.m. at Doubleday Field. Hosted in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, the clinic gives youth participants ages 5-12 a chance to learn hands-on training from several former major leaguers. The event will conclude with an autograph session for participants. Registrations are free but limited and can be secured by calling 547-0397.
Classic Weekend will feature the return of several family favorites as well as new programs including: A Hall of Fame golf tournament fundraiser for the museum, a member photo opportunity with Hall of Fame members, curator-led talks on the history of Doubleday Field, a family photo opportunity at Doubleday Field and the popular Family Catch at Doubleday Field. For a complete schedule of all Hall of Fame Classic Weekend events or to purchase ticket packages, visit baseballhall.org. Tickets are only available via phone or online and will not be sold a the museum.