Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers was one strikeout shy of 1,300 in his 17-year baseball career, and he didn’t pick up any more K’s at Pathfinder Village in Edmeston on Monday.
Fingers, a 1992 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, pitched an inning of Wiffleball for the village residents during his tour of the facilities on Monday as part of his ambassador duties for the 31st annual Otesaga Hotel Senior Open, Pro-Am and Tennis Classic, which started Tuesday in Cooperstown.
The tournaments benefit the Pathfinder Village Scholarship Fund and the National Baseball Hall of Fame Education Program.
“Rollie, they’re all hitting off of you,” joked Pathfinder CEO Paul Landers, who led the 90-minute tour for Fingers, his companion, Donna Hackney, and donor William Cole and his family.
“It’s just like the old days,” Fingers replied.
“They all had smiles on their faces,” Fingers said later. “It was a fun afternoon for me, but I did get ripped by the batters. I didn’t strike anybody out, and a couple of them could really hit.”
Fingers, who also serves as the national spokesman for the child safety organization KinderVision, said he enjoys getting out to charity events.
“It is win, win for both of us,” he said. “It is an unbelievable place. There is a place in Las Vegas, near where I live, called Opportunity Village. It is probably 10 acres. This is about 300 acres. It is a beautiful facility.”
“Marian was 55 when she started building this,” Landers said of former Pathfinder executive director Marian G. Mullet. “They thought she was crazy. Can you imagine? I would have thought that too. The amazing thing is the village today, every building and every tree is how she envisioned it.”
The village dates back to a two-room school house founded in 1922, but Mullet expanded it in the 1970s. As a home for adults and a school for kids with Down syndrome and other disabilities, it currently has more than 80 full-time residents and about 15 students.
“Wow, you have everything here,” Fingers said as he toured the bakery, greenhouse, chapel and school rooms.
“We don’t have a baseball field yet,” Landers said as he showed Fingers a framed picture of Harmon Killebrew, the 1984 HOF inductee who was a big patron of the village. “It was one of his dreams that we someday have a baseball field here. We’re still working on it.
“We just put in a soccer field last year,” Landers added.
“You could put in a golf course back here,” Fingers said, half joking. “You’ve got room for it. You could put in two holes and knock the ball back and forth.”
Fingers, who has a 2-3 handicap, played in the Pro-Am on Tuesday. His team, which included Matt Burrell, Mark deTomaso, Dave Theilman and Tim Wilson, placed third.
The event, which raised $50,000 for Pathfinder Village, was won by Cooperstown native Scott Spence, Jim Bugonian, Jim Potts, Peter Severud and Andrew Vilacky.
Fingers wore two big baseball rings Monday, one on each of his ring fingers. On his right hand was his Hall of Fame induction ring. On his left hand was the American League championship ring he won with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982.
“My kids will get the World Series rings some day,” he said. “A lot of the other stuff, I have sold. It got to the point where I had so much of it and no where to put it. Some of it was in storage for 12 years, and no one ever looked at it. Finally I decided to sell it and let someone else enjoy it.”
As one of the pioneer relief pitchers, Fingers had 341 saves and a lifetime earned run average of 2.90. He won World Series titles with the Oakland A’s in 1972, 1973 and 1974. He was the World Series MVP in ‘74. He won the AL MVP and Cy Young for the Brewers in 1981; only eight players have ever won both awards in the same season. He also played for the San Diego Padres.
Fingers said the highlight of his career was the 1972 World Series, when he got the final out against the Cincinnati Reds.
“As a kid you dream of playing in the World Series,” he said. “You dream of being on the mound and making the final out in the World Series. And there I was in Game 7. We were up 3-2, and I was on the mound in the ninth inning. They got a man on base, we had two outs and sure enough, who is at the plate but Pete Rose. He swung at the first pitch and hit a fly ball to left field to make the third out, and we won the World Series.”
At the beginning of that season, Fingers grew his trademark handlebar mustache.
“The only reason I grew it was to get $300 from owner Charley Finley,” he said. “He offered the money to anyone who grew a mustache and made the team. We started winning that season. I think we started the season 12-2. Ballplayers are the most superstitious people in the world. We started winning. We won the World Series in ‘72; well, it must have been the mustaches.
“Then we won the World Series in 1973 and 1974,” he continued. “Well, you can’t shave your mustache after winning three straight World Series titles.”
Fingers was inducted into the Hall of Fame during his second year on the ballot and said he has been back for every induction since then. He said he is looking forward to the 2014 induction, which has the potential to be a big class.
“There are seven or eight or nine guys that could go in next year,” he said. “Plus you have all those managers. It is going to be a big class. They might have to put up some lights, because it is going to be dark by the time everyone gets done speaking.”