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Fans enjoy Hall of Fame game
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07/29/2002 6:35 pm ET 
Fans enjoy Hall of Fame game
By Ian Browne / MLB.com

Ozzie Smith gets a hug from Mike Hampton before the annual Hall of Fame Game between the Rockies and White Sox on Monday. (John Dunn/AP)
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The scene outside Doubleday Field on Monday afternoon was timeless, much like the 82-year-old venue itself. It was a couple of hours before the annual Hall of Fame Game, and hundreds of fans were lined up outside the entrance to the stadium, hoping to get a peak -- and perhaps an autograph -- from a Major League Baseball player.

The field is supported by a brick structure, giving it the proper old-timey feel. Walk inside, and you see a cozy little park with tiny dugouts, an inviting 296-foot sign on the left-field wall and an atmosphere that is total baseball. The seating capacity is 9,800, and it always fills up on Hall of Fame gameday.

The Rockies and White Sox played an exhibition, with Colorado prevailing 18-10, thanks to five hits from Mark Little. But on this day the competition took a backseat to the true matter at hand. Pleasing the fans.

Doing so didn't require much more than a friendly conversation or a flick of a pen.

Players on both sides -- who lose a day off by appearing in this game -- seemed to relish the moment.

Nobody more than Rockies veteran Todd Zeile, who stood outside the stadium until every autograph was signed. He was out there for close to two hours.

When he was done, the fans gave him a round of applause.

"This is my fourth time to this game," said Zeile, who has played for nine Major League teams. "I know it's a lot more about interacting with fans than it is the game itself. I mentioned that to (Rockies manager) Clint Hurdle when we came in that there would be a lot of people who want autographs and it would be a good thing for the guys to try and sign a little bit when we get here."

Hurdle agreed that it was a high priority.

"It's one of the things I talked to our team about," said the rookie manager. "We want to come in here and be ambassadors of good will. We want to represent the game. We want to say hello to the fans, and thank them for their support."

The White Sox did their part, too. Frank Thomas, the team's most recognizable player, went down the first-base line and passed autographs to fans over the chain-link fence.

"It's a great weekend," said the Big Hurt. "It's about the Hall of Fame, it's about what the game has given to so many people. It takes a long, long time to (become a Hall of Famer). You have to give the utmost respect to those who are. It's special to be here. Only true baseball fans are here and that's what the game is all about."

The game itself doesn't hold much attention from the players. But one player who has a vivid memory of participating in a Hall of Fame Game is Denny Neagle, the Rockies' colorful lefty.

"I pitched here 11 years ago and it was my showcase start with the Twins," said Neagle. "It definitely brings back a lot of memories. It was nerve-wracking for me because I was the young Triple-A prospect. I went six innings, gave up two earned runs so I did pretty well. And sure enough three days later I got called up to the Big Leagues."

This time, as the established veteran instead of the nervous rookie, Neagle was able to thoroughly soak in the atmosphere.

"This is what it's all about," said Neagle. "To come back here and play games like this kind of reminds you even as a player what the game is all about. It's just about having fun and playing baseball. Forget about all the money and everything else man, the game is supposed to be fun. People tend to think it's all millionaires against billionaires, the players and owners and stuff, but it's not. It's all about the game of baseball and it's fun when you get to a town like this, because it reminds you of that."

Both teams have had disappointing seasons, so a trip to baseball fantasy land was a nice change of pace from the daily grind.

"It's more relaxing, laid back fun type of thing," said White Sox manager Jerry Manuel. "It's refreshing."

"This is cool," said Rockies All-Star Larry Walker. "I'm glad to just be here, and be in this ballpark and this city, it's a great honor."

Ian Browne, a reporter for MLB.com, can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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