Tigers clip Red Sox in Cooperstown
Players thrilled to be taking part in annual Hall of Fame Game
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Playing on the same plot of ground where it is believed a group of Cooperstown schoolboys inaugurated the sport of baseball back in 1839, the Red Sox and Tigers took a travel back in time on Monday afternoon, facing off in the annual Hall of Fame Game at Doubleday Field.
Amid cozy outfield confines that Boston's David Ortiz (the home run derby champion) and Detroit's Carlos Pena (MVP of the game) only wished they could have brought back with them to their Major League homes, and in cramped dugouts that gave the day a feeling of Little League innocence, the Tigers etched out a 6-4 victory over the Sox in a game that does not count in the standings.
The game had a dramatic finish for the capacity crowd of 9,773, as Derek Nicholson, a 28-year-old veteran of the Minor Leagues, bashed a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Both teams started the majority of the regulars, and sprinkled Minor Leaguers in throughout the day. Rare others, like Pena, went the distance.
"It was an honor to be out there," said Pena, who went 4-for-4 with a home run. "This is history. Just to be part of it is definitely an honor. This is a tremendous park. It's a lot of fun for the fans to come out here and see exciting baseball."
While the place was predictably packed with rabid fans of the Red Sox, Pena was impressed by the number of Tigers fans who were on hand.
"I know a lot of people who actually drove here from Detroit, it was like 10 hours," Pena said. "My hat goes off for that support, it's amazing. You can't thank them enough when people actually support you that much."
Both managers were pleased to be able to get another look at their prospects.
"We've seen most of these guys," Sox manager Terry Francona said before the game. "That's one of the plusses of today, because we get our guys in and out, and then you get to watch the young guys."
"We keep track of [the prospects]," said Tigers manager Alan Trammell. "Some of the ones I'm not familiar with, I always like to put a face with the name. But I listen to all the game reports every night. I listen to them and hear the performances. But again, some of the guys we brought up today, I'm not familiar with, so it will be nice to put the face with the name."
Before the game, both the Red Sox and Tigers were taken via trolley on a short parade through Main Street, where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located.
"It was a fun day," said Trammell. "It was very well presented. It was really well done, it was overwhelming as far as the response from the crowd and the parade. It was neat. Our players really appreciated it."
Some of the owners of the houses that reside just beyond the outfield fence might not have enjoyed the home run derby so much, particularly when Ortiz was at the plate. The Boston masher destroyed the competition, clubbing eight homers in his 10 swings, many of which were crushed over the trees and houses in the outer reaches of right field.
"I guess I was just lucky today," Ortiz said. "We don't have houses behind our field, by the way."
That's a good thing. Otherwise, Ortiz would likely be spending a large portion of his salary on home repairs.
The players seemed to make the most of the day. After Sox center fielder Johnny Damon came out of the game, he made a cameo as the third base coach.
Damon played to the crowd as only he can.
"It's great," Damon said in a miked interview on the field between innings. "I have some great peeps out there in the stands, people are offering to buy me beer out there."
Former NBA coach Frank Layden, who has a bellowing voice that Harry Caray would have been proud of, sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch.
Sox legends Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr participated in the first pitch ceremony, as did Phillies Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.
Trammell, whose Tigers arrived in Cooperstown late Sunday night, seemed to revel in the day.
"Even though I'm a little older, I'm still a kid at heart," said Trammell. "What it does, the first thing that comes to my mind is, as a kid growing up, dreaming and fantasizing about the opportunity to one day become a professional baseball player, which I was very lucky to be able to do. It just brings a smile to my face, thinking about when I was a youngster. I've been fortunate to go through the Hall a few times. It never changes, especially when you look back on the history of years ago and some of the statistics, it's just mind-boggling how good these players were."
While the players lost a treasured off day to participate in the day's festivities, not many of them seemed to mind.
"Cooperstown is where baseball started and it's where a lot of great players end up," said Damon. "It's great to be here."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.