Kid, Feller steal show at HOF Classic
Crowd cheers 11-year-old; 90-year-old pitcher leads victory
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Zach D'Errico thought Steve Lyons was coming over to him to flip him a baseball or maybe sign an autograph when Lyons approached him as he hung from the railing in the right-field stands.
Little did he know that his brief encounter with Lyons would eventually lead to making the play of the day at Sunday's inaugural Hall of Fame Classic in front of 7,069 fans at Doubleday Field. Amid five Hall of Famers and a slew of former Major League stars, the most memorable moment came from an 11-year-old from nearby Schenectady, N.Y.
The seven-inning Hall of Fame Classic replaces the traditional Hall of Fame Game, which was an annual exhibition between two big league clubs played every year from 1940-2008. Team Wagner, led by Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson and Ferguson Jenkins, came away with a 5-4 victory over Team Collins, highlighted by Paul Molitor and Phil Niekro.
Despite all of those big names, D'Errico became the star.
"I think his name was Jeff," D'Errico correctly remembered afterward.
Already, this was the thrill of D'Errico's young lifetime, but the real excitement was still to come.
D'Errico remained on the field when the game began, playing shortstop alongside Lyons. With a runner on first and one out, former Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin hit a slow bouncer in D'Errico's direction.
Lyons scooted out of the way. It was D'Errico's ball all the way. He cooly made the play, flipped it to Kent at second base, who fired it over to Mike Pagliarulo at first to complete the double play. The crowd erupted, showering D'Errico with cheers as he jogged off the field.
"They just hit to me," said D'Errico, a Mets fan who is just finishing fifth grade. "I was ready for it."
Indeed he was, and his benefactor was later rewarded for his kind gesture. Lyons' squad came back from a 4-0 deficit that was partially created by a early home run by former Yankees first baseman Kevin Maas.
In the bottom of the sixth with his team trailing by a run, Lyons drove a ball down the right-field line to knock in the tying run. He scored the game-winner on a hit by Pagliarulo.
"I crushed it," said Lyons, who admitted he hadn't played seven innings in about 15 years. "Now, I'm just sore and hurting everywhere."
Lyons, 49, is one to talk. The starting pitcher for Team Wagner was Feller, who won 266 games for the Indians from 1936-56. "Rapid Robert" is now 90 years old, but still took to the mound in a Cleveland uniform and stirrups. He was greeted with an extended standing ovation and tipped his cap as he walked from the dugout.
The game's first batter led to the greatest dream matchup. Feller faced leadoff hitter Molitor, who compiled 3,319 hits for the Brewers, Blue Jays and Twins from 1978-98. Feller induced a popup, but the ball fell in for a base hit, much to his dismay.
"I had a great time," Feller said. "I almost broke a sweat. I needed a faster outfield."
Feller faced three batters, retiring Bobby Grich and allowing a hit to Steve Finley before exiting to another loud ovation. Feller was rumored to have thrown 100 mph or more during his playing days. On Sunday, he wasn't quite at that speed, but he threw from the mound and managed to throw strikes during his brief appearance.
"I didn't clock it because the radar screen wouldn't have accepted it," said Feller, who drove to Cooperstown with his wife from their home outside Cleveland. "I threw as hard as ever. The ball, I think, was going about eight or nine mph."
Perhaps. But Sunday's Hall of Fame Classic was not about high-quality baseball. The game certainly didn't offer much of that. But it did offer laughs and antics. At one point, former Tigers player Jon Warden stood with a clown wig on his head behind the home plate umpire and squirted his rear end with a toy water gun. It also left even some of the other players in awe: Timlin had the Hall of Famers autograph the uniform he was wearing before the game.
Afterward, Feller called Sunday's contest the best old-timers' game he had played in, and he plans to return next season. And considering the game was held on Father's Day, the outspoken and never-shy Feller had a message to all the dads out there.
Said Feller: "I wish the fathers would play a little more catch with their sons and get them away from those computers and all that electronic equipment and all that junk food."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.