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08/17/08 12:25 PM ET

Goose pays visit to kids at Williamsport

Hall of Famer revels in innocence of Little League World Series

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Goose Gossage hasn't changed.

OK, perhaps age has stamped its imprint on Gossage's features, but he looked the other day much as he did, mustache and all, when he was nailing down victories in the ninth inning for the Yankees.

The past nine months have been a whirlwind for Gossage. He'd spent nine years waiting for the moment --- waiting each January and living on frayed nerves for somebody to call and say, yes, he'd been selected for induction into Cooperstown. The call came this year.

"It's been an amazing ride," Gossage said. "I really can't put it into words. I've got to do so many cool things, and this is one of 'em."

The "cool thing" he is referring to is the Little League World Series. It might be the coolest of the cool things Gossage has done in a while.

Sure, he had his appearance at the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, a grand stage where he was surrounded by a legion of Hall of Famers.

"That was an out-of-body experience," Gossage said.

Then he had the Hall of Fame induction three weeks ago, the grandest of prizes for any man who'd ever put on a Major League uniform.

"I got to wait nine years, and that made it all the more sweeter, if that's possible," he said.

Yet, against this backdrop, Gossage found something about being in Williamsport, in the company of the real boys of summer, particularly satisfying. For the experience, he said, served to remind him of what baseball should mean. For inside these boys -- ballplayers from almost every corner of the world -- Goose Gossage, the closer with the steely nerve and a Major League resume that covered two decades, saw in them what he had as a boy playing youth baseball in Colorado Springs, Colo.

In these boys was an innocence about the game -- an innocence that others had lost over time, corrupted by things that strayed from the purity and the spirit of just playing baseball, he said. The game he knew as he grew up wasn't the game he now saw at very many places.

Little League World Series

The game today is big business, he said.

"We would've paid them to play back in 1972," Gossage said of when he broke into the big leagues. "I see that as the difference; I see the most important thing about Little League Baseball is the innocence -- and the way they kept the innocence here."

He said the innocence is in the passion the youngsters display; the innocence is in the carefree spirit of brotherhood that fills the Little League complex; the innocence is in the family-friendly allure the World Series clings to.

"They say you can feed a whole family for 20 bucks," Gossage said. "That's pretty amazing in itself."

So Gossage was, among other things, basking this weekend in this boyish innocence. He was shaking hands with the Little Leaguers and signing autographs, though the autographs perhaps appeal to the boys' parents more than to the boys.

"I asked a couple of 'em if they'd heard of me," said Gossage, smiling. "They said, 'No.' I don't know if they were lying or what."

But if they didn't know Goose Gossage before coming here, the boys know him now. He was the star of the Little League parade through the city's downtown on Thursday, and Gossage threw out the first pitch for the opening game on Friday afternoon.

He again called the experience "cool."

In the world of Little Leaguers, "cool" might not be the vogue word. But it makes its point for Gossage -- a baseball throwback.

But throwback fit Williamsport and what the Little League experience was about, he said. Gossage enjoyed the city and the experience -- every moment of it.

"The innocence of the Little League World Series is just amazing," he said. "To be here is just really very cool."

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.