07/25/09 8:00 PM ET
Hall field hosts Minors in 'special' scene
Class A affiliates of Tigers and Astros soak up Cooperstown
By Tim Britton / MLB.com
The perfect weather -- Saturday was one of the nicest days of the summer in Cooperstown -- only amplified the bucolic setting for baseball, as the Tigers defeated the ValleyCats, 7-4, at Doubleday Field in a matchup of the Class A affiliates of the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros.
With free admission to the game, fans were spread throughout the bleachers down each foul line, the wooden grandstand behind home plate and the outfield bleachers. Many of them brought their kids to see some good old-fashioned baseball in one of the game's most historic settings.
"To say it's special would be an understatement," said Tigers first-year manager Howard Buchong of playing in Doubleday Field. "To me, Cooperstown is hallowed ground, and the opportunity to come in here and play this game on this particular weekend means everything to me. I think most of our kids feel the same way. They were very excited to have this opportunity. I know early on, they were like little kids out there; that was fun to watch."
It was a disappointing outcome for 5-year-old Liam Fuller from Guilderland, N.Y. -- about 15 miles from the ValleyCats' home in Troy. Liam, decked out in a Jason Bay Red Sox T-shirt, showed his support for the visitors by refusing a high-five from the Tigers' mascot and by leading the grandstand in chants of "Let's go 'Cats!"
The end result, though, couldn't spoil the weekend for Liam and his family, who made the relatively short drive to Cooperstown to celebrate Jim Rice's induction into the Hall of Fame.
"It's great -- very special," said Liam's mother, Katie Fuller. While the Fullers had been to Cooperstown before, it was their first induction weekend together.
"It's the only town you can carry a bat around and feel safe," Fred Fuller joked.
Cooperstown veteran Chuck Agnew also experienced something new on Saturday, seeing a regular-season Minor League game at Doubleday Field for the first time.
"I come here all the time -- it's a great place," Agnew said. "This is the first game I've ever seen here that actually counts in the standings. I used to come over for the Hall of Fame game -- which was always an exhibition -- and this game actually counts for something, so that's a neat thing."
Doubleday Field's smaller dimensions -- it's only 390 feet to center field and 312 to right -- favored the home team all afternoon. Michael Rockett got the Tigers started with a lined solo homer to right-center field in the first inning, and Wade Gaynor added his own solo shot to right-center in the eighth.
The smaller outfield also paid dividends, as Oneonta recorded three assists on the afternoon, two from left fielder Matthew Mansilla.
Add it all up, and it was about as good as it gets for Buchong and the Tigers.
"Any time we see the sun, it's a beautiful day," Buchong said. "It's great, and it's supposed to be this way. Doubleday Field -- the sun's supposed to be out, and you can play all day."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.