Smith Shines In Baseball Hall Of Fame Ambassador Role
Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith is one of baseball's most generous people.
Smith, elected to the Hall twenty years ago after a 19-season MLB career, in his post-playing days continues to demonstrate a sense of pride and ownership to the game. When it comes to fundraising and supporting the mission of arguably sport's most famous museum, Smith is at the front of the line. Recognized as one of baseball's greatest defensive shortstops of all-time, Smith isn't cheap with his time while in Cooperstown, New York.
During the Hall's busiest time of the year, Induction Weekend, this is when Smith is at his most generous. As part of the festivities, Smith leads with the museum's fundraiser - PLAY Ball.
This past July 22, at historic Doubleday Field just off of the village's Main Street, Smith is at work - early. Recruiting fellow hall of famers Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken, Jr. to meet, greet, and instruct donors on the basics to better baseball, and make them feel like new teammates, Smith and his team are already inside the baseball museum at 8:00 AM.
For the next three hours the four hall of famers are extending an up close and personal, most unique baseball experience. For a price of $750.00 (for members) and $1,000.00 (non-members), these donations not only support the Hall's educational mission but also the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.
Participants on this picturesque July morning in New York's Leatherstocking Region can count on going home with mementos to remember their experience. With glove in hand, PLAY Ball teammates receive on-field interaction with four of the greatest the game has ever produced.
Since PLAY Ball's inception in 2002, the program has raised more than $200,000. for the Museum's initiatives.
One of many success stories coming from participants in the Steele Internship program is Dustin Morse. Since his summer spent roaming the Hall of Fame grounds at 25 Main Street, Morse has worked he way up in baseball to his current position as vice president of communications and content for the Minnesota Twins.
As education ambassador for the Hall, Smith and his friends succeeded with mission accomplished on this Friday morning. After donors stood single file, forming a line reaching from beyond first base to home plate to have their picture taken in the third base dugout with the three hall of famers, they enjoyed receiving baseball tips from the game's greatest. Next, they exited through an opening behind the backstop, to load buses waiting to take them back to the Museum.
" Its a good program," said Smith, a 13-time Gold Glove Award winner, of the Steele Internship prior to the start of the event. " Its a great story that one of our first interns (Morse) works for the Twins.
Along with the event two days before the Hall's Class of 2022 is inducted, two month's earlier Smith was in Cooperstown for another good cause.
Each May the Hall of Fame Classic takes place at Doubleday Field.
The seven-inning exhibition game pits two teams made up of retired players representing all 30 MLB clubs. Smith takes an annual lead role with this event as manager of one of the teams. Team Ozzie this past May looked across the field into the other dugout at Team Fergie (managed by Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins). A pre-game home run hitting contest is offered, and a game MVP award (Bob Feller Player of the Game) is given.
A good time is had by all, fans and former players alike. But, the Hall comes out the biggest winner with donations to keep funding their mission. Smith, a member of the World Series championship team of 1982, is tireless in his efforts to ensure that the Hall, it's museum, and programs are solid financially, and is living post card for baseball fans.
As a kid growing up in Los Angeles, while playing high school baseball and had future hall of famer Murray as his teammate at Locke High, Smith was a baseball fan who often attended Los Angeles Dodgers' home games. He's never forgotten the fan in him, or the fans in the seats that support the game. Interacting with baseball's public comes easy for Smith.
" I remember sitting out in the bleachers at Dodger Stadium. What a great feeling it was for me to have," Smith recalls of meeting ballplayers. " What an opportunity it was for me to meet some of my favorite players, but players from the other teams, too."
A major connection for Smith, as a child and as an adult, is giving and receiving autographs. As a person, front and center in leading the charge to give back to baseball a fan-friendly experience, autographs is something Smith has very definite opinions on.
When gathering in Cooperstown for Hall of Fame events, while staying at The Otesaga Resort just a couple block down from the baseball museum, Smith says the topic of autographs is popular among his fellow greats.
" Our generation of players, I think took a lot more pride in giving an autograph. We make sure you can read the name of the autograph. You look at some autographs now, you need to have a guide to know who the autograph is. Every Hall of Fame ceremony, we (hall of famers) have 80 or 90 bats to sign. They are all pretty legible. That's one of the things that's different as far as the generations are concerned. We took a lot more time with the things we signed, so that you knew who signed it. It's all about making memories."
Giving back to a game that has bestowed so much to him comes easy for Smith. Promoting the game of baseball. Being a well-wisher for the most famous museum in all of sport, and having fun doing so is the power that Ozzie Smith brings to the table. Cooperstown couldn't have a more loyal friend.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.