This past weekend I kicked off what I hope will be a summer of hitting the road. I’ve got a case of wanderlust lately and all I seem to want to do is get out of town whenever I can. So when I heard that that Rochester would be the home of this year’s “Field of Dreams” game, I knew that I would be hopping in the car and making the trek to Western New York – a drive I am all too familiar with given my many trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.
If you’ve never heard of the Field of Dreams game, this is the second year that Pepsi had held a contest that allows the winner and their friends to play a baseball game with some legendary former MLB players. The winner also gets to host the game in his hometown, which is why the game was in Rochester this year. While the inaugural Field of Dreams game pitted the winner’s team against the professional players, this year the professional players were split into two teams (American League vs. National League) and the runner up in the contest and his friends would be added to the mix to fill out the roster. This year’s professional players included Pedro Martinez, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Frank Thomas, Trevor Hoffman, Johnny Bench, Fred McGriff, Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Yankees Old Timers’ Day for the last two years, so I’ve had the privilege of watching some former Yankee greats take the field once again. Reggie Jackson is a fixture at these events and is often a guest at spring training, so our paths have crossed on more than one occasion since he retired. But the likelihood that I was ever going to have another chance to see some of these players on the diamond again was much less likely. I was especially keen to have the opportunity to yell at Pedro Martinez again in a setting where it would be somewhat socially appropriate.
Over 13,000 people turned up for the game, which is either a testament to the number of baseball fans in Rochester or the fact that there wasn’t much else to do in the city (my friend Alex, a Rochester resident, insisted it was the latter). It was general admission seating, so we were originally in one of the last rows of the stadium which still provided a fine view of the park and the festivities. However, but the end of the first inning, we were able to move down to the second row behind the American League dugout thanks to my friend Colleen who had some extra seats. This put us much closer to the action and was more the seating that I was accustomed to (yes, I am a spoiled brat when it comes to baseball games). The field was surrounded by a faux cornfield, from which the player emerged when they were announced, in keeping with the Field of Dreams theme.
It was overwhelming apparent from my close vantage point that the real competition on the field was determining who was having more fun out there – the regular guys or the retired players. Everyone just looked so darn tickled to be out there and smiles were plastered on everyone’s faces. Both the winner and the runner up of the Pepsi contest had their fathers on their team, which I’m sure added some emotion to the proceedings and was very fitting given the name of the game. For their part, the former big leaguers looked thrilled to be back doing what they loved, even if they were a little slower than they used to be. Several of the pros looked like they were still in game condition and could probably still play in the bigs, though they were probably dogging it a little during the game. It was all very relaxed and congenial; you could tell that the pros felt a little bad every time that they had to get one of the “Joes” out and on more than one occasion a throw was intentionally a little late. Everyone involved just seemed to having the time of their lives out there and while it wasn’t the most competitive game in the world (one team was clearly in better shape than the other team), their joy was contagious and it was a really nice night at the ballpark. In the spirit of that camaraderie, I didn’t even give Pedro the business when he was just a few feet away from me. I’ll be damned if he wasn’t pretty funny and charming during the game. Baseball brings people together. I did, however, almost choke on my beer when Trevor Hoffman was introduced with some terminology that alluded to him being the greatest closer of all time. Sorry son, but I’ve seen the greatest saver of all time and it isn’t you (though you are very good). I was disappointed that Johnny Bench was very low profile for most of the game, though I guess when you are almost 70 years old you have earned the right to chill out on the bench (no pun intended) whenever you want. I also wanted Wade Boggs to come out of the cornfield on a horse, but that was probably setting the bar a little too high. They even went old-school with the National Anthem, which was performed by Ex-Foreigner lead singer and Rochester native Lou Gramm
All in all, it was a nice little night of baseball. One of the Joes even managed to take Hoffman deep for a home run, which is something he’ll be telling his grandchildren about. I saw a lot of families at the stadium and it is nice to think that the next generation of fans got the chance to see some legends of the game in uniform once again. I really had a fabulous night with friends, though I don’t know that I’d ever want to win that contest. Nothing in the rules seems to preclude a woman from winning or playing, but based on the embarrassing display that I put on the last time my pals and I hit the batting cages, there is no way that I’d want to take swings in front of professional athletes, let alone 13,000+ people. I’d rather just have a beer with my favorite players. But seeing someone else live out their dream still made me smile as much as the players.