All-Star Clubhouse filled with legends at FanFest
Hall of Famers Brock and Smith tell favorite stories, share memories
NEW YORK -- A Major League Baseball All-Star FanFest has just about everything a baseball lover could possibly want. Interactive games. Hall of Fame exhibits. Endless activities for kids.
FanFest also includes appearances from famous ballplayers. There are a ton of them, everywhere you look.
All-Star FanFest spans five days and includes appearances by a slew of Hall of Fame players who generously offer their time to mingle with fans, sign autographs and answer questions. They are, for lack of a better term, pretty much just hanging around. Sure, they're all on schedules and whisked from point A to point B to point C without much margin for error, but for the most part, it's easy to catch a glimpse of any number of former ballplayers by just people-watching from anywhere in the building.
There is a designated area at FanFest called the "All-Star Clubhouse," where guest speakers are available to take questions from the audience. This modest-sized room consists of benches and makeshift lockers with jerseys of current players hanging in them, to give the feel of an actual clubhouse.
If you just sat inside the All-Star Clubhouse all day and did nothing else at FanFest, you would get more than your money's worth, based on the star power that walks in and out of that room.
Question and answer sessions are special, in that they're relaxed, the players are very candid and there's not a mad rush of autograph seekers that forces a more rigid, less forgiving, atmosphere. It's in the All-Star Clubhouse where you can shake hands with Lou Brock, chat with Ozzie Smith or hear stories about history-making legends based on stories told from family members, such as Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter, and Vera Clemente, Roberto's wife.
You could also get close enough to Andre Dawson to tell him that he looks like he could still play, as one fan did during Sunday's chat session with the Hall of Famer.
"You're looking in the wrong direction," Dawson said, drawing laughs from the crowd. "I had 14 knee operations. All I want to do these days is walk."
Dawson added that while he was looking forward to playing in that evening's celebrity softball game, "it's just a one-time deal for me." Workouts are part of the post-career routine, he added, but, "what you see is just a figment of your imagination."
Dawson not only looks about the same as he did when he was an active player, but he sounds like he did back then, too. Asked which of today's pitchers he'd like to face if he could be in his prime right now, "Hawk" didn't hesitate. He named the best.
"[Justin] Verlander, [Stephen] Strasburg," Dawson said. "I always like strength against strength. The power guys, my attitude is if that's your best pitch, and I'm a fastball hitter, bring it on."
On Monday, fans were treated to a double-dose of Hall of Fame talk. Smith and Brock appeared together, telling stories from the old days that kept them, and the audience, riveted.
"I've been watching you since I was a boy," the 58-year-old Smith said, laughing, to the 74-year-old Brock.
Brock remembered a very young Smith coming up with the Padres in the late 1970s and being warned about this hotshot shortstop that may be the next big thing. When you go to San Diego, players cautioned, do not hit the ball to the left side. Smith will throw you out. Guaranteed.
"This came from Dusty Baker, it came from Bobby Bonds, it came from every hitter I knew who were pretty good hitters telling me, 'Do not hit the ball to shortstop,'" Brock said. "'Whatever you do, avoid that.'
"I'm a left-handed hitter, who hit the ball into that slot all the time. I said, 'Well, I'm not changing how I hit. The kid can't be that good.'"
Brock connected for what he thought was a base hit that snuck by the third baseman, and as he rounded first and considered stretching it into a double, he saw the first baseman with the ball.
"Wait, wait, time out," Brock recalled saying. "Did I see what I saw? Did I hear what I saw? Who threw that ball? Couldn't have been Ozzie."
The answer: "Ozzie."
"I was not a pull-hitter until we played San Diego," Brock said. "Then I hit everything to right field. That's how good this man was. He lived up to his reputation."
Brock said he was awestruck exactly once in his life, and that's when he shared a baseball field for the first time with Stan Musial. Brock was playing for the Cubs against Musial's Cardinals.
"It was the only time I was a fan while wearing a baseball uniform and standing on the field," Brock recalled.
He also remembered receiving some well-intentioned coaching from veteran outfield teammate Richie Ashburn when it was Musial's turn to bat.
"Ashburn says, 'If he hits a line drive between us, I'm going to go shallow to second base and cut the ball off, and you go deep -- try to catch the ball before it hits the wall,'" Brock said. "Sure enough, he hits a line drive between us."
Ashburn was playing too shallow, so it was up to Brock to chase it down. And he did, making a great back-handed stab to rob Stan the Man of extra bases.
"Wow, Stan Musial just hit this ball," Brock remembered thinking, while staring at his glove.
"I lost all sense of where I was," Brock recalled. He finally snapped back to reality when he heard Ashburn yelling at him.
"Hey, kid," Ashburn said. "You've got to throw it back."
An All-Star Clubhouse, filled with memories from baseball's most legendary players.
The only negative? Closing time.