Cooperstown transplanted itself to the Southern Tier on Wednesday afternoon, treating local high school baseball players to an unforgettable experience.
National Baseball Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Richard “Goose” Gossage spoke with the student-athletes as part of the opening ceremony for Maine-Endwell’s Gary Crooks Field. Their message resonated with Brian Simpson of Owego Free Academy.
“They told us that in high school it’s very important to focus on academics as well as sports because your academics help with your sports,” Simpson said. “Always be a good leader and to never give up — have big dreams and big goals.”
“If any kids could have the experience that I just had, it could change their life,” Simpson added.
M-E’s new $2.2 million facility was unveiled Wednesday, a project that also includes lighting for a nearby multi-sport system. Most baseball teams from the Southern Tier Athletic Conference attended the presentation by the Hall of Famers.
Thomas Tull, a 1988 M-E graduate, and his wife, Alba, are benefactors of the renovation project. Alba threw out a ceremonial first pitch to Bench, and a scrimmage between M-E and Vestal followed.
Steven Rando, Simpson’s teammate, said the Hall of Famers reminded the group that baseball and learning have a reciprocal relationship.
“Baseball’s not like the other sports out there. You can fail seven out of 10 times and still be successful,” Rando said. “They said while we’re playing we’re getting an education. It’s teaching us life lessons as we go and continue our careers.”
It was not an original message, but it was “10 times more meaningful” coming from the mouths of Hall of Famers, said Binghamton High School’s Nate Keuter.
“You hear teachers talk all the time, but when you see big leaguers in that spot, it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s completely different,” Keuter said.
Gene Segrue and Dan Walsh, also of Binghamton High School, shared Keuter’s sentiment.
“I thought it was an honor just to be in their presence,” Segrue said. “They worked so hard to get where they were. It really meant a lot coming from them.”
Walsh visited Cooperstown last year and saw the faces of Bench, Morgan, Gossage and other renowned baseball players enshrined on plaques. Until Wednesday, however, he had never seen a Hall of Famer in person.
“They’ve been kind of like a myth to all of us here in Binghamton,” he said, “so it was really cool to see them and hear them speak, especially ones as good as them.”
And that’s why Rando almost couldn’t believe his coach when he told the team earlier this week that they were going to be part of the special day.
“I honestly thought it was too good to be true that all these Hall of Famers would come all the way here to talk to us,” Rando said. “We hear about them, we’ve seen them play, but you don’t think they’re real people until you actually see them up there on the stage talking.”