Maine-Endwell baseball fans not only got a look at the school’s new baseball facility Wednesday afternoon, they were also treated to a rare traveling road show for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In turn, the Hall of Famers who came to town were excited to see such a huge commitment to their sport.
Rich “Goose” Gossage and Johnny Bench participated in a ribbon cutting and ceremonial first pitch as guests of 1988 Maine-Endwell graduate Thomas Tull, who funded the $2.2 million renovation project that also includes lighting for a nearby multisport stadium. Tull is on the Board of Directors for the Hall of Fame, located about 90 miles from Endwell in Cooperstown.
“Any time you see a baseball field with kids playing, it just doesn’t get any better than that because every life’s lesson is out here,” said Gossage, a major league pitcher from 1972 to 1994, including seven seasons with the New York Yankees. “To be a part of this and this beautiful facility they built for these kids, this gives them something to be very, very proud of.”
The field, named Wednesday after longtime Maine-Endwell varsity baseball coach Gary Crooks, counts among its state-of-the-art features an artificial surface that will be less subject to the whims of Northeastern spring weather than typical grass diamonds.
“I can remember growing up in Oklahoma and we had just dirt, grass and nothing,” Bench said. “Sandy fields and everything else. (It) would have been nothing for me to be out here from daylight until dark.
“Now they’ve got a facility where everyone’s going to want to play and, boy do we need it. We need kids playing baseball. There’s no greater game and I’m glad we were asked by Thomas to be a part of it.”
Bench played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1967 to 1983 and Thomas Tull introduced him as “the greatest catcher who has ever walked onto a baseball field.”
Bench caught the first pitch from Alba Tull after she took over on the mound for Gossage in a light-hearted ceremony under sunny skies.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, Bench’s teammate with the Big Red Machine, had to leave before the ceremony because of obligations with the Reds. He is senior adviser to the president of baseball operations for his former team. Morgan talked to a group of baseball players from the Southern Tier Athletic Conference during an assembly earlier in the day.
National Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson also came to town for the event.
“For them to take their time and come here to this community means the world to me, and I know it meant the world to the kids here,” said Tull, who is chairman and chief executive of Legendary Pictures.