By Tom Talbot
Pepsi built it – and the legends certainly came. They even ran out from behind the makeshift cornfields in center field. How cool. And it’s all because of a local guy who entered into the Pepsi Max promotion to bring the Field of Dreams game to his hometown of Rochester, N.Y.
In just the second edition of this annual promotion, Johnny Perotti from Rochester and Washington, D.C. resident Stephen Katchmark were selected in an online contest by Pepsi, and the fans of Rochester out-voted the fans of Washington online to gain home-field advantage. Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and Shoeless Joe were not in the house, but it was an awesome event!
I wasn’t expecting much concerning autographs from the legends crew Pepsi assembled. I had heard bad reviews from the first game last year in Columbus, Ohio, and I expected more of the same. Most of these guys don’t sign a whole lot of free autographs, which is ridiculous, but that’s the way it goes. And spotting Rickey Henderson and Reggie Jackson on the list and knowing their miserable nature, I didn’t bring any “Mr. October” items to the ballpark other than a few cards.
But I was presently surprised by a few of the guys, and me and my boys had a great father-sons memory. Plus, we had a couple of cool items to go home with.
In addition to the stars who never cracked a Sharpie, I also got to see first-hand how silly grown men can look at the ballpark begging for autographs from other grown men. I’m an autograph geek, but even I have limits. I’m not going to chase down guys at the airport or the hotel, but I will give it a shot at the stadium.
I’m all for the kids getting autographs. Heck, I wouldn’t even mind if they said that they were only signing for kids – but I saw a few ridiculous things at the stadium worth sharing.
It was pretty much an autograph free-for-all. There were not going to be any organized signings, and the players would “sign at their discretion.” For Reggie, this meant that he would sign a few for the couple of insiders who had special access, but that was about it. I didn’t see several of the Hall of Famers sign a single autograph. Isn’t this a promotional event in which they were paid God-knows-how- much-money by Pepsi for an appearance fee?
The fans came, 13,000-plus, which set a ballpark attendance record at Frontier Field as the second highest crowd in stadium history. (The first was Cal Ripken Jr.’s last appearance.) The Triple-A Red Wings didn’t have much to do with the game – it was more like Pepsi renting out the venue.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I did have a great time, as did my boys. Their
favorite part was probably catching a foul tip from the Big Hurt and Reggie Jackson. Two game-used balls that would not go home with any ink on them, but not for lack of trying. The food was good, the beer was cold and the atmosphere was awesome. The autograph opportunities were kind of weak, but that was to be expected.
Let’s take a look at the legends involved and how they fared in the Field of Dreams game.
Trevor Hoffman – Far and away the MVP of the day. He came over to our section several times to sign and genuinely seemed thrilled to be there and play with the legends and interact with the fans. He even addressed Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson as “Mister.” Pure class. He did bust one of my twins for getting a second autograph, though it was for his brother who was behind him and couldn’t squeeze between the masses to get to the fence. I bought each of the boys an OML baseball for the rock-bottom price of $20. One of the boys used his on Hoffman. The second autograph was on a jersey card.
Ozzie Smith – A close second. Class all the way around. For one of the older guys, he played the entire game and signed a ton of autographs. Better yet, you can actually read the Wizard’s signature. Some of today’s stars should take a look at Ozzie Smith’s signature. It’s a thing of beauty, even when hundreds of fans are rushing him. Love the Wizard. My boys’ other ball now has a sweet spot “Ozzie,” though it was done in black Sharpie. I’m thinking about spraying with clearcoat to seal the signature and discourage future bleeding.
Mike Schmidt – Miserable and old. Didn’t see him sign a single autograph, though he claimed in the newspaper that he was useless playing so he will just stand around and sign autographs. He stood around. I did not see any autographs.
Reggie Jackson – It was his 69th birthday and he played. That’s impressive, and he seemed to really be enjoying himself. Reggie still loves himself and seemed to sign next to nothing.
Fred McGriff – In awesome shape –probably could still play MLB. McGriff is the only one who held a sit-down signing the night before at a grocery store for two hours. I was not able to attend, but you gotta love the Crime Dog. I didn’t see him sign much at the ballpark, but props for signing beforehand.
Johnny Bench – Always miserable with autographs, but he actually signed more than the other high-profile guys. I heard bad stories from last year when he had his handlers tell fans at the hotel that he would sign for a special price of $35. He signed an Allen & Ginter card for one of my boys, who was lucky enough to be sitting in the front row when Bench walked by. He screwed up the card at the bottom with an inadvertent mark and was generally a crab, but at least he signed. Very cool autograph and I’m a big fan of autographed A&G base cards. I just don’t want to pay card show fees for a signed card, which usually counts as an 8-by-10 photo.
A couple of other cool thoughts on the game: Pepsi had a blue screen set up and took free pictures and added the cornfield backdrop to the picture. You could save the picture for free, and I took a great picture with the boys, one holding a glove, the other a bat.
The first 10,000 fans received a free program, which was very nice. Hopefully I can find one of the participating players to send it to through the mail and actually get a response.
All in all, a tremendous event. The two guys who won the promotion were able to play with their family and the legends, and it must have been a thrill. I just wish some of the guys like Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken came – it definitely would have been better. And that’s not just because I’m an Orioles fan!