By Andrew Hendriks
ST MARYS - Although a balmy late spring afternoon quickly gave way to both overcast skies and cooler temperatures, the change in weather did little to deter the some 350 die-hard baseball fans who lined the grassy berm surrounding Rotary Field at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Thursday night.
The reason for their mid-week pilgrimage, you ask?
To watch in awe as their heroes of yesteryear, joined by local celebrities and Hall sponsors, take the field once more in a battle for weekend long bragging rights.
Acting as a precursor to the weekend long festivities in Stonetown, the now annual Celebrity Ball Game provides fans from within local community and abroad with a unique opportunity to interact with some of Canada’s most prominent sporting figures, all while doing so in a fun and relatively relaxed environment.
In 2015, the game itself was one for the ages.
It goes without saying that, with this years class of soon to be Hall of Famers on full display, managed by none other then Fergie Jenkins and legendary Expos boss, Felipe Alou, the teams were stacked.
In one dugout, you had Delgado Grey ... a club headlined by the Toronto Blue Jays franchise leader in home runs, RBI, and runs scored among other offensive categories in King Carlos.
Across the diamond, it was MLB all-time pinch hit home run leader Matt Stairs, Anola, Manitoba great, Corey Koskie and a pair of former Expos hurlers in Billy Atkinson and Steve Rogers.
In addition to MLB alumni, both clubs were stocked local media figures, Hall sponsors and lucky contest winners. All of whom were prepared to leave it on the field Thursday night.
With longtime MLB umpire (and Montreal native) Jim McKean calling lob-balls and strikes behind the dish, Atkinson, a veteran of 98 big league games with the ‘spos from 1976-’79, took the hill for the green clad Koskie/Stairs squad in the first.
Without delay, the steady reliever was rudely greeted by a lead-off home run off the bat of a power hitting Home Run Derby star who thrilled those in attendance with their 400 foot moonshots prior to the 7:05 first pitch.
Eight batters later, with Delgado’s towering fly ball to left field representing the only out recorded by the Koskie Greens in the frame, the run limit had been met and under McKean’s orders, Carlos’ sluggers were ushered out to the field in an attempt to try and protect their five run cushion.
Koskie chipped in with a lead off home run of his own and from that point on, it was evident that offense, similar to most years, would be the main story line in this running of the Hall of Fame Classic.
Over the next six frames, Delgado fell a home run shy of the Cycle, Stairs, trying to channel his ‘08 NLCS form, hit a gapper off the wall in deep right field and Derby contestant Ron Nadlin would blast a grand slam as both clubs exchanged runs in dominant fashion.
With the score tied at 21 (depending on who you talked to) in the bottom of the 7th, Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell singled to lead off the inning, and two batters later, the host of Blue Jays Central was promptly brought home plating the go ahead run and icing a walk-off win for the fightin’ Koskies.
Having fired a complete game 34-hit effort, Atkinson picked up the win in his 19th Celebrity Ball Game and was all smiles when meeting with fans after the contest.
“In a game like this, anyone can have fun” said the now 60 year old product of Chatam, Ontario who has now become a staple at the Hall of Fame during induction weekend.
“I look forward to coming back here every year.” added Atkinson. “ The towns fantastic, everyone treats you well ... its like home”.
Like Atkinson, that home-town hospitality is what keeps fans from, across North America turning up in droves year after year.
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