Raines' high school mates gear up for trip to Cooperstown

Photo Credit: Sportsnet

Photo Credit: Sportsnet

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

Don Williams is doing his best to get out of a work assignment at the end of July.

He booked a plane fare back in March, rented a car and house with the intent of being in Cooperstown, N.Y. to see his close friend Tim Raines inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

What Williams needs to do soon, though, is convince a judge and another lawyer in Sanford, Florida that an upcoming case he's involved in be adjourned until a later date so he can go to Cooperstown.

"For Tim to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is a huge thing for Sanford,'' said Williams, who played high school baseball with Raines at Sanford's Seminole high school and has been the Expo legend's lawyer for decades.

"Sanford was a town but now it's a city. When we were in high school, the population was under 20,000 but now it's over 55,000. The high school when I was there had a student enrolment of 1,500. Now it's 3,400.''

Williams, Billy Griffith, Rodney Turner and Mike Prosser, four of Raines' Seminole teammates, have been personally invited by Raines to join him in Cooperstown as official guests along with his high school coach Bobby Lundquist and his son Trey. Those six have rented a house outside Cooperstown.

On top of them, there is a large number of other Sanford residents and former teammates of Raines, who are showing up along with Raines' parents Florence, who is largely known by her nickname Sue, Ned Sr. and their grand-daughter Tina Raines.

As part of his induction privileges, Raines has been given a house by the Hall of Fame and he has told his sister Patricia and brothers Tommy, Levi, Ned Jr. and Sammy that they are welcome to come but it appears they are not going to be attending.

"They can't find accommodations so they are going to watch the induction on television,'' Sue Raines told me.

The exact number of guests Raines can officially invite is unknown but former teammates such as Andre Dawson and Warren Cromartie will be there. Official invited guests get to play in the Hall of Fame golf tournament, attend different events, including the July 30 induction ceremony with a credential stuck around their neck.

Dawson advised his close buddy Raines on what to expect when he was elected Jan. 18.

"When he got the call, he said it felt like his heart stopped beating,'' Dawson said. "I told him the first year, he was going to be in huge, huge demand. I told him to put his seat belt on and enjoy the ride. I told him to enjoy the moment.''

And that's what Raines has done. There have been untold number of text messages, emails, phone calls, book signings, appearances and interviews.

"I’ve been on the road with Rock pretty much every week since he received the call in January,'' Raines' marketing agent Randy Grossman said. "The Hall of Fame is always gracious and wonderful to work with. They don’t put a hard cap on the number of guests an inductee may invite.

"I am not certain how many former Expos were invited or will be attending. Tim is heading to Miami for the all-star game and has many responsibilities there. He will be making appearances there on behalf of Major League Baseball, MasterCard, Sheraton Hotels and Old Dominion.  He will also be participating in the celebrity/Legends softball game.''

Then there's Cooperstown.

July 29 at Doubleday Field, some 56 past Hall of Fame inductees will gather on stage to honour the 2017 award winners. Rachel Robinson will receive the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, Claire Smith of ESPN will get the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing and Bill King will be posthumously honored with the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting.

Raines will be inducted on the afternoon of July 30 along with Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriquez, Bud Selig and John Schuerholz. Word is that there seven or eight busloads of fans coming from Montreal.

"I'm incredibly excited. There are a lot of emotions. Tim invited me to join him and his family. It's quite an honour,'' Williams said.

"I'm excited beyond words,'' Lundquist said.

A few years ago, Lundquist arranged for Raines' 22 to be retired at Seminole but not before a trick was played on him in a pick-up game to mark the occasion. Ever the jokester during his life, Raines was the victim of a joke himself on the basepaths. Lundquist had a potato painted as a baseball and gave it to his catcher to put in his back pocket.

"If he gets on third base, take the potato out and throw it over the third baseman's head,'' Lundquist told the catcher. 

So Raines came trotting home, not realizing the trick play was in effect. He was tagged out with the real ball in the catcher's mitt.