Showing posts with label 2013 Joe DiMaggio Legends Game. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2013 Joe DiMaggio Legends Game. Show all posts

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bill 'Spaceman' Lee is no senior citizen on the mound

Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the eccentric left-handed pitcher of 14 major league seasons with the Boston Red Sox and the Montreal Expos, still has some loose ends to tie up on the baseball field.

In 2012, pitching for the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent North American League, Lee became the oldest player to pitch a complete game and record a victory in professional baseball. One would think that after accomplishing such a feat, that there was nothing left for him to prove on the diamond; however, last weekend, Lee once again broke out his bat, glove, and spikes for the final Joe DiMaggio Legends Game in Fort Lauderdale.

Bill Lee taking batting practice at Joe DiMaggio Legends Game
He pitched and played the outfield during the charity exhibition. At 66, he travels the country frequently to appear in alumni games, as well as playing in adult baseball leagues in New England. So why does Lee continue to take the field more than 30 years after he threw his final pitch in the major leagues?

“Unfinished business,” Lee said. “I never really had my fill, especially of hitting. The bat was taken away with the designated hitter; Bowie Kuhn took that away from me. I always wanted to hit, so I’ve got ten years of hitting to make up. That’s 162 games times ten. I’m getting near the threshold of retirement, and this [the final Joe DiMaggio Legends Game] may be an omen, this may be it.”

While Lee contemplates his last trip around the bases, he continues to enjoy whatever time he has left in the sun.

“This year I’ve hit a home run already, so I have to play one more year," he said. "I hit the ball, it was a home run, but it wasn’t out of the park. It was an inside the park home run, which means I can still run. The guy outside, he had to get a respirator and his dog couldn’t find the ball because he was blind, but other than that, I still play because I love the game.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

New York Mets coach Ricky Bones optimistic about 2013 pitching staff

New York Mets bullpen coach Ricky Bones had an early start on spring training this year. Bones was part of a group of over 40 former major leaguers that played in the 25th and final Joe DiMaggio Legends Game at Fort Lauderdale Stadium this Saturday. The 43-year-old Bones pitched three innings for the National League team, displaying the form and poise that carried him through his 11-year big league career.

Mets fans will not have to worry; Bones wasn't auditioning for a comeback. His mound appearance was in support of the weekend’s fundraising festivities.

“I’ve been here for four years and it’s really something to give back to the fans,” he said. “For me, being one of the youngest [here] around the legends of baseball, it’s a pleasure for me to be a part of it.”

Bones will be returning to South Florida in a few weeks when the Mets begin spring training. Looking ahead to the start of camp, Bones was intrigued by the Mets recent acquisition of Pedro Feliciano, who led the Mets in appearances for three consecutive seasons from 2008-2010.

“We’re always trying to fill some holes that need to be filled. He was the only lefty when he played for the Mets and was used a lot. I still think he can help the club.”

Despite the departure of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, Bones remained optimistic about the Mets mix of young pitching talent.

“The acquisitions that we made, with the old nucleus we had, we can make this season a better season. Spring training is in two weeks and I’m really looking forward to working the young guys, as well as the veterans we have put together, [in order] to have a successful 2013.”

End of an era: Joe DiMaggio Legends Game ends after 25 years

All good things must come to an end. Sadly, the Joe DiMaggio Legends Game held in Fort Lauderdale to benefit the Children’s Hospital that bears his name, had its 25th and final contest Saturday afternoon. The announcement was made Friday evening by Frank Sacco, CEO of the Memorial Healthcare System, during the player reception and charity auction at the Signature Grand in Davie to a packed crowd of over 500 supporters. The news came as a surprise to not only the crowd, who let out an audible sigh when they were informed, but also many of the players who looked visibly shocked hearing it for the first time while they were on stage.

Orlando Cepeda, Rico Carty, Paul Casanova and Jose Cardenal / N. Diunte 

The event dates back to 1989 when it was an exhibition before a spring training game at Dolphins Stadium. For the next quarter of a century, it would remain a fixture in South Florida, reuniting teammates for another moment in the sun while raising tremendous amounts of money for the hospital. For many, it was an annual pilgrimage they looked forward to making.

“I’ve been coming here for four years, and it’s really something to give back to the fans and keep the legend of Joe DiMaggio and what he did for the hospital,” said New York Mets bullpen coach Ricky Bones. “For me, being one of the youngest [here] around the legends of baseball, it’s a pleasure for me to be a part of it.”

Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the affable left-hander formerly of the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, provided a more vivid description of what brought him to Fort Lauderdale.

“Bermuda grass, green Bermuda grass," Lee said. "The wind blowing in, slightly off the ocean, 78 degrees, it just doesn’t get any better than this. You’re raising money for a good cause, and you’re playing baseball; that’s the meaning of life.”

While Lee, never shy about pontificating about one’s existence, (signing autographs at the game with the tag of “Earth 2013”) was disappointed about the close of the event.

“It’s tragic," he said. "You can’t quit playing baseball. You know we’ve gotta find sponsors and stuff. It’s a game about time. It’s a great anti-cancer cure for children, teaching them to play baseball.”

Beyond the ghosts of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in Fort Lauderdale Stadium, which was the spring training home of the New York Yankees for over 30 years, stepping on the field rekindled fond memories of yesteryear for Lee.

“I had my last baseball card ever in a Red Sox uniform made here, and then I was traded to Montreal. I couldn’t believe it!” he said. “My greatest memory is [of the Legends Game], seven RBIs in one inning here my first year. I came in late, batted last, got a bases-loaded double, and then hit a grand slam. Seven RBIs in one inning, that’s a career for most pitchers.”

The event transcended baseball, attracting celebrities and athletes from outside of the baseball world, including five-time NBA champion Ron Harper of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Harper took some mighty hacks at the plate and even spent an inning on the mound at the end of the game. Stepping on the field with players he grew up watching from his youth in Ohio was a thrilling experience for Harper.

“It’s a great event," Harper said. "It’s about my third or fourth time here. I look forward to playing with some of the greatest players ever to play the game when I was growing up. I admired them, and it’s a fun event for a great cause. I played this game when I was a small kid too. My first love is hoops, but I really love this game too.”

Even though event organizers were definite in their tone about this being the final exhibition, Bones remained optimistic that event would persist, hoping that the players will organize to keep it going.

“It’s kind of sad," Bones said. "Hopefully, something happens that we can keep doing it because I think the fans appreciate it and what we do for the kids and the hospital. I think that if someone can keep doing it, it’s the players. The players can keep it alive.”