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13th Hot Stove League Banquet Was Field of Dreams For Area Baseball Fans

It wasn’t heaven, and it wasn’t Iowa, it was just the Genetti Hotel, but it seemed like baseball heaven for area baseball fans when Williamsport Crosscutters’ 13th Annual Hot Stove League Banquet was held recently. On a cold, winter night there were visions of action on warm, summer baseball diamonds as an outstanding array of

It wasn’t heaven, and it wasn’t Iowa, it was just the Genetti Hotel, but it seemed like baseball heaven for area baseball fans when Williamsport Crosscutters’ 13th Annual Hot Stove League Banquet was held recently.

On a cold, winter night there were visions of action on warm, summer baseball diamonds as an outstanding array of baseball speakers appeared at the occasion, including, former Phillie, Giant and Cub All-Star outfield standout, Gary “Sarge” Matthews, ESPN baseball commentator and columnist, Tim Kurkjian, and actor, Dwier Brown, who portrayed Kevin Costner’s father, “John Kinsella,” in the magical and moving 1988 baseball film, “Field of Dreams.”

I had a chance to talk to “Sarge” Matthews before the banquet, and I asked him what it was like to be a rookie on a team that had two future Hall-of-Famers, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.

“It was a great experience being with them and having them help me learn the game,” Matthews told me. “They taught me how to carry myself as a major leaguer. I remember one time McCovey, who was my locker mate, saw me throw a bat in anger after I had struck out, and he came up to me angrily and told me that major leaguers don’t do that and that I needed to act more professionally. When someone of that stature tells you something like that, you have to listen.”

It must have done some good because that year he became the 1972 National League “Rookie of the Year,” while playing for the San Francisco Giants.

I asked him about another of his Giant teammates, Bobby Bonds, also the father of Barry Bonds, who had a reputation for being a difficult player and a so-called “clubhouse cancer,” having played for more than a few major league clubs.

“I don’t know who started that about him, but I did not find that to be true,” Matthews said. “Bobby was always hustling and seemed to give a good effort. I think he was a good teammate and I think Bobby warrants consideration for the Hall of Fame and so does his son.”

I asked him about his trademark hats, of which he said he had 2,500 of them. He told me that he liked wearing them and that they were in part a tribute to the Negro Leagues.

“I remember seeing films of those Negro League games and seeing everybody in the stands being dressed in their Sunday best and wearing all these sharp hats. I thought that was a good look and starting getting my own hats to wear.”

During his remarks at the banquet, he spoke very glowingly of the work ethic of his former Phillie teammate, Pete Rose.

“I know about the gambling thing, and there is no place for that, but I know of no one who worked harder or hustled more than Pete,” Matthews said. “He was always at the batting cages, taking his cuts, hours before the rest of us. When Pete got out of prison after serving four months for tax evasion, the first thing he wanted to do was to go to a batting cage and start taking swings, and this was when he was 51 years old.”

ESPN analyst, Tim Kurkjian, told numerous baseball anecdotes, some involving his own lack of height.

He commented on Mike Mussina’s Hall of Fame chances.

“I don’t think he will get in this year, but I think he most certainly will get in next year,” Kurkjian said. “I think it is one of the great injustices that he has not gotten in yet. I have voted for him each year and voted for him again this year.”

The emotional highlight of the evening came with Dwier Brown’s remarks about his role in “Field of Dreams.”

Like Kevin Costner’s character in the film, Brown had a rocky relationship with his father too. Brown’s father died during the filming of “Field of Dream,” and it made his role in the film all the more poignant.

Brown said as he has traveled around the country it seems that whenever people realize who he is that he becomes a surrogate father figure to those he encounters. People many times tearfully tell him how his role helped to heal a rift that they may have had with their own fathers.

He said the cast of “Field of Dreams” had no idea that the film would have the impact that it did on people. In addition to the relationships between fathers and sons or fathers and daughters, the baseball aspect served as a good way to link generations, bonding them together and showing the continuity that it represents. He said it was a real privilege to have been part of the film.

Additionally, at the banquet, 45-year city Streets and Parks employee, Jon Markley was inducted as the latest member of the Bowman Field Hall of Fame. He was saluted for the loving care and attention he gave Bowman Field during his 45-year tenure with the City of Williamsport

The latest honoree of the Williamsport Sports Walk was announced. That was long-time Williamsport Sun-Gazette Sports Editor, Ray Keyes, who worked for the Sun-Gazette from the late 1930s until his death in 1988. He covered Little League Baseball from its inception in 1939. He was a tireless promoter of Williamsport minor league baseball teams through the years, and when Williamsport lost minor league baseball at various times, he worked hard to bring about its return through his own extensive contacts in major league baseball.

The banquet raised more than $6,500 for the National Alliance for Mental Illness Northcentral Pennsylvania Chapter.

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