Ozzie's PLAY Ball event draws support for Hall

The Wizard enlists fellow legends to interact with fans to benefit educational programs

Ozzie's PLAY Ball event draws support for Hall

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- This was his 14th year of hosting "PLAY Ball with Ozzie Smith," but the Wizard's enthusiasm was the same as it was the first time around.

Dressed in a Hall of Fame uniform, Smith wore his trademark smile as he talked with the participants.

The event is a fundraiser that helps support the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's multitude of educational programs. Smith serves as the Hall of Fame's Education Ambassador and passionate advocate.

Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame Class of 2015

"It's all about raising money and keeping the programs going," Smith said. "It's a very vital part of what makes this place so special. And so we try and get some guys together every year that are interested in connecting with the fans."

This year, Smith was joined by fellow Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Ferguson Jenkins and Andre Dawson.

"The Hall of Fame asks for volunteers, and this is my first opportunity to do a clinic," Jenkins said. "I enjoy doing these kinds of things. It's something where you want to give back. I coached for 10 years with Cincinnati, Texas and the Cubs, so it's something I enjoy doing."

Jenkins, who spent 10 of his 19 big leagues seasons in a Cubs uniform, did have one complaint.

"A lot of Cardinals fans, though," he said with a smile. "That was our big rivalry."

The program is open to baseball fans of all ages. After getting a chance to talk with and get autographs from Smith, Maddux, Jenkins and Dawson, they got to take the field for some personalized instruction.

Maddux, who won 355 games during his 23-year career, got a taste of coaching this past spring when he served as the pitching coach for Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Maddux's son, Chase, was a right-handed pitcher on the team, and he recently signed a letter of intent at UNLV.

"I enjoyed coaching the high school kids this spring," Maddux said. "I still like baseball. I still like being around it, talking it and watching it at all levels."

The event, which was sold out for just the second time, has now raised more than $150,000.

But more than just raising money, for Smith, the joy comes in interacting with fans, which included adults and kids.

"I think it's important for us to be able to give something back, and it's an easy way to connect with fans," Smith said. "I think it gives them a chance to see the players in a totally different light -- up close and personal."

The other year the event sold out was in 2007, when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were inducted in front of a record crowd, which means it will be a busy weekend in Cooperstown.

"It reminds them of all the great times that they've been able to spend with their father, their mother, their family," Smith said of the people who journey to Cooperstown. "So it's a very, very special weekend."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.