"We're in Baseball Heaven," said former National League MVP Steve Garvey. "Let's enjoy it."
And they did. Kids from 5 to 12 packed the stands under the quaint wooden roof of Doubleday Field. Did you know that one of the preliminaries to the National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions is a bubble-gum blowing contest? It is now, bubbles provided by the kids' wind power and Big League Chew.
Eleven representatives of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association were supposed to help the kids with their skills on the field where, legend has it, in 1839, Abner Doubleday devised the game of baseball.
"We were going to work with them on the field at seven or eight stations," said former Orioles star David Segui. "But, unfortunately, it rained."
Instead, the ex-players answered questions from the kids, who were decked out in a rainbow of uniforms.
"Since we can't sing and dance, we'll talk," Garvey said before the alumni took their seats in front of the kids.
As Garvey merrily put it: Where's Tommy Lasorda when you need him?
Garvey and Segui were joined by former Major Leaguers Tony Balsamo, Al Bumbry, Fred Cambria, Dave Criscione, Frank DiPino, Dave Fleming, Micah Franklin, Mudcat Grant and Ross Moschitto.
What was Steve Garvey's favorite home run?
"Any Cubs fans here?" Garvey wanted to know, smiling. Then he confessed that his 1984 playoff home run for the Padres against the Cubs was his favorite.
"Gwynn singled to right -- what's new? -- and I was up against Lee Smith. The ball hit the bat and it went out in right-center. We got to Game 5 and went to the World Series."
Who was your favorite Hall of Fame player?
"I'd have to say my favorite is going to be inducted this week -- Cal Ripken," said Criscione, who caught for the Orioles in 1977.
That occasioned shrieks of joy from the kids, well aware that Ripken and Gwynn would enter the Hall here on Sunday.
Grant told the kids his favorite was Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League. And he suggested that their folks probably had heard of Doby, but perhaps they had not.
So he had them "repeat after me ... Lar-r-r-y D-o-o-o-by!" two times so they wouldn't forget the name.
By then, lightning and thunder rumbled like a scene from "The Natural" and wind-driven rain swept under the roof. The ex-Major Leaguers got a dousing and headed for better cover where they sat patiently to give the kids autographs.
Grant elaborated later, remembering when as a rookie he and Doby were roommates at the Indians' Spring Training. This was the guy that Grant imitated growing up in Lacoochee, Fla.
"I was scared to death," Grant said. "I sat in the chair and never moved. Then I heard the key and there was Larry Doby! He said, 'Do you like television?' And I said, 'Yes, sir, Mr. Doby.' He said, 'Well, let's turn it on. And what bed would you like, this one?' And I said, 'Yes, sir, Mr. Doby.' "
Grant smiled at the memory.
"He said, 'We've got to get rid of this, 'Yes, sir, Mr. Doby,' " he continued. "And I said, 'Yes, sir, Mr. Doby!'"
Now he cackled with joy.
"That was heaven," Grant said.
So was this as the kids soaked up the horsehide, leather and ash ambiance at ancient Doubleday Field.