Manager, fan humbled by Cooperstown

Manager, fan humbled by Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Amongst the hundreds in the stands at Doubleday Field and the 60-plus players here, there was one manager and one fan. The 18th annual New York-Penn League game on Saturday afternoon meant something different and special to them.

For Pete Rancont, manager of the Tri-City Valley Cats, it was the Hall of Fame experience going full circle for him. His team's 5-2 win against the Oneonta Tigers gave him a victory, but the occurrence at the 1920s era stadium gave him so much more.

Born in the South and surrounded by St. Louis Cardinals fans, Rancont loved the Yankees, especially Mickey Mantle. He would buy their baseball cards for a penny and hang their photos on his wall.

So when Rancont visited the Hall of Fame for the first time last year, he naturally visited the Yankees' area.

"To go to the Hall of Fame and stand in front of Mantle's locker and see the uniform that he wore -- I thought at my age I wouldn't be moved, but I had goose bumps standing in front of his locker," Rancont said.

In his second year as manager of the Valley Cats, the Houston Astros' Class A affiliate, Rancont's team didn't get to play in last year's game, which usually matches Oneonta against another NY-Penn League team. But when he saw that Tri-City would be playing against the Tigers for a four-game series during Hall of Fame Weekend, he knew what that meant.

"When I was a kid, I always heard about Cooperstown," Rancont said. "I never imagined that I would be here, managing a team that played on Doubleday Field. It's quite the dream."

For Joe Feola, born in Cooperstown in 1945, the game wasn't so out of the ordinary, but more a reminder of his childhood and his commitment to the Tigers. He's a longtime Oneonta season ticketholder, has a box in Damaschke Field, the usual home ground for Onenota, and doesn't miss a home game. He thoroughly embraces the half-hour drive from Cooperstown.

He played on Doubleday Field as a Little Leaguer and saw children change the digits on the green scoreboard before it went digital.

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Of course, he enjoys watching Oneonta and gets to know the players -- "the kids," he calls them -- and the managers, never minding the ribbing he gets from a security guard for wearing a Yankees T-shirt with an Oneonta cap. The box is a telescope into viewing a baseball world he's awfully familiar with and still in love with.

"I wouldn't give that up for anything," he said.

And when it was time for the game, played on a beautiful afternoon, he was reminded of why he adores the game -- this year, he had to find someone to work for him -- and the stadium.

"For most people who are my age or maybe a little younger that grew up here and came here in the late 50s or early 60s, we see it as a monument," he said. "This is the one part of Cooperstown that never can go. You always want it to be here. Many times I get the impression that the newer people coming in just look at it from the dollar sign standpoint, how much money it can bring.

"I was here when Cooperstown didn't have baseball stores on both sides of the street. It was mostly grocery stores, furniture stores. Now it's all baseball on Main Street. But I love it here ."

Willie Bans is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.