COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Ozzie Smith won't just go down as the greatest defensive shortstop to ever play baseball. He'll also be remembered as one of the greatest ambassadors of the game.
Smith, a 15-time All-Star and 13-time National League Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner, spent Friday morning at the 12th annual PLAY Ball with Ozzie Smith event, a fundraiser that helps the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum put on its educational initiatives. Smith, who doubles as the Hall of Fame's Education Ambassador, put on a clinic for a select group of kids with fellow Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.
All three of the all-time great ballplayers were in uniform, but PLAY Ball with Ozzie Smith is notable for its informal touch. Smith, Marichal and Perry talked to the children in small groups, and they gave them tips about the game, but more importantly, they told them stories about the lives they have led.
"The Hall of Fame is about educating people, and what better way to educate people than to give them a chance to spend some time with us," said Smith. "It's always great to put a uniform on and come out and have a chance to visit with the people one-on-one. I think they get a big kick out of it. And I think that's the important part of this -- letting people get to know us a little bit better as people."
The event, which kicked off the Hall of Fame's Induction Weekend, began in the plaque gallery and allowed the three greats to interact with the crowd. After that, the kids were loaded onto a bus and taken to the nearby Clark Sports Center, home of the annual induction ceremony.
Perry, a Cy Young Award winner in both leagues and a member of the exclusive 300-wins club, said he was thrilled to be back in Cooperstown, and he was honored to share the field with Smith and Marichal. Perry joked that he still owes a lot to Smith, who helped him extend his career with defense.
"I played with Ozzie in San Diego in 1978 and '79," said Perry. "When I first saw him play in Spring Training, I said, 'Man, this is going to be a good year.' It was my best year. I was 21-6 and I won the [NL] Cy Young Award. At age 40, if it hadn't been for Ozzie, I wouldn't have gotten that."
Marichal never played with Smith, but he said Friday that he was glad to be a part of anything the shortstop does in the game. Marichal, a nine-time All-Star, often conducts similar clinics in his native Dominican Republic and said he can still remember what it was like to idolize ballplayers.
"Let me tell you -- when I was a kid, I used to see a baseball player like God," Marichal said. "They were so, so big to me. And I grew up with that inside of me. I feel that we should give back something to the kids. Good behavior. Teach them how to stay away from trouble. Be well disciplined."
Marichal, who won 243 games and finished his career with a 2.89 ERA, said that he also tells the kids to follow their dreams. The 75-year-old is honest with the youngsters, telling them that it won't be easy to get where they want to go, but he also stresses that they need to find that out for themselves.
"They think that getting here is impossible, but I say, 'The word impossible should not be in your mind,'" said Marichal. "I tell them, 'I was born in a little village in the Dominican Republic. I grew up there. I loved the game since I was 6 or 7 years old. I was lucky enough to make it to the Major Leagues and to Cooperstown. If I did it, nothing is impossible.'"
Smith was busy Friday morning, and he went straight from his clinic to help out with another event.
The Hall of Fame unveiled the design for three commemorative coins that will be issued by the United States Mint in 2014 in honor of the Hall's 75th anniversary. Smith and fellow Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson were part of the steering committee that helped to choose the winning designs.
The reverse side of the coins were unveiled Friday, as were 16 designs for the front of the coins. Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall of Fame, got in a good quip about the event.
"Because Ozzie's here," Idelson said of the coins. "Instead of calling it the reverse side, we're going to call it the flip side."
Smith may not be doing full flips as he runs to his position any more, but he stood Friday with another one of the game's great all-time defenders. Robinson, who won 16 American League Gold Glove Awards at third base, said Friday that he loves coming to the Hall of Fame no matter who is getting inducted.
"I love coming here to see these guys like Ozzie and Juan Marichal," said Robinson. "It would be nice if someone was inducted, but it doesn't bother me. I just love being here, because every one of these guys I see here brings back a special memory to me. I was talking to Phil Niekro, and the first thing I think of when I see him is he put one on my head in Spring Training in Palm Beach (Fla.,) one night. But I just have so many memories of even the guys who have passed away."
Smith, a little earlier, had sounded the same note. These players, some of the greatest the game has ever known, are thrilled to welcome new men to their club. But even when no living players are inducted, said Smith, it's still a chance for the game's immortals to spend time and catch up.
"For the guys that come here, we're guys that come every year no matter what. We enjoy each other's company," he said. "This is a great fraternity here, and I've always enjoyed coming here and spending three or four days with guys I competed with and against. It always makes for a fun weekend.
"This is Americana right here. It doesn't get any better than this, being able to walk down Main Street. We know that people who make a pilgrimmage here are true baseball fans."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less