COOPERSTOWN – During one of his clinics in Chicago, Grassroots Baseball co-founder Jeff Idelson got to see first-hand how baseball can change a life.
“We were at the Union League Boys & Girls Club in Chicago and Goose Gossage was playing catch with a young boy,” he said. “This kid had never put a glove on, and afterwards, his older brother came over and told Goose that his little brother was going to go out for the summer team. He found a connection, he built his self-esteem and he self-selected to continue to play baseball.”
Idelson, retired Baseball Hall of Fame president, teamed up with photographer Jean Fruth to document and spread the joy of amateur baseball with their Grassroots Baseball project.
Once upon a time, retired Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson was a center fielder for the Newton Central Little League.
And though he retired from baseball at age 12, he never forgot the importance of the field.
Since stepping down as Hall of Fame president, Idelson co-founded Grassroots Baseball, a program aimed at getting 21st Century youngsters into the game with talks, equipment and a chance to play with Hall of Famers.
“The overeaching goal of Grassroots Baseball is to give back by providing inspiration, instruction and equipment to help ensure more children have the opportunity to learn, play and enjoy the game,” he said in a press release from San Francisco.
He partnered with Hall of Fame photographer Jean Fruth to create the program, which launched in May.
Fruth has been a photographer for nearly two decades and shooting baseball for the past 15 years. She covered the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s, before turning her attention to the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, where she helped to build the museum’s profile and photo archive.
Her photograph book, “Grassroots Baseball: Where Legends Begin,” is the first in the series, and this summer, she will shoot for a second, titled “Grassroots Baseball: Route 66.”
“I’ve learned that the game is more than just a sport – it is dreams and aspirations for so many youngsters wherever I go,” said Fruth.
“The culture of baseball is so much bigger than just what happens on the field. I look forward to continuing the journey of documenting the amateur game, inspiring the next generation of young ball players and telling the stories of Grassroots Baseball with my images.”
Since May, Grassroots Baseball has been out on a “Route 66” touch, where Hall of Famers and retired Major League stars will meet with children to instruct and inspire them.
This week, Idelson and Fruth are joined by Hall of Famer Goose Gossage at Isotopes Park with the Boys & Girls Club of Albuquerque, N.M. The kids will get a new Rawlings glove and baseball and play catch with Gossage.
Other participating Hall of Fame and Route 66 legends include Johnny Bench, George Brett and Jim Thome.
Previously, they had been in Peoria and Chicago, Ill, St. Louis and Springfield, Mo., Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas. Idelson has been chronicling the journey on the Grassroots website, grassrootsbaseball.com.
“Baseball is about celebrating kids around the globe who play and enjoy the game,” Idelson. “Whether they’re playing in a park, on a sandlot, in the streets, or in a minor league ballpark.”
Outgoing Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, left; Jayson Stark, recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, and Idelson’s successor, Tim Mead, wave from the stage at the conclusion of the ninth annual Hall Of Fame Awards presentation at Doubleday Field this afternoon. Between Stark and Mead is Mariano Rivera, the Yankee star pitcher, one of six players being inducted tomorrow. Idelson, who is seen embracing Jane Forbes Clark, at right, was honored for his 25 years of service at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the past 11 as president. Stark, who was inducted alongside Al Helfer, who posthumously received the Ford C. Frick Award, was all smiles as he addressed the crowd. “I always wanted to be a baseball writer. How many people get to be what they dreamed of being? To be elected by you is as cool as it gets. All I ever wanted since I was a kid was to be one of you.” (Ian Austin/ AllOTSEGO.com)
COOPERSTOWN – He was there in 2014 when the first sitting president, Barack Obama, visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame, pitching his tourism strategy.
He was there that fall when Little League World Champion pitcher Mo’Ne Davis, a national phenomenon, took a break from Cooperstown All Star Village in Oneonta to donate her jersey to the Hall.
He was there in 2017 on the steps of the Hall’s library to present the plaque inducting Homer Simpson into the Hall on the 25th anniversary of the iconic Simpsons episode, “Homer at the Bat.”
He was there when Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and four other standout ballplayers drew 53,000 fans to the 2018 Induction, the second largest crowd in Hall history.
Editor’s Note: Twitter lit up overnight with praise for Jeff Idelson, who annouced Monday, Feb. 4, that he is retiring as Baseball Hall of Fame president. Here is a sampling.
Jeff Idelson has been the heart and soul of Baseball’s Hall of Fame Museum for 25 years, and @HallofFamePrez will be greatly missed in Cooperstown. Idelson said that he’ll officially step down after the Hall of Fame ceremony on July 21
Marathoner: One of my favorite stories shared
by @HallofFamePrez Jeff Idelson in my #Yankee Legends book was how, as a #Yankees staffer in 1989, he tried to help Don Mattingly calm his back problems with a futon on the road. Ironically, that back would keep Donnie from the Hall.
Cc @Jon HeymanQuote:
“He was having such back problems by the time I got there in eighty-nine,” Idelson said. “I was a little younger, I asked him ‘Have you ever slept on a futon?’ He had no idea what a futon was. So I explained it to him, and he said, ‘That sounds cool.’ I bought him a futon, and when we traveled,
that is what he slept on while on the road the whole eighty-nine season… and he hit .303.
With Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the board, Jon Shestakofsky, VP/communications, and Jeff Idelson, president, right, Homer Jay Simpson of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at the end of a 25th anniversary round-table discussion of The Simpsons TV show’s “Homer At The Bat” episode. Behind Idelson are fellow Hall of Famers and Power Plant teammates Wade Boggs and Ozzie Smith. “If the Cubs can win the World Series and a cartoon can enter the Hall of Fame, there are no rules,” Homer said in his acceptance speech. At right, Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz and Homer pose following the opening of the “Homer at the Bat” exhibit in the Hall of Fame, featuring figures, animation cells and signed memorabilia. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
“Yogi Berra was an American icon, whose impact on baseball and everyday American culture was enormous. Yogi connected with every baseball fan, as a 10-time World Series winner with the New York Yankees, as one of the world’s most notable personalities, and as one of baseball’s most beloved Hall of Fame members. His contributions to our game and to our country will never be forgotten. The National Baseball Hall of Fame sends its sympathies to his family and to every baseball fan who adored him.”
– Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman, Baseball Hall of Fame
“The Hall of Fame mourns the loss of a baseball legend, great American, tremendous family man and modern day philosopher. His baseball abilities and acumen are evidenced by his Hall of Fame election in 1972 and as the only manager in history to take both the Yankees and Mets to the World Series. He joined the Navy at 18, was married to his beloved wife Carmen for 65 years, and had more fun with the English language than any player in history. He will especially be missed in Cooperstown where he was beloved by his fellow Hall of Famers and his adoring fans.”
COOPERSTOWN – Few people realized the Baseball Hall of Fame’s potential when it was officially opened on June 12, 1939, 75 years ago this year.
Not Homer Osterhoudt, then a young man in his 20s standing in the lower left of photos taken that day of the throng in front of 25 Main. (Osterhoudt, now in his mid-90s, has attended every induction except three since then.)
At the time, Osterhoudt had spent the past two years on the construction crew of what he thought would be “a little museum on Main Street” and was somewhat taken aback that day by autograph seekers clamoring around Honus Wagner when he arrived at the passenger depot behind Bruce Hall’s.
A country boy, raised on a farm near Phoenix Mills, he’d never seen a crowd as large as the one that gathered to christen the Hall that day.