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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interview Postscript, Rick Lancellotti: How Cool It Was

Rick Lancellotti signs a first round of autographs for fans after the Hall of Fame Classic.

Part 1: Christmas Morning | Part 2: Moving Up
Part 3:
Stunned | Part 4: Lived It | Postscript: How Cool It Was
The ball was bounced sharply, never mind it was hit by a 64-year-old.

But the first baseman, himself 54, quickly stretched high and recorded the out, saving a run in the process.

The first baseman was Rick Lancellotti, veteran of all of 36 major league games over three seasons. And he was back on the field, playing with Hall of Famers at Sunday's Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown.

"I tell you what," Lancellotti told The Greatest 21 Days as he paused while signing autographs after the contest, "if I had that many words in me, I'd stay here all night.

"But, let me put it this way, you walk out there, you smell the grass, you see the people," Lancellotti said, "you close your eyes and you're 30 years younger. Just like that.

"That's how cool it was."

It was the second time Lancellotti spoke with The Greatest 21 Days. The first was in February, at his baseball school outside Buffalo. (The original interview)

Then, Lancellotti recounted his career, from hitting home runs in the minors to his choice to leave the majors for Japan, to the construction that contributed to him being late for a medical appointment and a gruff old manager not taking any excuse for his tardiness.

With the Hall of Fame Classic, though, the former player-turned-instructor was now playing again, adding one more story to his vast collection of baseball memories.

It was a general letter in the mail that led to Lancellotti's involvement. The letter asked if he'd be interested in playing.

Lancellotti's answer was immediate: "How many places can you check yes?"

Lancellotti takes a throw to first, recording Phil Huffman as an out.

So there Lancellotti was, in the uniform of the team that brought him up for the final time, the Red Sox, playing catch and taking batting practice as a player again.

Lancellotti, of course, was far from a headliner. That status belonged to the Hall of Famers themselves. There was 2010 inductee Andre Dawson. There was Ozzie Smith and Jim Rice. There was Goose Gossage and Dick Williams.

Williams, the gruff manager inducted in 2008, managed both squads, reuniting with old players, one of whom was Gossage. The two, who made the World Series together in 1984, reunited on the mound, with Williams giving Gossage the spotlight and walk back to the dugout.

Another former Williams' player was also on the field, playing first base: Lancellotti.

Dick Williams with another pitcher, Don DeMola, on the mound. In the background, playing first, is Rick Lancellotti.
Lancellotti's tenure under Williams was far shorter than Gossage's and likely far more turbulent, especially when taken per games played.

It was for Williams that Lancellotti played his first major league game, in late August 1982, Williams penciling him in at first base. It was also for Williams that Lancellotti made a game-saving catch in September, one that injured his shoulder.

And it was the gruff Williams who didn't accept Lancellotti's explanation that construction was what resulted in him being late for a medical appointment the next day. Dressed down by his manager, Lancellotti never started for Williams again. The season over, he was traded. He also didn't return to the majors until 1986.

Whether Williams remembers the encounter is unclear, the incident being a far bigger part of Lancellotti's career than Williams'. What was clear was that Lancellotti was playing for Williams again 30 years later, albeit in a old timer's exhibition game.

And Williams put Lancellotti back in at his old position of first, as an early-inning replacement.

Asked about playing for Williams again, Lancellotti said wasn't anything that bothered him. "It's too long gone," Lancellotti said.

Lancellotti "argues" with the umpire after a close call. Both can be seen laughing.

He just had too much fun.

At the plate, Lancellotti got some good swings, but ended 0 for 2, with a walk. In the field, though, he acquitted himself well, ranging to his right to get a ball, stretching to get that run-saving snag, and taking the throws to first cleanly.

After one such catch, the umpire called the runner safe. Lancellotti quickly got into the general spirit of the day, getting into a mock argument with the ump, closeups revealing smiles on both the player's and the umpire's faces.

Lancellotti stands during post-game ceremonies, before heading to the fence to sign for fans.

The autograph seekers, many of whom were children and drawn to his uniform and the idea of getting a former big leaguer's autograph, began to descend again.

Lancellotti accepted baseballs, programs and gloves, over the playing field fence, anything that the fans wanted him to sign. He then happily signed them and returned them to their owners.

"There's nothing like it, there really isn't," Lancellotti said. "You know, for kids - you just remember when you were a little kid, you know when you're on that side of the fence. And now you're on this side of the fence.

"It's kind of neat," Lancellotti continued. "I've got to tell you, it never gets old. The kids are so cool.

Lancellotti concluded, "It won't last forever."

Part 1: Christmas Morning | Part 2: Moving Up
Part 3:
Stunned | Part 4: Lived It | Postscript: How Cool It Was

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