On Saturday evening, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the Dinner with Chris Archer and Friends featuring the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. The event took place at Tropicana Field and supported the Ted Williams Foundation, the Archway Foundation, and the Rays Baseball Foundation.
The event required business casual attire. There was people dressed to the nines, including suits and cocktail dresses with a handful of attendees in class A military attire. Many wore jeans and a collared shirt. There was a mix of all ages, and although there was a higher percentage of Rays fans, everybody was a fan of baseball.
The evening started with an hour-and-a-half autograph session. There were lines for groups of two to three players. If you wanted to get an autograph from the Pete Rose and Tony Perez line, you would have had to arrive as the gates opened and been in line within the first 10 to 15 minutes. I felt bad for Perez, as Rose got all the attention and many skipped the opportunity to get his signature after waiting in the line for Rose.
The second-longest line belonged to the current Rays: Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier, and Jake Odorizzi. After getting Willy Adames’ autograph I joined this line and was able to get through in less than 30 minutes. Once you made your way through the line, you were able to get one signature per player in the group. Archer and Kiermaier had a blast interacting with the fans and seemed to have a lot of fun testing people on their Spanish. Odorizzi was having fun, but didn’t join in with the escapades. Willy Adames was well spoken and looked to be having a great time interacting with the fans.
The only other line of note belonged to Sue Parsons, who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League that inspired the movie “A League of their Own.” She also made an appearance in the movie.
Along with the signing session, there was a silent auction for sports memorabilia that consisted mostly of photos signed by the likes of Kiermaier, Ben Zobrist, Jameis Winston, Victor Hedman, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Tiger Woods. There was a photo of Ted Williams in a fighter jet when he was in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War with his signature as well.
At 7:30, the Master of Ceremonies, Dewayne Staats, started the dinner portion of the event and recognized the honored guests. Chris Archer thanked everybody for attending and talked about his Archway Foundation before he and the other Rays players had to leave to make it back to Port Charlotte for the team’s first full team workout on Sunday morning.
The dinner started with a strawberry, walnut, and arugula salad with a strawberry vinaigrette. The main course was a breaded chicken breast over mashed potatoes smothered in chicken gravy with steamed broccolini. Dessert consisted of a dark chocolate mouse over a layer of chocolate cake with a strawberry coulis drizzle. The meal was very good.
One focus of the evening was the Cuban impact on Major League Baseball. Cuban-American Orestes Destrade honored some of the greatest living players to come from the island: Camilo Pascual, Luis Tiant, Cookie Rojas, and Hall of Famer Tony Perez.
John Hart, the President of Baseball Operations for the Atlanta Braves, introduced the Lifetime Achievement Award to Tom Giordano. Giordano, at the age of 91, is a special assistant to the general manager for the Braves. The 2017 season will be his 70th working in Major League Baseball. During his speech, he emphasized the importance of dealing with obstacles as they come. He stressed the importance of taking care of yourself, as he was diagnosed with prostate cancer over 25 years ago, but dealt with it quickly.
Camilo Pascual was added to the Pitching Wall of Great Achievement. He was unable to attend the event, but a representative from the Minnesota Twins front office accepted his award for him. Ted Williams once said that Pascual had the best curveball he saw in his 18-year professional career.
Willie Horton was the first inductee of the 2017 class to the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame. He talked about his time playing for the Detroit Tigers, tearing up when talking about the recent passing of Tiger’s owner Mike Ilitch. He had Ilitch’s support to create the 360 Program, whose goal is to strengthen the community through schools and church, in Lakeland.
The evening ended with the Hit King, Pete Rose, taking the stage. Rose poked fun of himself a lot, especially when it came to gambling. He talked about growing up in Cincinnati with Don Zimmer, and they loved to visit the racetrack together. Back in the day, the Reds spent spring training in Tampa and Plant City he and Zimmer would head to Tampa Bay Downs to watch horse races almost daily after practice.
Rose gave most of the credit for what he was able to do to his incredible teammates. In Cincinnati, he hit ahead of Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez for much of his career. When he went to the Phillies as a free agent, he was able to play with Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. Even with the Expos he was paired with Andre Dawson and Tim Raines.
Rose talked about the difference in pay for players today. Through most of his career, he could never get more than a one-year deal as there was no such thing as free agency. After the 1978 season, he became a free agent for the first time after spending 16 seasons playing for the Reds. He signed a five-year deal with the Phillies making $810,000 a year, which made him the highest-paid professional athlete at the time. He wished that his parents would have waited to have him, as today’s highest paid baseball players are making $30 million per year.
The event ended shortly after 11:00 p.m. I had a great time and would highly recommend it to anybody with the means who is a fan of baseball. For Rays fans, there is typically a handful of current players available for autographs.
I would like to thank Tony Penna, Director of Florida Operations of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, and DRaysBay for affording me the opportunity to attend the event and inform our readers about the experience. I met a lot of great Rays and baseball fans while meeting some truly great players from the past.