Senators’ Hot Stove Dinner

It’s 62 days until the Harrisburg Senators return to Metro Bank Park for their 2012 home opener against the Reading Phillies. This past Saturday night’s Hot Stove dinner at the Sheraton Harrisburg-Hershey ratcheted up the anticipation for the upcoming season as April 12th feels like it is just around the corner.

The evening began with a casual cocktail hour where you could talk baseball and life with old friends you hadn’t seen for a couple of months, spend time with legendary slugger Frank “Hondo” Howard, and peruse the display of raffle prizes and silent auction items. That led into the start of the formal festivities hosted for the second straight year by ABC27’s Gregg Mace.

Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson spoke of her new found appreciation for baseball and the positive example the RBI team set in representing the city on their improbable run into the World Series Senior Division Championship game.

Team president Kevin Kulp reflected on the past season and three specific games that he’ll always remember: Bryce Harper’s debut on an already jam-packed July 4th, Harper’s 480-foot walkoff home run to dead center, and the return of Stephen Strasburg and Cowboy Monkeys to MBP. Kulp pointed to the overwhelming popularity of the goat-herding, dog-riding monkeys and promised more freak shows this season. Personally, I hope that means an appearance by “Burning Man” Ted Batchelor on City Island.

Making his third caravan stop in the last three days, player development director Doug Harris touched on the makeup of this year’s Senators’ squad probably being younger than what we’ve seen the last several seasons.

Nationals’ Assistant GM and VP (and former Phillies’ legend) Bob Boone spoke about the vast improvements in the organization and how whole teams are now moving up the minor league chain instead of having to sign lots of sixth-year free agents to fill out the Triple-A and Double-A teams. Boone also humorously recounted the foul pop in Game Six of the 1980 World Series that bounced off his glove only to be famously caught by Pete Rose. As he explained to the rapt crowd, the ball should have been Rose’s in the first place as it traveled all the way down at the far end of the Phillies’ dugout or as he put it, “Charlie Hustle…my ass!”

Howard cuts an imposing figure from a bygone generation with his 6’7″ frame, broad shoulders and booming voice. Even though he’s a 75-year old man, I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side about anything.

Harrisburg Senior RBI coach Rob Martin took the podium and reminded everyone about the night’s beneficiary, the local RBI program and the kids who are using baseball to cultivate relationships, provide opportunities, and mature into men.

Mace was genuinely surprised as he was named the winner of the Art Mattingly Dedication Award for his years covering the Senators in all of their 25 seasons since returning to City Island in 1987.

Huge kudos go out to director of community relations Emily Winslow and the entire Senators’ staff as they seamlessly pulled off another successful Hot Stove dinner.

The night ended with a video montage of last season entitled “Memories Happen Here” worth watching below.

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