SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 11, 2006

For Cooper, this was meaningful


So, you want to dismiss tonight's All-Star Game as another one of baseball's corporate-driven entities which is nothing more than a necessary evil in the eyes of most of the players involved.

Scott Cooper will tell you otherwise.

"It's very awe-inspiring," said the former Red Sox third baseman, who served as Boston's lone representative in both 1993 and '94. "It's kind of funny because you want to try and act like you're pretty cool and you belong in an All-Star Game. But c'mon, my hitting group was me, (Wade) Boggs, Kirby Puckett, and Cal Ripken. You want to act like you belong but you can't help it. You get to the hotel, players start checking in and you're like, 'Holy smokes!' It's kind of like making it to big league camp for the first time."

Cooper's name has recently been brought up by some, including Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, as the poster boy for victims of circumstance. In their eyes he is the player, like Kansas City Royals' pitcher Mark Redman this season, who is on the team simply because Major League Baseball rules state that every team has to be represented.

In 1993, Cooper's second season as the Sox's starter after Wade Boggs skipped town, the then 25-year-old was added to the AL team by Toronto manager Cito Gaston after finishing the first half hitting .282 with six home runs. The only other option on the Red Sox that season would have been Mo Vaughn, who was hitting .308 with 13 home runs, but couldn't leap-frog the talents of John Olerud, Cecil Fielder, and Frank Thomas.

And even though the presence of the likes of Cooper and Redman might represent a flaw in the selection process to some, for the players involved it still offers a lifetime achievement award nobody can take from them.

"The first time I found out I was in Oakland and (Red Sox manager) Butch Hobson came over and told me a story about me getting traded," said Cooper, now the co-owner of an indoors baseball facility, Balls-N-Stikes, in his hometown of Westport, Mo. "He said they had traded me to San Diego with (Gary) Sheffield coming to Boston. I said, 'Are you kidding me?' He said, 'No, I'm just busting your chops, you just made the All-Star team.'

"You never really know. A lot of that stuff is political. I had played pretty well against the Blue Jays and Cito was the manager both years. And I had decent numbers, although not outstanding. You just never know. But once I heard those words it was unbelievable."

In that first All-Star appearance, at the newly-built Camden Yards in Baltimore, Cooper went 0 for 2 after coming in for his former teammate, and AL starter, Wade Boggs.

So by the next year, with the game taking place at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, the routine was old hat for Cooper. He was a year older, a year better and entered the game with an even better resume (.292, 13 HRs).

"The second time I'm like, 'Oh yeah, I belong. I'm going to be here for 10 years in a row," Cooper remembered. "The second time I was a little more prepared because I knew the possibility was there so I had made all the plans and was a little more relaxed. I didn't feel like I was a little kid anymore."

That was until the game started.

"The one thing I'll never forget was in the second game I made a great play, and at the time you don't realize what kind of play it was," he said. "Well, Ripken came over, kind of dusted me off and said, 'That was one hell of a play.' I'm just looking at Cal Ripken dusting me off and something kind of hit me. This was an All-Star Game with millions and millions of people watching me play next to one of my biggest idols. It was pretty awesome."

The wide-eyed look dissipated fast enough for Cooper to manage an RBI double off NL pitcher Danny Jackson. ("Some people said I was two feet short of being named the game's MVP," he said.) And what was left were memories that will carry over for a player with seven big league seasons and two really big All-Star memories.

"I was just sitting at work watching the prelude to the same and remembered how for two days you could let your hair down, and the same guys you hated and couldn't stand became your buddies in a fraternity for a couple of days," said Cooper, whose career ended in spring training of 1998 with the Texas Rangers because of hamstring problems. "That might sound kind of funny, but that's the way it was.

"You don't really know how to act or how to cherish it. When you're in a situation like that, you think it's going to last forever."