First off, welcome to those of you coming over from Peter Abraham’s LoHud Yankees Blog. It was very kind of him to direct people over here, and I can say with all honesty that his is the only big league beat writer blog I check every day.
In the near future, you guys can expect an extensive breakdown of BA’s Top 30 prospects with guest perspective from a Thunder insider, and I’m also working on a position-by-position breakdown for the nominees of the Thunder’s All 15 Year Team, and am hoping to have a colleague and long-time media member in Trenton help out with that.
During the off-season, I’ve been doing a countdown of the Top 20 moments from the Thunder’s 2007 season — some involving alumni, and some involving what went down at Waterfront Park — and am set to start the unveiling of the Top 10 today.
So, without further adieu…
Let the…uhhh, fun begin.
Moment #10 – Shelley Duncan’s Impact With The Yankees
Anyone who’s ever had the pleasure to meet Shelley Duncan has surely walked away impressed by the humble young slugger…well, OK there might be a somewhat notable exception from the kid who got the infamous “Red Sox Suck – Shelley Duncan” autograph.
But as someone who’s been fortunate enough to cover Shelley in Trenton and now occasionally with the Yankees, his stay with the Yankees was one that I never thought would come.
Regardless of the numbers that Shelley was putting up in the minor leagues, it was first rounder Eric Duncan, and not Shelley, who was getting all the attention.
Duncan was one of the leaders on the Thunder, and was the go-to guy for myself and many other members of the media. Any time you needed a quote, whether it be after a tough loss or after a blowout win, you could always count on Shelley.
You could usually count on him on the field as well, as his 34 home runs led the Eastern League in 2005, and his 25 longballs in Scranton were good for fifth best in the International League, despite the fact that he missed the last month and a half of the season due to his big league call-up.
I was fortunate enough to be at Yankee Stadium for Shelley’s first big league home run, and here’s how my July 26th feature in the Hunterdon County Democrat recapped that day…
Before the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, a wide variety of press notes awaited the attending members of the media.
One large packet was devoted to Alex Rodriguez and his chase of 500 home runs, with all 496 of his career longballs listed individually. It was ten pages thick, and featured graphics and photos of the Yankees All-Star.
And then there was the Shelley Duncan section.
The Trenton Thunder alum had just a single sheet of paper titled “Additional Yankee Doodles” devoted to him, and the text took up less than a third of the page.
Perhaps that’s all about to change.
In the sixth inning of a 4-2 game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Duncan slammed a Jae Kuk Ryu offering over the left field wall for his first career Major League home run.
Many believed that the first baseman/outfielder would never get an opportunity at the big league level, but Duncan himself wasn’t one of them.
“I always believed in myself,” said the soft-spoken Duncan, quietly sitting in his locker between games after getting mobbed by the media.
“It got to a point where I stopped worrying about things I couldn’t control. This year in Scranton, I was just worrying about playing well, and this unexpectedly happened.”
The crowd gave Duncan a standing ovation after the home run, and demanded a curtain call from their new hero. He happily obliged.
It was the 26th ball he’d hit out of the park this season — as Duncan had just set the Triple-A Scranton franchise record for home runs in a season before his call-up — but this one was easily the most special.
Even his veteran teammates took something out of the career milestone.
“It’s cool, it’s nice to be able have guys like that around and see their first home run,” said future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera.
“The first hit, the first run, the first everything is good. I congratulated him. He’s going to have a lot more than just that one.”
The 27-year-old got that first hit the night before, driving in a run late in a 14-4 loss to Tampa Bay.
While his Major League career started after his call-up on Friday, Duncan credits his experience in Trenton for starting his professional career.
“Double-A, to me, is where baseball really starts,” he said.
“You stop just trying to develop, and you start just playing the game.”
The six foot, five inch tall slugger played 234 games in a Thunder uniform in 2005 and 2006, not including leading the team to back-to-back appearances in the Eastern League playoffs.
“It was fun for me in Trenton, we had good teams there,” Duncan said.
Minutes removed from 54,412 people rhythmically chanting “Shell-ey Dunc-an” at Yankee Stadium, he took time to think back to his two seasons at Waterfront Park.
“The crowds there were always fun, it was a good atmosphere there. It was a good stadium, with good people. It was a good stepping stone.”
As for his big league milestones, Duncan’s face lit up when he talked about getting the baseballs back from his first hit and first home run.
And about that home run, sure…he’s 495 away from catching A-Rod, but the former Trenton slugger was able to steal the “Thunder” away from his new teammate, if only for a day.
After getting off to a torrid start and emerging as the next great folk hero for the Yankee faithful, Duncan’s 2008 plans seem uncertain. He’s recovering from a blood clot in his arm that caused circulation issues this off-season, and even though he says he’s ready to play, he’s going to have a tough time getting playing time in a loaded Yankees lineup.
With so many veteran options in the mix at first base, Duncan is going to have prove himself one more time to show that he belongs in pinstripes.
But even if he never plays another game in New York, there are many who will never forget the scene from Duncan’s first big league home run…a scene that seemed long overdue, but certainly well deserved.
Recapping the Top 20 so far…
#10 – Shelley Duncan’s Impact With The Yankees
#11 – The emergence of Austin Jackson
#12 – Tony Franklin named Thunder manager
#13 – Matt DeSalvo’s MLB debut
#14 – Phil Hughes rehab appearance
#15 – Tyler Clippard’s MLB debut
#16 – Brett Smith’s no-hitter
#17 – Chase Wright’s MLB debut
#18 – Chase Wright’s opening night start
#19 – Paul Lo Duca and Endy Chavez rehab in Trenton
#20 – Jeff Karstens rehab appearance
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com