Posts Tagged ‘David Eckstein’

Alumni Sunday: David Eckstein

April 13, 2008

The undersized and energetic David Eckstein was the starting second baseman for what will always be, in my mind, the greatest team in Trenton Thunder history.

The 1999 version of the Thunder went 92-50 before suffering a bitter first round defeat to the Norwich Navigators in the playoffs.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Eckstein in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium earlier this season, and we talked about a wide variety of things…

TT: That 1999 Thunder team you were on was certainly one of the better teams in minor league history.  What was it like being part of a team like that?

DE: It was a thrill.  Like you said, we had a great club.  There were a lot of big leaguers from that club.  It was just fun to play on because we went out there, and it felt like we won every night.

TT: With that said, how difficult was it to lose in the first round of the playoffs like that?

DE: We started off well, but we ended up losing in the five-game series.  It definitely was disappointing.  We lost some of the guys at the end of the season, but yeah it was very disappointing.  We thought we had a good shot to win it all.

TT: It seemed like you were making some pretty solid progress through the Red Sox system, but then they tried to sneak you through waivers and the Angels picked you up.  What were your thoughts on that whole situation?

DE: The biggest thing about it, is it was very disappointing in the sense that when you’re with a club, you want to find a way to help them win a World Series.  So the fact that I did nothing for them, to me that’s where I was disappointed in myself in that sense.  But now you look back, and it all worked out.  It was a good situation.

TT: When you do look at everything you’ve accomplished in your career — two World Series rings, a World Series MVP, etc. — is it kind of nice to have gone out there and show the Red Sox what they missed out on?

DE: Not at all.  It’s just one of those things where I’m just happy I had an opportunity to go out there and play.  The Red Sox have a great club, they’ve been able to win it twice since, too.  So it’s not really like that.  You just want to have the opportunity to go out and play and prove that you can play, and I’m just very fortunate for that.

TT: You and Robinson Cano are the two big names at second base on the All 15 Year Team Ballot for the Thunder.  Any thoughts on your chances?

DE: (Laughs).  I don’t know.  I don’t know what his numbers were there, but he’s having a great career here.  As everyone knew, playing for Trenton was one of the most fun parks to play in as a minor leaguer.  Fans came out every single night, so I definitely enjoyed going there.

TT: I know you’ve probably been asked about this ten thousand times by now, but take me through what it was like to win the World Series MVP award…

DE: It was definitely a thrill.  The biggest thing was winning another World Series, that’s why you play this game.  So just getting that extra honor, it was kind of unbelievable.  I really didn’t think about it.  I still don’t think about it that much.  It’s one of those things where when I’m done playing, it’ll mean a little bit more.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

All 15 Year Team: Shortstop

March 22, 2008

So far, we’ve taken a look at the Thunder’s All 15 Year Team nominees for catcher, first base and second base.

So of course, we’ll be breaking down Thunder batboys today.  Or shortstops, your call.

David McDonough is the featured writer in our position-by-position breakdown of the Thunder’s All 15 Year Team, and has covered the team since their inception in 1994.  He brings a smooth and unique writing style, not to mention a knowledge of the team’s history and players that few others have.  In short, few are as qualified as he is to be doing this.

The following is Dave’s breakdown, mine will follow after all of his are done…

Nomar Garciaparra: Arguably, Nomar has had the greatest major league success of any Thunder player, although he has not been too good in recent years. The question is, do we honor for what he accomplished in the big leagues, or what he did in Trenton? Because if we are just talking Double-A ball, he’s not getting my vote. You have to remember, we had Nomar before Nomar was No-Mah!.

Nomar showed up in Trenton in 1995 sporting maybe 165 pounds on his 6’0 frame. He was the Red Sox first round pick in 1994, and big things were expected of him. He was solid in a Thunder uniform, sporting the best glove the young team had seen at shortstop. He had good speed, stealing 35 bases. But as a hitter, he was average, showing the occasional flash of power. In 125 games, he hit .267 with 8 homers and knocked in 47 runs. Not that anyone expected him to bat in runs; he was hitting at the top of the line-up. After all, this was a skinny, speedy 22-year-old shortstop with great leather, in only his first full pro season. He was expected, when he filled out, to man his position at Fenway with élan, hit between 15 and 20 homers, and bat between .280 and .290.

Then, the next spring, Nomar showed up for work with the Triple-A PawSox about thirty pounds heavier, all muscle. Hits that had gone “crack” the year before now went “woomph.” He had 16 home runs in 43 games with Pawtucket before getting hurt, and everyone knows the rest of the story. The one-time lead-off man had become a masher. For half a dozen years he reigned supreme in Boston, where he became ‘No-Mah!”, a regional icon. He even had his number retired in Trenton, but that had a lot more to do with his great years in Boston than his year in Trenton.

There was even some trepidation that he might be less than gracious about the number-retiring ceremony, since his relationship with the fans and press in Trenton had been a little strained. He had become annoyed one day in ’95 when he made an admittedly great play in the field, and the crowd failed to recognize it. Nomar said as much to the reporters afterward, and then was dismayed when we ran his comments. His big mistake was attempting to deny that he had said it. Some put his distrust of the press as beginning at that moment, but I think he was just always uncomfortable talking to reporters, partly out of genuine shyness.

He was always going to be a good ballplayer, but no one who saw him in Trenton in 95 could have said how good. Remember when A-Rod, Jeter and No-Mah were the great, future Hall-Of-fame triumvirate shortstops in the American League? Well, two of them are going to Hall of Fame, but injuries have knocked Nomar out of contention. As the guy in my Italian deli said to me once, “You know, I said to him, ‘You never know, you know.’”

Adam Everett: How about this: when Adam Everett hit Trenton in 1999, the player he most resembled was the 1995 stripped-down version of Nomar. He was a 22-year-old first round draft choice who was playing his first full season in the pros. He was six feet and weighed about 170. He was a great shortstop – even better than Nomar, in my opinion – who the Red Sox hoped would fill out and become a decent hitter. He played 98 games in Trenton before getting hurt, and batted .263 – about the same as Nomar – with 10 homers. And he batted at the top of the line-up, just behind David Eckstein, with whom he formed the best keystone combination in the league.

The sequel is a little different than Nomar’s. The Red Sox shipped him off the next winter to the Astros for power-hitting Carl Everett (after all, the Sox did have a pretty decent shortstop named Nomah at the time). Adam never did get heavier or become a good hitter, but he has carved out a good living as one of the top defensive shortstops in the National League. He signed a one-year contract with the Twins this off-season.

Donnie Sadler: About a quarter of the way into the 1996 season, the Red Sox announced that their fleet, diminutive (5’6) Trenton Thunder shortstop, 21-year-old Donnie Sadler, was now the Red Sox center fielder of the future. They sent him off to Florida for a couple of weeks for tutelage, and then brought him back to Trenton and installed him in front of the center field scoreboard.

And he hated it. A very shy, immature kid, Sadler liked the excitement of the infield, and hated the boredom of waiting for four or five chances a game in the outfield. After 30 games, the experiment was halted, and Sadler went back to shortstop. But the experience seemed to leave a bad taste in his month. He began to pal around with a couple of team vets who were known as malcontents. Most veterans are helpful to a young player; these guys were not. Sadler ended up with a mediocre season and a mild reputation as an unreliable guy. He became a utility infielder, bouncing around baseball, getting 416 games of big-league ball in eight years. In 2007, while playing Triple-A for the DBacks, he was suspended for 50 games for drug violations.

Can all this be blamed on one failed experiment in 1996? Probably not. But if the Sox had been paying attention, they might have realized that a shy, small town kid just a couple of years out of high school needed to stay out of the spotlight while he matured.

Ramiro Pena: There’s nothing wrong with Ramiro that good health and the ability to master Double-A pitching won’t cure. He’s got the glove, but hasn’t gotten his average over .252 in parts of the last three years with Trenton. He looked like he might be starting to hit when he broke his wrist in 2006, and hurt his shoulder in June, 2007, missing the rest of the season. In 140 games with the Thunder, he has yet to homer, and he doesn’t steal much. He’s not in Baseball America’s Top 30 Yankee prospects. The good news is, he’s only 22. But health and hitting better come soon.

Not On the Ballot: Freddy Sanchez: Freddy played 113 games at shortstop for Trenton between 2001 and 2002, and 11 games at second base, so why he is on the ballot at second eludes me. The man was an on-base machine. He holds the club record for hitting safely in 27 consecutive games, hit .327 in 489 at bats over the two seasons and had a combined OBP around .400. He’s the only Thunder player to hit 4 doubles in a game. Stole a few bases, too. And defensively, he was better than average. He was a 2002 Eastern League All-Star.

Naturally, since he was only 5’10, the Red Sox had to get rid of him. He went to the Pirates for Jeff Suppan in a multi-player trade in 2003. Suppan went on to win three games for the Red Sox, while Freddy was the 2006 National League batting champ. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have had five shortstops in five years. Not one of Theo Epstein’s smarter moves.

Dave’s Vote Goes To: Freddy Sanchez

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: At first glance, some fans may look at the ballot, see “Nomar Garciaparra” and vote for him without even looking at any of the other candidates.  Not me…

Nomar Garciaparra: If you’re looking at this contest based solely on what the player did while he was in Trenton, then Garciaparra’s 1995 season doesn’t really stand out above the others.  He hit .267 with eight home runs and 47 RBI.  He also swiped 35 bags on the basepaths, and committed 23 errors in the field.

Baseball America named him a Double-A All-Star, and he was an Eastern League All-Star as well.

Get your hate mail ready Thunder fans…but as the Thunder’s shortstop, Garciaparra was kind of overrated.  It was in Pawtucket the following year where he became the complete player that you saw in the big leagues for years, before injuries eventually limited him in the field and took away a lot of his power.

While he’s gone on to great things after playing for Trenton, countless other players made more of an impact at Waterfront Park than Garciaparra did.

Adam Everett: You could make a case that Adam Everett did more in his one year in Trenton than Nomar Garciaparra did, he just didn’t have the accolades Nomar did.

He hit just four points less than Garciaparra did, hit two more home runs and drove in seven less runs, all in nearly 30 games less than Garciaparra had to compile his statistics.

Along with David Eckstein, he also formed one of the most dazzling double-play combinations seen anywhere, no less Trenton.

It would be interesting to look at how many of the guys on these ballots never got to accomplish anything in a Red Sox uniform, and Everett would be a part of that list.  He was traded for another Everett, the controversial Carl, who went on to lead the league in umpire headbutts, inappropriate body part grabbing and odd comments.  While Carl now enters his second season of independent ball, Adam goes to the American League with the Twins after seven seasons in Houston, including one World Series appearance.

Donnie Sadler: Does every Thunder shortstop on this list have eerily similar statistics?  Sadler’s 1996 stats: .267, 6 home runs and 46 RBI.

Sadler made it to the big leagues with the Red Sox just two seasons later, and has been every bit of a journeyman since then.  Parts of three seasons at Fenway.  Splitting another with Kansas City and Cincinnati.  Another split year between the Royals and Rangers.

After that?  77 forgetable games in Texas in 2003, and 19 games over the past four seasons for Arizona.

Sadler could never hit at the Major League level, with a career average of .202 in 768 at-bats.  Not even the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs changed that, as he was hit with a 50-game ban in July of last year.

Once traded with controversial Thunder alum Michael Coleman, Sadler now finds himself without a job for 2008.

Ramiro Pena: It’s hard to believe that Ramiro Pena would be considered one of the more memorable players in Thunder history.  However, at just 22 years of age, he still has time to blossom into an Alberto Gonzalez sort of player, i.e. someone with a legitimate chance for a Major League opportunity.

But so far, in parts of three seasons with the Thunder, Pena hasn’t shown that.  514 Double-A at-bats have yet to yield his first home run, and he has just 29 extra-base hits in his entire career.  He also doesn’t steal any bases, with just 20 bags swiped in 223 career games.

In the field, he’s solid but unspectacular, and it’s going to have to be his defense that moves him up the ladder.  Hindsight is always 20-20, but it would seem as though the Yankees thought they had more than they actually did in Pena, and attempted to rush him as a result.

Not On The Ballot: Freddy Sanchez.  “Fab Five” Freddy, as I nicknamed him after his move to third base in Pittsburgh, was certainly one of the better players to ever wear a Thunder uniform.  Just imagine him and Kevin Youkilis in the same lineup…well, they almost were in 2002.  When Sanchez finally got his well-deserved call-up to Triple-A in July, it was Youkilis who was summoned from Sarasota to take his spot.

The pattern repeated itself next year, but with more disastrous results.  Youkilis was called up to Pawtucket at the end of July.  However, two days later, it was Sanchez who was traded to the Pirates…forever eliminating the possibility that the two would play together in the big leagues.  And what did Theo Epstein — who I foolishly walked right past when he was picking up his tickets for Roger Clemens’ rehab assignment — get in return?  Former Thunder pitcher Jeff “Chicken” Suppan, Brandon Lyon and Anastacio Martinez.

The Pirates got the eventual NL batting champ.

You tell me who got the better end of that deal.  But hey, that’s how most trades seemed to work out when the Thunder were affiliated with the Red Sox…

Mike’s Vote Goes To: Adam Everett.  Easily my most controversial pick to date, but he was a large part of why that 1999 team was one of the best minor league baseball has ever seen.

Our ballots so far:

C: Walt McKeel (McDonough), Virgil Chevalier (Ashmore)
1B: Tony Clark (McDonough), Shelley Duncan (Ashmore)
2B: David Eckstein (McDonough), David Eckstein (Ashmore)
SS: Freddy Sanchez (McDonough), Adam Everett (Ashmore)

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

All 15 Year Team: Second Base

March 14, 2008

Robinson Cano / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2006)

Thunder Thoughts look at the All 15 Year Team nominees continues with a look at the four finalists at second base.

David McDonough is the featured writer in our position-by-position breakdown of the Thunder’s All 15 Year Team, and has covered the team since their inception in 1994.  He brings a smooth and unique writing style, not to mention a knowledge of the team’s history and players that few others have.  In short, few are as qualified as he is to be doing this.

The following is Dave’s breakdown, mine will follow after all of his are done…

David Eckstein: Cream of the crop. One of the most popular players in club history, Eck was the quintessential lead-off man – always on base, always a danger to run, always scoring runs. His OBP was .440. He was the catalyst of that 1999 club which won a club record 92 games. All Eckstein did was bat .313, score 109 runs (a club record) and steal 32 bases. He played a good second base, and was a great bunter.

All of which tells you nothing unless you saw him play. Eckstein is about 5’7 and weighed 165 on a good day when he was dressed warm. He was a walk-on at Florida, and he always played like a guy who was one step from a seat in the stands. He hustled in his sleep. He ran everywhere. He was always the first one on the field, and he played with a deep, intelligent concentration. He made everyone around him a better player.

I once asked why he sprinted from the dugout out onto the field at the beginning of every game. He smiled and said, “That’s my last warm-up. The other guys sometimes pretend they are gonna race me, but I always get there first.”

I also remember an exceedingly rare day when Eckstein’s name was not in the line-up. I poked someone and said, ‘Ten bucks that Eckstein coaches first.” Sure enough, in the bottom of the first inning, there he was on the coaching line. No way was he going to sit still.

So why did the Dan Duquette-era Red Sox let him go on waivers – waivers! – to the Angels in 2000? Because they had their collectives heads up the dark place, and were so wedded to the idea that a little guy didn’t have the tools. So Eck went off to become the first ex-Thunder player to wear a championship ring (with the 2002 Angels) and was the World Series MVP in 2006 with the Cards – at shortstop, mind you, a position nobody – including me – thought he could play. While the Red Sox went through a series of second basemen like Todd Walker and Mark Bellhorn.

Waivers, for God’s sake.

Freddy Sanchez: I have Freddy down as a shortstop, so more about him later.

Robinson Cano: Ex-Thunder manager Bill Masse once said that Robby Cano (whose dad pitched in the Yankees organization) had so much talent, he seemed somewhat bored in the minor leagues. That sums up Cano at Trenton really well. He is probably the most talented guy all-round to play second for the Thunder, as he did in parts of 03 and 04, but he did sometimes act as if his mind was elsewhere – maybe at Yankee Stadium.

This was mostly evident in his occasional fielding lapses – what is this round thing I have in my hand? – but he did hit well in Trenton. He didn’t have the power he would show in New York; however, he had 20 doubles in 04, and you just knew he would rise to the challenge when he got to the big leagues. Which he has, of course. If you want to vote for the ex-Thunder who will probably look back on the best big-league career, Cano’s your man.

Lou Merloni: Likable Lou was another little hustling sparkplug, who seemed destined to spend his career in Double-A, with a couple of trips to Triple-A. I confidently expected that by now he would be coaching baseball at his alma mater, Providence College. Instead, he is with his fifth organization, and has gotten parts of nine years in the big leagues, with time off for half a season in Japan.

Lou played for the Red Sox affiliated Thunder in 95, 96, and 97, and played second, short and third. Second base is as a good a category as any to put him in. By his third year here, at age 26, he could hit Double-A pitching pretty good. Everyone admired his work ethic, too. And it didn’t hurt that he was Nomar Garciaparra’s best friend, or that he was from Framingham, MA. In late 98, he went up to the Red Sox to keep Nomar company, and he’s been a useful fringe player ever since – a guy you keep at Triple-A until you need him to fill in for some injuries. He’s gotten in as many as 194 at bats in a season in the Show. He is 36 now, and he played the whole 2007 season in Triple-A for the A’s without a call- up, so his time may be over.

Not On The Ballot: Angel Santos: a heavy set little guy (listed at 5’11) who played a decent second base for the 2000 and 2001 Thunder. He could hit a little bit, had some power (14 homers in 2001) and could run (26 stolen bases that year). He got a cup of java with the Sox in 01 and with Cleveland in 03. A great ballplayer? Maybe not, but probably in Merloni’s class.

Dave’s Vote Goes To: The Eck, who else?

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: I’m sure you’re all sick of me telling you that I first started following this team as a fan back in 1999, right?  But that experience helps me in these All 15 Year Team things, and I think you just may see the first consensus vote so far.  Without further ado…

David Eckstein: Eckstein was my favorite player on that ’99 team, and for good reason.  He hustled.  But he didn’t just hustle on the field…I can remember him sprinting from the dugout to get onto the field, like he literally couldn’t wait for his chance to play.

I remember how small he was.  I don’t know what he’s listed at, and quite frankly don’t care, because I don’t think whatever the numbers are would paint an accurate picture of just how undersized this guy looked compared to everybody else.  It almost looked like somebody had let their little kid run on the field.

As Dave wrote, the fact that Eckstein was let go on waivers show you how horrific a job the Red Sox did of managing their farm system at that time.  There’s a scroll sized list of awful, awful moves they made…but this one’s near the top.

Freddy Sanchez: Of the 124 games Sanchez played in Trenton, 113 were at shortstop.  He’s a shortstop, people…at least in this competition he is.  Writing about him here would waste your time and mine.

Robinson Cano: Say what you want about Bill Masse, but he always had a certain way of putting things.  Such was the case when I asked him about Cano in 2006…

“For all the bad things you hear about baseball with the steroids and the black marks on the game, Robby Cano is what’s good about baseball,” Masse said.

“He loves to have fun and he’s always got a smile on his face.”

And even during his rehab assignment that year, which I’ve seen a handful of guys gripe their way through (Helllllloooooooo, Paul Lo Duca), Cano was all smiles.

Back from the time I briefly got to see him in 2004, you could tell he was going to be something special, and he certainly hasn’t disappointed in the Bronx.

Lou Merloni: When you’re nicknamed “The Mayor,” you’ve got to be a pretty popular guy.  Of the 1,245 games that Merloni’s played over his 15-year-career, I’ve seen a grand total of one.  And I was 12, so it’s safe of you to assume that I remember next to nothing about Merloni’s time in Trenton.

Since his three year stint with the Thunder, he’s played for Boston, San Diego, Cleveland, and the Los Angeles Angels in the big leagues.  However, he’s also worn eight different minor league uniforms and even one in Japan since then.

It’s been a long road for Merloni, but the road to the big leagues did, in fact, run through Trenton for him.

Not On The Ballot: Gabe Lopez.  Played in 326 games at second base over three seasons for the Thunder.  He rubbed some people the wrong way, but I thought he was an all right guy and an all right player.  He even made the All-Star team in I believe 2006.  But he was never a prospect, and is out of the Yankees organization after six seasons.

My Vote Goes To: David Eckstein.  How could it go to anyone else?

Welcome to the new Trenton Thunder blog!

January 2, 2008

I just wanted to take the time to welcome everyone to what will hopefully be a great source of information regarding the defending Eastern League champion Trenton Thunder.

My name is Mike Ashmore, and I’ll be entering my third season of covering the team as a writer for the Hunterdon County Democrat.  I also cover the independent Atlantic League for the paper, specifically the Somerset Patriots.

I started out covering the Thunder as a photographer back in 2003, working the Hall of Fame Dinner in which Ken Macha and David Eckstein were inducted into the Trenton Baseball Hall of Fame.  I then covered nine games in 2004 and 2005 in a similar role, and also started doing player interviews to supplement Scott Stanchak’s work — Stanchak covered the team for the paper from 2003 to 2005.

When Scott left to pursue bigger and better opportunities, I got the job and have covered the team ever since.  I love what I do, and work hard to do the best job I can to bring people as close to the team as possible.

The Patriots, based on where my paper is located, are my primary beat.  I still get to around 30 Thunder games a season, and usually aim for at least one game per series.  It’s a weekly paper, so this isn’t a problem in terms of coverage in the paper…but I’ll do the best I can on keeping people informed on the days I’m not there as well.

Last season, I also had the great opportunity to cover six Yankees games, roughly one a month.  I was fortunate enough to cover Matt DeSalvo’s first MLB start (you remember the one, where he was robbed of the win thanks to a blown call at second base) and Shelley Duncan’s first big league home run. 

So hopefully this can continue this season, and I can continue to provide updates on Thunder alums making it big with the Yankees and other teams.  I also plan on heading up to Scranton at least once this season as well.

Please feel free to contact me at any time via e-mail at mashmore98 AT gmail.com, and I’ll answer your questions as best as I can…and of course, you can always leave comments here as well.


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