Posts Tagged ‘Tony Clark’

Thunder Announce All 15 Year Team

April 7, 2008

C: Dioner Navarro

INF: Tony Clark, Robinson Cano, Nomar Garciaparra, Kevin Youkilis, Pork Chop Pough

OF: Kevin Thompson, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner

P: Phil Hughes, Justin Pope, Joba Chamberlain, Scott Patterson, Chien-Ming Wang, Carl Pavano, Ron Mahay, Corey Spencer, Jeff Suppan, Joe Hudson

Manager: Tony Franklin

We will continue our breakdown of the starting pitching, relief pitching and manager ballots shortly…let’s see if the fans made the right choices.

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: First Base

March 4, 2008

Thunder Thoughts look at the All 15 Year Team nominees continues with a look at the four finalists at first 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 writing style, and 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…
 
Tony Clark: The first franchise player in Thunder history, Tony was the face of the team in its first year, the one season of Tiger affiliation. You have to remember, that was a truly bad team, the worst ever at Waterfront. What a relief to get that designation over with in the first year! The team went 55-85 and finished 33 ½ games out of first. Even the 2002 team, which finished last and played at times with a less than full roster, won 63 games.
 
So all hail Tony Clark, who hit 21 homers and batted in 86 runs in 107 games, which was pretty good considering there was never anybody on base in front of him. He slugged at a .503 rate, and is also the first player to hit a ball into the Delaware, a grand-slam, I believe. And was a super guy with the fans, the media, and the community. No wonder his was the first number ever retired by the Thunder.
 
David Gibralter: Numbers can be deceiving. Yes, the Rock hit 24 homers and had 97 RBIs for the 1999 team. He hit .299 and had two grand slams that year.
 
But.
 
It was his third year in the Eastern League, and with the Thunder, and he had only been mildly successful in his first two years. He struck out a lot those years. And his 97 RBIs had a lot to do with having David Eckstein and Raul Gonzalez (who had a club record 103 RBIs) in front of him, and veteran Izzy (3 ½ minute home run trot) Alcantara behind him.
 
Gibralter had genuine power. I remember him hitting a ball up onto Rte 29 once. And he has the club record for grannies – five in three years. But basically I remember him as a guy who missed more than he hit, especially in the clutch. 1999 was a career year for him – he kicked around the minors for ten years without even getting out of Double-A.
 
Ryan McGuire: The best forgotten man of the Thunder, McGuire hit .333 in 414 at bats for the 95 team, the first year of the Red Sox affiliation. The 23-year-old had a good glove, too, but the 3rd round draft choice (out of UCLA) was overshadowed by other prospects, like Nomar Garciaparra and 20-year-old pitcher Jeff Suppan, who went straight from Trenton to the Red Sox, the first Thunder player to accomplish that.
 
Other factors have kept Ryan from looming large in Thunder fans’ memories. He had little power, only seven homers. Do I date myself if I compare him to Mark Grace? (I have to date myself, no one else will.) And 1995 was his last season in the Red Sox organization. The Red Sox had a pretty good hitting first baseman named Mo Vaughn, so McGuire was shipped off to the Montreal Expos in a deal that brought Wil Cordero to Boston. There was no place more obscure to play in the 1990s than Montreal. The other reason McGuire is forgotten is that he never hit in the big leagues. In parts of six seasons with the Expos, Mets, Marlins and Orioles, he hit a combined .211 in 368 games. He w as out of baseball by age 31, but he did have that good year in Trenton.
 
Shelley Duncan: There wasn’t one reporter out of Trenton who didn’t have a feel-good moment when Shelley Duncan hit a run-scoring single in his Yankees debut last July. It’s hard not to cheer when one of the good guys finally gets to the big leagues at age 27 – and proves he belongs there.

Shelley put up some good power numbers in his year and a half at Trenton – a league-leading 34 homers in 2005 and 19 homers in 92 games in 2006.
 
Now, let’s be honest – he was almost 26 when he got to Trenton and his average was never anything to brag about (.240 in 2005 and .256 in 2006). And he struck out 140 times in 2005. So he probably wasn’t the best first baseman ever to play here, and he’ll probably never play regularly in the big leagues. But he could be a really good role player for the Yankees and a really good clubhouse presence. You won’t meet anyone in baseball who doesn’t like Shelly.
 
Not on the ballot: Juan Diaz: Juan Carlos Diaz is one of those “What if?” players. He only played 50 games for the Thunder, but man, could he rake.

Diaz defected from Cuba in 1996, and was signed by the Dodgers. The big man (listed at 6’3, 230) clubbed a lot of homers in A ball before his contract was declared invalid for reasons that still remain obscure. The Red Sox signed him in 2000 and at 26, he found himself in Trenton, where for a month and a half he was unstoppable. In 198 at bats, he hit 17 homers, and had 53 RBI in those 50 games. He batted .313 and slugged at an alarming .652 rate. He hit one ball over the center field scoreboard that came down in Bordentown two days later. And Big Juan was surprisingly agile at first.
 
When the Red Sox promoted him to Triple A later that season, he continued to mash. He had 7 homers and 17 RBIs in 13 games before he smashed up his knee running the bases. He was out for the season, and, although no one knew it, it was a major downward turn. Over the off-season, Diaz, unable to exercise, discovered American fast food. He ballooned up over 260 pounds, and reported the next year vastly out of shape. He still had some power, but he wasn’t the same player, and he and his belly have been bouncing around baseball ever since. He’s been with a few organizations, has played Indy ball, and keeps being sighted in places like Mexico and, I think, Taiwan. He was 34 years old last Sunday. But for 50 games in the summer of 2000, he was as good a slugger as Trenton has ever seen.
 
Dave’s Vote Goes To: Tony Clark. You just can’t underestimate his impact in getting the franchise off to a successful start.

Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: Some of these guys I’m pretty familiar with, and some of them I’m not.  I remember David Gibralter as one of the more popular players on the Thunder, saw Juan Diaz hit many a bomb in Trenton, and covered Shelley Duncan in Trenton in 2006 and occasionally in the big leagues in 2007.

Tony Clark: On the baseball side of things, Tony Clark was perhaps the only reason to come see the Trenton Thunder during their horrific 1994 season.  On a team that went a putrid 55-85, Clark was one of the few bright spots, hitting .279 with 21 home runs and 86 RBI.  Clark and Trever Miller are the only two players from that team still playing in the big leagues.

Clark recently signed a deal with the San Diego Padres, where he’ll likely come off the bench, as he’s done so successfully over the past few years.

David Gibralter: A disgusting, dirt covered game-used black Trenton Thunder hat sits on one of my shelves at home, a reminder of the guy who was greeted by loud cheers and came out to WWE wrestler The Rock’s entrance music.  “Gibralter” is written under the bill, and he then signed it for me when he returned for the 2000 season with the Bowie Baysox.  Seeing him in a uniform other than Trenton’s was odd, but perhaps harder to comprehend was that despite his big power numbers, (he hit 53 home runs in three seasons for Trenton) he never advanced to Pawtucket with the Red Sox, and only got one brief look at Triple-A in the Brewers organization.

After hitting 24 home runs for Trenton in 1999, “The Rock” was out of affiliated baseball by 2003.

Ryan McGuire: McGuire played just three seasons in the Red Sox farm system, and his 1995 season in Trenton was the last of those three.  He hit a career high .333 that year, and hit seven home runs and amassed 59 RBI.  Dealt to the Expos with other household names Shayne Bennett and Rheal Cormier, McGuire spent three seasons in Montreal before bouncing around with the Mets, Marlins and Orioles.  Perhaps somewhat ironically, he finished his career just a level away from returning to where it really began, as some of his last at-bats came with the Yankees organization as a member of Triple-A Columbus in 2003, the first year of Trenton’s affiliation with New York.

Shelley Duncan: Beloved by the front office, fans and media, Duncan hit 53 home runs over the course of two seasons for the Trenton Thunder.  His 34 longballs led the Eastern League in 2005, and Duncan was a catalyst on that year’s team, which ended the Thunder’s six-year playoff drought.

Duncan emerged as a team leader, and was one of the go-to guys for the media.  Soft-spoken, but always thoughtful, he was one of the more popular players on the team, and could frequently be seen mingling with fans or signing autographs down the first base line.

My fondest memory of Duncan is from the 2005 Eastern League Playoffs, when he was on base when Michael Coleman hit his walk-off home run to send the series to five games.  As Duncan was rounding the bases, he got so excited that he stopped and rolled around for a little bit, giddy that the series had been extended.  He has a genuine passion for the game and wants to win, and if the team were name the most popular player from their past 15 years, Duncan would have to be near or at the top of the list.

Not on the ballot: Shea Hillenbrand: OK, so Hillenbrand is on the ballot.  But just not at first base.  Listed as a third baseman, Hillenbrand actually played more games at first base (65) for the Thunder than he did at any other position (35 at third base and 55 at catcher).  Hildy and Damian Sapp were my favorite players on the 2000 team, and I was kind of disappointed to learn that most stories told about Hillenbrand’s time in Trenton were negative.  But I think that’s something I can expand on a bit when his name comes up on the third base ballot.

As I paid particularly close attention to Hillenbrand during the 2000 season, I can vividly remember watching him do extra work at first base with the coaching staff.  He’d never really played first base before, and I can remember them teaching him how to step into the throws from his fellow infielders so the ball would get there a split second quicker.

My Vote Goes To: Shelley Duncan.  This vote is as much for Duncan’s impact in the clubhouse as it is for what he did on the field. 

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Thunder Alums: Youkilis Re-Signs With Red Sox

February 11, 2008

Kevin Youkilis, who spent about a month and a half in a Thunder uniform at the end of the 2002 season, has avoided arbitration and signed a one year, $3 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

For you Yankees fans who come here every day, you might remember Youkilis best for being the target of two Joba Chamberlain pitches that sailed over his head on August 30th, leading to the fellow Thunder alum receiving his first career ejection and suspension.

Youkilis posted the highest batting average of his minor league career in Trenton, hitting .344 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 44 games as the team’s everyday third baseman for the majority of the second half of the season.  In just his second season of professional baseball, he was somewhat error prone at the time, averaging an “E-5” every four games.

When the Yankees took over as the Thunder’s big league affiliate in 2003, Youkilis remained in the Eastern League with the Boston organization as a member of the Portland Sea Dogs.  His first four games with Portland were played in Waterfront Park, while his final two games were against the Thunder at Hadlock Field.

Youkilis, now a member of two World Series teams, played seven times for the Sea Dogs at Waterfront Park, and played against the Thunder a total of 13 times.  In Trenton, he was 4-for-28 with four RBI and five walks.  Overall, he was 9-for-43 with five RBI and nine walks. 

Considering that was the season where he earned his “Greek God of Walks” moniker, his base on balls totals are actually a little low.

Additionally, various reports have Tony Clark and the San Diego Padres close to agreeing on a one-year deal.  Clark was a member of the inaugural Trenton Thunder team in 1994, and his #33 is one of three retired at Waterfront Park.  The others are Nomar Garciaparra and Jackie Robinson, whose #42 is retired throughout professional baseball.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Who’s Still Playing?

January 16, 2008

With the 15th anniversary season of the Trenton Thunder a little less than three months away from getting underway, it might interest you to know that three players from that inaugural team are still playing.  Two of them you’ll know, but one might surprise you.

Tony Clark was the second overall pick by the Detroit Tigers in 1990.  He made it to Trenton during the 1994 season, and played 107 games for the Thunder before being called up to Triple-A Toledo during the first week of August.

He hit .279 with 21 home runs and 86 RBI, and was the first star player in the history of the franchise.  As such, his number 33 has been retired at Waterfront Park.

He made his only All-Star team in 2001 with Detroit.

He went on to play seven seasons for the Tigers, and one season each for the Red Sox, Mets and Yankees before spending the last three years as an Arizona Diamondback.  He’s a career .265 hitter at the big league level, complete with 244 home runs and 789 RBI.

Trever Miller was selected 41st overall by the Tigers in 1991, and reached Trenton in his fourth season of professional baseball. 

The southpaw went 7-16 with a 4.39 ERA in 26 starts, including six complete games for a team that went 55-85 on the year.

He spent six seasons in the Tigers organization, making his Major League debut with Detroit in 1996.  Miller has bounced around quite a bit since then, pitching in the Astros, Phillies, Dodgers, Red Sox, Reds, Blue Jays and Devil Rays organizations.

He reached the big leagues with all but the Reds and the Red Sox.  He has a career Major League record of 12-14 with a 4.46 ERA.

Pat Ahearne / Photo by Mike Ashmore (2007)

The name that might surprise you is Pat Ahearne.  Ahearne was the Tigers seventh round selection in 1992, and reached Double-A in just his third professional season.

The righty went 7-5 with a 3.98 ERA in 30 games for Trenton, 13 of those being starts.

He would make his Major League debut the following season, appearing in the only four big league games of his career for the Tigers.  Ahearne posted a record of 0-2 with an 11.70 ERA.

Since then, Ahearne has been in the Mets, Dodgers, Mariners and Marlins organizations, as well as re-joining the Tigers farm system from 2002 to 2004.

He hasn’t pitched in the affiliated minors since 2004, and has spent all or parts of seven seasons in independent baseball, primarily with the Bridgeport Bluefish and Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.

It was during that time that Ahearne and I talked about the inaugural season in Thunder history…

“Well, that was pretty interesting, because it was obviously their first season. And our opener was something like the 13th of April, and we went up there on the 7th, drove down to the field, and they had the grandstands built and then dirt. They had no field, no outfield fences, no lights. And so in the span of about six days, they laid out a field, put up the outfield fences and rose the light standards. So what ended up happening was that you felt like you were playing baseball in the middle of a construction site at times. For example, in the bathrooms, the toilets didn’t have the little separators in them, so we went out underneath and found a piece of plywood and some cinderblocks and put them there and made a little makeshift wall so people didn’t have to watch you while you were doing your business. We had so many times where it drained and chunks of sod would just float away or our second baseman would go to his left to field a ground ball, come down on one knee and make the play and then pick up a two foot by two foot piece of sod and step on his divot like he had just taken a chunk out of the fairway or something. It was kind of an interesting season.

“The best part was on Opening Day, they really wanted it to happen, but it just wasn’t going to happen. The field wasn’t ready because it had just rained and the sod had been laid like two hours ago. We were kind of watching the festivities and the one lady, Christine Todd Whitman, she was the Governor, I think she autographed a baseball to be thrown out for the first pitch. And some guy jumped out of an airplane with the ball signed by the Governor in his hand, landed with his parachute and handed it to the local mayor or whatever to throw out the first pitch. So they had all these festivities, and everybody involved that had to play baseball was just looking at the field and going, ‘Uh-uh, no way.’

“I mean it was just muddy and sloshy, and the sod was just kind of floating around and we were just kind of waiting for them to call the game. So I walk down on the field, stood on the mound and looked at home plate, and took two big steps and then it was lined up. So home plate was over here somewhere and the mound was over there. So it was a work in progress, for pretty much the whole season I think. I went back there in ’99 I guess, maybe even a little later than that, and it was a lot better. It’s great now.”

Ahearne last pitched with the Makoto Cobras of the Chinese Professional Baseball League towards the end of 2007, and has taken an interest in photography.  To see some of his work, you can go here

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com