Results tagged ‘ Double-A ’

Bruno in Cooperstown

By Bill Francis

Tom Brunansky was surprised after looking through a pair of manila folders containing both images and stories from his 14 years in the big leagues.

Evan after a career that included 271 home runs and a World Series ring, Brunansky was amazed to find his career documented in Cooperstown.

“It’s pretty special and neat that not only my mom would collect that,” he said afterward, “but the Hall of Fame would as well.”

Brunansky, currently the hitting coach for the New Britain Rock Cats, a Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins in the Eastern League, was with about 10 members of his team inside the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center on Wednesday morning as they checked out the clippings and photo files of the player nicknamed “Bruno.”

“Oh, it got a lot of laughs, a lot of stories, and a lot of things that after a course of a career you kind of seem to forget about,” Brunansky said of his Hall of Fame files.

In a playing career (1981-94) spent mostly with the Twins, the longtime right-fielder finished with 1,543 hits, 919 RBI, a .245 batting average and an All-Star Game selection in 1985.

For Brunansky, who will celebrate his 51st birthday on Aug. 20, the chance to come to Cooperstown arose thanks to a Rock Cats’ series against the Binghamton Mets – another Eastern League team located about an hour from the home of baseball.

“They try and make these trips for the kids who haven’t been here, and I’ve never been here, so it was obviously well worth getting up early to come on out,” he said. “We play tonight, so we’ve got an early bus, but to bring these kids out and to see part of history is pretty cool.

“I always knew the Hall of Fame was kind of neat because of all the things that were here, but to see the degree and how far they’ve gone and how much work has been put into it is amazing,” he added. “I love the cleats, I love the gloves, I love the baseballs, I love the bats – that’s the stuff I enjoy seeing.”

While he enjoyed the baseball artifacts, what Brunansky really wanted to see was the Hall of Fame plaques.

“The Plaque Gallery was kind of neat, too, because I liked going through there and seeing who I played against and who were teammates.”

One of the newest plaques on display belong to 2011 inductee Bert Blyleven, a teammate of Brunansky’s with the Twins from 1985 to 1988.

“Bert was one of the ultimate gamers,” Brunansky said. “The one thing about having Bert as a teammate is every fifth day he took the ball, gave you the best chance to win that day, and always competed.”

Bill Francis is a Library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

No-spin zone

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

The brotherhood of big league knuckleball pitchers is relatively small, but one of its former practitioners could be seen floating through the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Monday.

Steve Sparks made a name for himself tossing a baseball with no spin to bewildered hitters during a nine-year big league career spent with the Milwaukee Brewers (1995-96), Anaheim Angels (1998-99), Detroit Tigers (2000-03), Oakland A’s (2003) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2004). The right-hander made the trip from his home outside Houston in Sugar Land, Texas, with his 14-year-old son Blake.

07-20-10-Francis_Sparks.jpg“Blake and I have talked about coming to the Hall of Fame for four or five years now,” Spark said. “He’s going into high school next year and just thought with his schedule this might be our last chance for awhile, so we decided to make the trip this year.

“His sisters are in camp for the month of July so this is a chance for him and me to get out and do something by ourselves.”

This was Sparks’ first trip to the Hall of Fame.

“I’d never been here before, so I was very anxious. It’s a dream come true just seeing all the artifacts. I’ve always been enthralled by the game’s history,” Sparks said. “I grew up reading books about the history of the game, and I work with Fox Sports in Houston doing the pre- and post-game shows for the Houston Astros, so I’ve stayed in it and I’ve always enjoyed it. So for Blake and me to enjoy this together has been a lot of fun.”

Sparks, who turned 45 on July 2, ended his major league with a 59-76 record, highlighted by a 14-9 mark with the 2001 Tigers, and a 4.88 ERA.

“I was in my 40s and I just felt like I was ready to be home with my family,” Sparks said. “And the hitters let me know it was time to get out of the game, too.”

While the Hall of Fame boasts two knuckleball pitchers – Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro – the game has seen at least 250, but fewer than 90 who threw it regularly. This year, only Boston’s Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey of the Mets and Los Angeles Dodger Charlie Haeger are regulars at it.

Sparks was your regular fastball, curveball, slider, changeup pitcher before the Brewers approached him about making a radical change.

“I played professionally for 19 years but my first five or six years I was a conventional pitcher,” Sparks said. “I was kind of stalling out at the Double-A level, and the Milwaukee Brewers, the team I was with in the minor leagues at that point, felt like I might be a good candidate for the knuckleball because being shorter in stature helps (he’s 6-feet tall) and also I had pretty clean mechanics.

“They gave me a three-year plan and I started back over in Single-A, and by the end of that three years I was knocking on the door.”

According to Sparks, it was a lot of trial and error in the beginning, but eventually a coach hooked him up with big league knuckleballer Tom Candiotti.

“I had about five pages worth of questions to ask him over the telephone,” Sparks said. “And then actually got a chance to meet him at the Houston Astrodome at the tail end of one of his seasons with the Dodgers and that was very beneficial. It’s a very close fraternity of knuckleball pitchers, and Candiotti, for myself, was probably the most helpful. He was kind of a hybrid knuckleball pitcher, where he threw a lot of curves and sliders and fastballs, and that’s what I did a lot.

“The biggest luxury for me at the major league level was the bounce back factor. You didn’t have to rely on velocity three or four days after you pitched. You could go out there, and as long as you had good feel and took the spin off the ball you had a chance to be successful.”

And while Sparks played with and against a number of Hall of Famers over the years, he grew up in Tulsa, Okla., with fellow pitcher Tom Seaver as his favorite player.

“In 1969 I was five years old and my father taught me how to read the box scores,” Sparks said. “That was the year the Mets had their miracle season, Tom Seaver was the best player on that team at that time, and that’s who I stuck with.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Strasburg at home in Central New York

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A half hour before the 7:05 p.m. start of Friday night’s game, traffic was backed up a mile away from the ballpark. A broadcaster on a local radio station said the game might be pushed back some 10 minutes to allow more fans to get inside. All due to a record-setting crowd on hand in anticipation of baseball’s latest phenom.

05-11-10-Francis_Strasburg.jpgThe distance between the upstate New York outposts of Syracuse and Cooperstown is about 66 miles. If projections prove true, baseball’s latest pitching sensation, Stephen Strasburg, currently learning his craft in the Salt City, might one day find himself with a plaque that short distance down the New York State Thruway at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 6-foot-5, 225 pound Strasburg, the first overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft by the Washington Nationals, was making only his sixth professional start as well as his Triple-A debut for the Syracuse Chiefs against the visiting Gwinnett Braves on Friday night. The 21-year-old right-hander proved more than prepared, going six innings while allowing one hit and one walk in the 7-0 win. When it was all over, he had faced just 20 batters, striking out six, in his 65 pitches.

“It felt pretty good,” said Strasburg after the game to the 30-or-so assembled media that included reporters from USA Today, the Associated Press and The Washington Post. “I was just trying to keep doing what I’ve been doing, trying to build off of what I learned in Harrisburg and trying to do that up here, and I was able to do that tonight.”

Strasburg had made five starts for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators this season, in which he compiled a 3-1 record and 1.64 ERA in 22 innings.

An announced crowd of 13,766 was on hand at Alliance Bank Stadium that chilly night to see Strasburg, a record attendance for a professional baseball game in Syracuse dating back to 1876.

“It’s great to be pitching in front of a sellout crowd,” Strasburg said. “Everybody was really excited, and you can tell a lot of the players were ready to play today.”

Known for his combination of velocity and control, Strasburg was armed with a fastball that topped out at 99 miles per hour this night. Also in his arsenal are a knee-bending curve, sinker and changeup.

05-11-10-Francis_Gwynn.jpg“The bottom line is you can’t really worry about what caliber of hitter you’re facing,” Strasburg said. “You have to worry about what’s in your control and that’s executing the pitches to the best of your ability. Good pitches should get good hitters out, bottom line.

“I’ve got six starts under my belt, five in Double-A, and I’m starting to get comfortable.”

According to Strasburg’s catcher, Carlos Maldonado, he wasn’t shook off once by his new teammate.

“That’s what was fun about it. I just called the game. I put my fingers down and he executed every pitch,” Maldonado said. “He was like what I was expecting. It was fun to catch him in the bullpen; it was fun to catch him in the game. Every pitch was working for him today.”

Might Strasburg one day join his former coach at San Diego State, Tony Gwynn, as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame? He joins a long line of young fireballers that have dotted the national pastime’s history. Some have ultimately succeeded like Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan; others have flamed out for one reason or another such as Steve Dalkowski, David Clyde and Mark Prior. 

“This game is not easy,” Strasburg said. “I’m happy with where I’m at. I’ll let you guys place a timetable for that. Right now I’m happy to be in Syracuse and happy to be learning from these guys.

“Personally, I’m not going to make any expectations for myself. This is my first year. I’m just going out there to learn. A lot of these coaches and players have a lot more games under their belt than I do and I’m trying to soak it all in and just become a better player and help whatever team I’m on win some ballgames.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Hoop madness comes to Cooperstown

Light_90.jpgBy Steve Light

Spring training is in full swing, but the eyes of the sports world this week are fixed on the college basketball tournaments. While we all wait for the Cinderella team that will make our brackets fall to pieces, let’s not forget that many of baseball’s brightest stars have stepped on the court in college, and even in the NBA.

The most famous crossover player – Michael Jordan – perhaps had a better handle on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament than he did the curve ball. The former North Carolina star hit the game winning shot in the championship game against Georgetown in 1982, but in his one season with the Double-A Birmingham Barons Jordan hit .202 with three home runs, 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases.

Yet MJ wasn’t the only basketball star to take the field. Another basketball Hall of Famer, Dave DeBusschere, pitched for the Chicago White Sox in 1962 and 1963, compiling a 3-4 record with a 2.90 ERA over 36 games. And when former Celtic, Trail Blazer, and Phoenix Sun Danny Ainge led his BYU team to the regional finals in 1981, he had already made it to the majors. Drafted in 1977 by the Toronto Blue Jays, Ainge made his big league debut on May 21, 1979. In three seasons with the Jays, Ainge batted .220 with two home runs, 37 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. Perhaps spurred on by his tournament success – his coast-to-coast drive with seven seconds left sunk second seeded Notre Dame in the regional semifinals – Ainge quit baseball following the 1981 season and focused on his basketball career.

On the flip side, many baseball stars have found success on the basketball court as well. Point guard Kenny Lofton helped the Arizona Wildcats make it to the Final Four in the 1988 tournament before being drafted by the Houston Astros that summer. Even Hall of Famers have gotten in on the act, Robin Roberts starred on the court for the Michigan State Spartans, while Tony Gwynn was San Diego State’s floor general in his college career. Gwynn still holds school records for assists in a single season and assists in a career. He was even drafted by the San Diego Clippers of the NBA, but luckily for us, chose baseball instead.

03-18-10-Light_GwynnRobertsWinfield.jpgSix-foot-six Hall of Famer Dave Winfield was a standout baseball and basketball player for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Winfield and the Gophers made it to the tournament in 1972 and even earned a first round bye. The Gophers lost their first game in the Midwest Region to eventual national-runner up Florida Sate, 70 – 56, with Winfield playing all 40 minutes and chipping in eight points and eight rebounds. In the regional third-place game, the Gophers bounced back to beat Marquette 77 – 72, with Winfield compiling 16 points and nine rebounds. Scouts so highly rated Winfield’s athletic ability that he was not only drafted by the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Utah Stars of the ABA, but also his hometown Minnesota Vikings of the NFL. He had not even played college football.

As the regional semifinals and finals come to nearby Syracuse March 25 and 27, the Hall of Fame will celebrate the connections between baseball and basketball on Friday, March 26 with a full day of programs, including special trivia contests that test our visitor’s knowledge of baseball and the NCAA tournament.

Stephen Light is manager of museum programs at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Baseball, U.S. Naval history intersect in Alabama

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I woke up Oct. 1 in Mobile, Ala. and looked at my itinerary. A morning meeting with the Mobile Baybears, the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by lunch. After that, about five hours to kill until my flight home.

10-5-09-Idelson_Feller.jpgErik Strohl, our senior director of exhibits and collections, and I, decided to take a tour of the battleship Alabama, a massive Navy ship that saw extensive action during World War II. I had wished to see the ship for many years, specifically because Hall of Famer Bob Feller served on it. It is now a museum of sorts, docked in Mobile Bay

Feller left the Cleveland Indians for the Navy, enlisting just two days after Pearl Harbor in 1941.He spent four years in the prime of his career as an anti-aircraft gun captain on the USS Alabama, part of a well-trained fleet that never lost one man to combat. Feller was decorated eight times with five battle stars.

As we boarded the ship, I had the chills. Walking the ship’s deck, I imagined a young Bob doing his part to make the team a success, just as so many other major leaguers had during World War II.

Erik and I walked the entire ship, on every level and were awestruck how it resembled a small town. Mess hall, post office, store, laundry, barber shop… it had everything. The battleship was home to more than 2,500 sailors, more than the population of Cooperstown. I know I would have been claustrophobic, bunking well below the ship’s surface.

10-5-09-Idelson_Alabama.jpgWe could also imagine how unsettling it must have been to be constantly on guard with the potential for attack. The battleship was painted several times, depending on the mission, to match the color of the sky and water.

We saw many photos of the soldiers. We even saw one of the baseball team, each player with a giant “A” on the front of his uniform, akin to the old Philadelphia A’s logo. No Bob in the photos, though he did play.

The Alabama would play other ships and was renowned for having the best team in the Pacific, playing in places like New Hebrides, the Fijis, Ulithi, Kwadulane, Eniwetok. I pictured Feller, between practicing combat exercises, playing catch on the ship’s massive deck.

I know how proud Bob is of his military service and touring the Alabama made me realize just how hard his job was, helping to protect America when a team effort was needed most. It also made me realize how fortunate we are to have the freedoms we do, because of soldiers like him who put his country first

Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Stars Come in All Forms

Horn_90.jpgBy Brad Horn

ST. LOUIS — The All-Star Game has come to represent so much more than just the top 30 or so players from each league who are having the best seasons to date.

7-13-09-Horn_Smith.jpgThrough an All-Star Week — featuring the XM All-Star Futures Game, the Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game and the ever-popular State Farm Home Run Derby — baseball fans have more and more reasons with each passing year to become immersed in All-Star extravagance.

This year is no different. Before the “All-Stars” had even arrived in St. Louis late Sunday night, many other Stars took centerstage. Hall of Famers Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, Ernie Banks, Rollie Fingers and Ozzie Smith were on the diamond at Busch Stadium on Sunday evening. And fellow Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Luis Aparicio, Dick Williams, Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Gaylord Perry were just a few members of the baseball royalty out and about downtown and at FanFest.

The biggest star on Sunday? None other than Rene Tosoni, of course.

An outfielder by trade for the Minnesota Twins’ Double-A affiliate, the not-to-far-down-the-road-from-Cooperstown New Britain (Conn.) Rock Cats, Tosoni, who hails from Coquitlam, British Columbia, was pleased to be a part of the World Team in the Futures Game on Sunday. He just wanted to get in the game. But after a 4-hour rain delay, time seemed to be running out as the game reached the final inning — the top of the 7th — with his team down 5-3. 

7-13-09-Horn_Tosoni.jpgThen, in the blink of an eye, Tosoni finds himself this All-Star Monday morning on the way back to Connecticut — with his bat from his pinch-hit, two-run double on its way to Cooperstown. 

“Wow,” uttered Tosoni moments after being presented the MVP Award on Sunday night outside the visitor dugout — and learning his bat would join other Futures Game MVPs in Cooperstown, a tradition started with the very first Futures Game MVP, Alfonso Soriano, in 1999.

Tosoni has never been to Cooperstown, but his bat — brand new, with just one hit to its resume — will soon be on display. Tosoni may not be the best known star from Sunday, but he is the quintessential All-Star among us who represents what baseball can bring you: An unexpected spot in history, on any given day.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

A Horne of plenty

Gates_90.jpgBy Jim Gates

Following last week’s blog on the rare 6-for-6 cycle by Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers, I was asked if anyone had ever hit for the home-run cycle. The answer is yes, but not in the Major Leagues.

First, what is a home-run cycle? It is when one batter hits a solo, two-run and three-run homer in a game in addition to a grand slam. Hitting four home runs in one game is difficult enough, but the home-run cycle obviously requires the substantial cooperation of your teammates.

5-21-09-Gates_HorneBat.jpgAlthough there are stories of home-run cycles being accomplished at the youth, high school and collegiate levels, only one batter is known to have achieved this feat as a professional ballplayer. On July 27, 1998, Tyrone Horne of the Double-A Arkansas Travelers in the Texas League stroked a two-run shot in the first inning, a grand slam in the second, a solo homer in the fifth and finished off the night with a three-run blast in the sixth inning. Not a bad night at all.

“I hadn’t realized I’d homered for the cycle at first. I’d never even heard of homering for the cycle,” Horne recalled almost a decade after the event.

Known for having some power, Horne hit 37 home runs for the Travelers in 1998 and posted a batting average of .312. He spent 13 years playing Minor League and independent league baseball before a ruptured disc in his neck forced him to retire from active play.

Although Horne never made it to The Show, he donated his bat from the home-run cycle to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where it now resides along with other artifacts of baseball history.

This just proves that on any given night, almost any player can catch lighting in a bottle. He can perform a little magic and achieve something never before seen on the baseball diamond. You don’t have to be a superstar to make the game special or to make it into the record books. Just ask Tyrone.

Jim Gates is librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

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