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MiLB.com staffers recall favorite memories

A perfect game, a national anthem performance and a total eclipse. Just some of the Minor League moments that quickly came to mind for the MiLB.com editorial staff when asked to share some favorite memories. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. The following are recollections our staffers make with joy — and maybe a happy tear or two — about the ballpark experiences that meant the most to us … and still do.

Michael Avallone: Of the innumerable ballgames I’ve been to in my life — of both the Minor and Major League variety — pinpointing one isn’t so easy. Many have their own special significance to me in some way. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a special game I went to last June. It was a family affair — my wife, my in-laws, nieces, nephews … and my two kids. The game was Class A Short Season Staten Island and Brooklyn at Richmond County Ballpark, but it was a Father’s Day gift complete with postgame fireworks and kids running the bases. I don’t even recall the final score or who won, which is proof enough that it’s special to me. There was nothing overly unique about it, just a sense of family and fun … which is something we all need more of, especially right now.

Andrew and Julianna Avallone gave their dad a Father’s Day to remember on Staten Island. Michael Avallone

Andrew Battifarano: On a family vacation to Cooperstown in 2005, we found ourselves staying in Oneonta. Our hotel, unknown to us before the trip, was across the street from where the Tigers’ Class A Short Season affiliate played at the time. Even more fortunately was that the team was playing a doubleheader our first night. So our baseball crazy family went and had a great time. This was my first real experience with the Minors and I fell in love with it. We saw two games and sat right behind the home dugout. I’d never been that close to the field and truly had a ball. I’ll never forget that — plus seeing future big leaguer Matt Joyce was a bonus — and it really made me fall in love with Minor League Baseball.

Joe Bloss: I went to college at Syracuse University, and trips to NBT Bank Stadium were a fun way for me and my buddies to begin or end a semester. Just before the start of my senior year, we sat behind the first-base dugout. The loudest fan in the ballpark sat behind us. This guy heckled the visiting team to no end. He did not take an at-bat off, drowning out any other sound in the yard. I figured there had to be more to his story than just being a Chiefs superfan — and there was — so I asked if we could chat for a story. We ended up sitting together for a game later that week. He had lost decades of his life to drugs, then found a path to staying clean thanks to baseball and family. I haven’t been back since the Triple-A Chiefs became the Mets, but I heard his unmistakable voice in a video highlight last season and smiled. It was far more memorable than any player I watched in Syracuse.
Sam Dykstra: Nine up, nine down. I remember thinking that distinctly. If a pitcher could get through three innings without letting anyone on, chances are it was going to be a good day. I wasn’t thinking then about the difficulties of facing an entire lineup for a second or third time and the need for a pitcher to mix his pitches. Nine up, nine down. It was a good sign. So there I sat at Triple-A Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium, noting the high leg kick of Bronson Arroyo — a right-hander the Red Sox picked up on waivers who was in danger of becoming a Quad-A hurler after three rough seasons in Pittsburgh — and counting the outs as they came. Fifteen, 18, 21, 24 — the signs getting better. The crowd buzz growing heavier each time Arroyo walked off the mound, zeros remaining on the board behind him. It was Aug. 10, 2003, just past peak Pedro, two months before Boone’s homer in Game 7, three months before the Schilling trade, 14 months before the breaking of a curse. Yet for one afternoon, all 9,000-plus of us were enraptured in Rhode Island by a 26-year-old with a funky delivery. In the ninth, Buffalo’s Scott Pratt bounced a ball to Andy Abad at first, and Abad flipped to the covering Arroyo. Twenty-seven up, 27 down. It was the perfect afternoon in Pawtucket.

Various pictures taken at McCoy Stadium during the 2003 season. Cindi Dykstra

Gerard Gilberto: In 1999, the Yankees moved an affiliate to the College of Staten Island campus around the corner from my childhood home. I remember one day, I was 6 or 7 years old, my father brought me and my brother to the open fields and tracks that surround the baseball field. The team was taking batting practice and we left with an impressive collection of “BP homers.” I was too young to fully understand what was on the other side of the outfield wall, but the accessibility was astounding. The only thing separating a little kid from a future big leaguer was a chain-link fence. I could occasionally hear fireworks or some celebration — the Staten Island Yankees won the New York-Penn League championship in 2000 — happening at the campus from my backyard. That small-town feel changed after two years when the club moved to its current location, Richmond County Ballpark, and its postcard view of the New York City skyline.
Kelsie Heneghan: I can still see me running across the concrete bridge that connected the parking lot to Space Coast Stadium, the former home of the Class A Advanced Brevard County Manatees. I remember the cart where I got my first Dip-n-Dots, the concourse where I took a tearful photo with Hugh Manatee (a fantastic name I probably didn’t get as a kid who was afraid of mascots). I remember the sounds of “Centerfield” and cicadas melting into Fourth of July fireworks on a warm summer night. When I was 9, my family moved to California, but I never forgot my first favorite team. When I was a sophomore in college, I finally returned to Space Coast Stadium with friends during spring break. It was a Nationals Spring Training game, so they sold things like “Strasburgers” and the Marlins weren’t the home team. But it felt as familiar as a dream. And two decades after watching as a fan for the first time, I got hired by MiLB.com to watch as a reporter. I actually got to interview Manatees players and coaches. Hugh was replaced by Manny and the Marlins’ affiliation was replaced by the Brewers, but it was still the Brevard County Manatees. The team has since relocated, but in my mind, the Manatees will always be there, playing the game with John Fogerty blaring in the background.

Benjamin Hill: I’m fortunate to have a lot of Minor League memories. Too many, even, as over the past decade I’ve visited every active Minor League ballpark. It all tends to blur together, but some moments are so indelible they will forever stand alone. Topping that list is the experience I had at a Class A Columbia Fireflies game in 2017. The Fireflies were one of seven Minor League teams in the path of totality during that year’s national eclipse. To commemorate the occasion, they scheduled an afternoon ballgame that featured a built-in eclipse delay. After 3 1/2 innings were in the book, the delay began. Fans put on eclipse glasses handed out by the team as the sky began to darken. When totality occurred, it was pitch-black in the middle of the day. The sun’s incandescent rays became the muted perimeter of a circle, entirely obscured by the moon. The delay lasted all of 19 minutes, and then the game resumed as though nothing had ever happened. It was incredible, and incredibly surreal, to experience this natural phenomenon in a communal atmosphere. I’ll never forget it.

Josh Jackson: On a Tuesday morning in June 2010, my wife and I took a train from New York City to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where the Double-A Senators play in a ballpark on an island. City Island, Harrisburgers called it; Baseball Island, we called it. I made too many jokes about the Susquehanna Hat Company and Ella refrained from shoving me into the namesake river. We watched Kyle Drabek, a hot prospect, absorb the loss for New Hampshire that night. We gawked at Eric Thames’ biceps from the bleachers. We returned for a Wednesday matinee and saw the Sens’ Marvin Lowrance, who walked up to Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” and had hit a foul ball at least 350 feet the night before, crush one fair through the hot, sticky air of the afternoon. These weren’t my first Minors games — they probably weren’t among my first 50 — but I find myself in the mood to revisit a time when a couple in love could take a train, explore a new town, be in a throng of fans walking over a bridge, take in a ballgame.

Tyler Maun: When I was a kid, my hometown of Denver was still a Triple-A city. My earliest baseball memories are Denver Zephyrs games at Mile High Stadium where a few thousand people would usually show up to sprinkle themselves throughout a 75,000-plus seat NFL stadium for normal games. The best, though, were Fourth of July games when tens of thousands turned out for the fireworks shows. My family and I used to go with family friends of ours, and I have one vivid memory of sitting next to my friend Michael and yelling out “the graaaaand finale!” together every time the fireworks would get more and more impressive. We probably yelled it a dozen times. That’s how great the shows always were.
John Parker: The summer of 1993 was to be the Durham Bulls’ final one at storied Durham Athletic Park before moving to a beautiful new stadium on the southern edge of downtown. It didn’t exactly work out that way. In hindsight, the Braves’ Class A Advanced affiliate’s most notable player was probably 20-year-old Jason Schmidt, who went on to win 130 big league games and topped the National League with a 2.34 ERA in 2003. He was just 7-11 with a 4.94 ERA in 22 starts for the Bulls, however. More notable was team MVP Tony Graffanino. The 21-year-old led the team with 15 homers and 69 RBIs. He went on to a 13-year career in the Majors. As the “Farewell Season at the DAP” wound down, the Bulls made a late run at the Carolina League South title, welcoming first-place Kinston to town for the last series of the season Sept. 2-4. I was working for the Durham public school system that summer, my first out of college. I’d been to a couple games earlier in the season, but some friends and I decided we’d see out the old park on Sept. 3. The stadium was packed and we ended up sitting in the top row of the bleachers pretty far down the left side beyond third base. The next day’s game was rained out — meaning I was there for the Bulls’ farewell game at the DAP … except that construction delays at the new park forced the Bulls to play at the old stadium again in 1994: the “Second Farewell Season at the DAP.” The ultimate final game was a loss to Winston-Salem on Sept. 5, 1994, by which time I was living in Alaska. The new park, which opened in 1995, is beautiful, of course — but it’s still weird to see the famous snorting bull sign in left rather than right.

Paige Schector: My relationship with Minor League Baseball goes way way back, farther than a Kevin Cron home run. My first baseball memories of any kind are of being at Class A West Palm Beach Expos games with my brother, Jeff. My late grandfather, Louis, always procured tickets for us from his bank or McDonald’s. We would root for the Expos whenever they weren’t playing the Fort Lauderdale Yankees and even had a chant for the 1980 Florida State League batting champ Wallace Johnson – “Hit the bally, Wally!” And we definitely had a favorite Yankee Minor Leaguer — Brian Dayett. As kids, we didn’t care he amassed a .247 average over 52 games that year with Fort Lauderdale. That’s probably because he was really nice to both of us, asking our names before signing his autographs. West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium may be a Home Depot now, but that kind of genial attitude sticks with fans for a lifetime.

Daren Smith: My fondest Minor League memories involve caps. When we drove down to Double-A Reading, my friend and I worked for a sports wire service that disseminated real-time scores, news and statistics to every press box in North America as well as newspapers and radio and TV stations. We eventually ramped up our Minor League coverage, but in those days, we relied on individual teams to call in final line scores along with winning and losing pitchers, home runs, etc. Some of us became friendly with the staffers who phoned in that information. And when we saw the first ads in national baseball publications for the Carolina Mudcats and their cap with the catfish so ugly you had to love it (“It’s the fish, stupid. You don’t screw around with the fish,” owner Steve Bryant told SportsLogos.net), we asked the Mudcats person if we could order, say, a couple dozen. It wasn’t long before we reached out to other teams — the Appleton Foxes, Charleston Rainbows, Albany Polecats, Greensboro Hornets, Madison Muskies. The choices were almost always logo-driven. Some I actually purchased in person — the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, Niagara Falls Rapids, Reading Phillies and Williamsport Bills. To prepare for this vignette, I brought down four boxes of caps from the top of my closet. Missing, however, is the Albuquerque Dukes — purchased because some of us thought the logo resembled the Great Gazoo from “The Flintstones.” Memories.
Brian Stultz: Harry Caray was who I listened to every afternoon. Harry Beary is whose autograph I captured in 1990. The Huntington Cubs had just become a franchise in the Appalachian League near my hometown in Northeastern Kentucky and the fact I got to see future Cubs play in a small venue once or twice a month was heaven for a die-hard fan of the North Siders. My parents graciously took me and I would carefully glance the scorecard for any prospects I thought could help replace whichever big leaguer — probably Doug Dascenzo — was struggling at the time, unaware of how far a player at the Rookie level was from making an actual MLB roster. It didn’t matter to me. These guys were heroes, playing baseball with the Cubs logo on their jerseys. It was all about the mascot Harry Beary which was dressed as … you know, I don’t even remember. A bear, I suppose. All I know is that somewhere in my childhood box of stuff I kept, I still have his autograph on a baseball 30 years later.
Rob Terranova: While working for a newspaper in San Diego, I got an assignment to go out to the Padres’ Class A Advanced affiliate Lake Elsinore Storm to cover a world record for the most people “Tebowing” at once. I thought it was a joke at first, but Tebow-mania was sweeping the nation at the time. When I got to the ballpark on July 13, 2012, I saw one of the largest crowds the Storm had drawn the entire season. After a come-from-behind 4-1 victory for Lake Elsinore over the High Desert Mavericks — in which then-Padres prospect Tommy Medica extended his franchise-record hitting streak to 28 games — everyone in attendance was invited to file into the outfield. More than 500 people all “Tebowed” together to set the world record. I just checked and the mark still stands.

On July 13, 2012, more than 500 people set a record for “Tebowing” in the California League. Lake Elsinore Storm

Chris Tripodi: For my 12th birthday, my parents took me, my cousin and several friends and family members to a Hudson Valley Renegades game at Dutchess Stadium. I don’t remember who they played or the score of the game, but the Renegades were good that season and Jared Sandberg was on the team. Sandberg eventually spent a few seasons in the Majors, became Hudson Valley’s hitting coach almost a decade later and went on to manage several teams in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. I met mascots Rookie and Rene and had my scorebook signed by them and some of the players, ate dinner on the picnic patios and watched the game from stadium seating. It was an experience that defines what I know Minor League Baseball to be today: a family-friendly environment that often focuses more on the experience than the game itself.
Jordan Wolf: My first memory of Minor League Baseball has very little to do with the game itself. When I was young, probably 7 or 8, I went to a garage sale in my neighborhood. They had a box of a bunch of baseballs, some of which were signed. I found one that was signed by several members of the Wichita Wranglers, the now-defunct Texas League team. I bought it with glee, thinking it was akin to Smalls finding the Babe Ruth signed ball in “The Sandlot,” but when I was a little older, I discovered that there was only one notable player’s signature on the ball — longtime reliever Jeremy Affeldt. So while I didn’t stumble upon a million-dollar find, I did get a fun memory to look back on now as I cover the league as a reporter.
Katie Woo: Growing up right outside the Bay Area left no shortage of baseball options for my family when I was a kid. Raley Field — home of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats — was just a 30-minute drive. I spent many summer nights with my family and friends at the yard, running around the concourse or laying out on a blanket beyond the right-field grass. Still, my favorite night came in late summer of 2012. The River Cats were playing the Las Vegas 51s and I was scheduled to sing the national anthem before the game. I remember being a wreck and asking my mom, Mary, to go over the words with me just in case I somehow forgot them. I honestly don’t remember much about the actual performance (blame it on the aforementioned crushing nerves), but I do remembering finishing the anthem, looking up in the stands and seeing about 40 family members and classmates that came to support me. Thank goodness, Cecil Conley of Vacaville Insider was there to snap a picture for me. It was just a normal game and I watched it in the stands, with all of the people I love. I’ve been to a lot of games since then, but that one will always stand out to me.

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