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More memories from across the Minor Leagues

Title-clinching home runs, close encounters with baseball legends and a special occasion between a World War II veteran and a young fan — favorite Minor League moments can come in many forms. After the MiLB.com editorial staff shared favorite Minor League memories, team and league employees from across the country are offering their own recollections.
Those responses, provided below, range from humorous to heart-warming but most share one recurring theme: the feeling of community that comes with the Minor League ballpark experience.

Courtney Baker (Reno Aces): My favorite memory, hands down, was when all of us “Stood Up to Cancer” last season. We partnered with one of our healthcare partners to create this moment during one of our busiest games of the season. During an inning break, we kicked it off with a message from our manager and players; before asking everyone to stand with their “I Stand Because…” signs. To get both teams, the umpires, our staff and so many of our fans involved was so special. Everyone has been affected in some way by cancer and it’s important that we recognize those who fought (or are fighting) so bravely. I can’t wait for it to be a yearly tradition.

Nathan Baliva (Peoria Chiefs): There have been a lot in an 18-year career with playoff games, no-hitters, fun promotions, walk-offs, etc., but nothing beats July 29, 2008, when the Chiefs played the first ever MiLB game at Wrigley Field. It was a ton of work and prep to get everything three hours north to Chicago and a lot of coordination from our staff, the Cubs staff and the Kane County Cougars staff. But in the end it was all worth it. With Ryne Sandberg as manager, the media credentials were insane and we did both a pregame and postgame media hit. We had over 32,000 fans on hand — a Midwest League record — and did all the usual MiLB craziness with between-inning games, frisbees and T-shirt tosses, the Famous Chicken, etc. I got to host our pregame show on field and then broadcast from the WGN Radio Booth and called back-to-back homers from Rebel Ridling and Brandon Guyer. Fun fact: The game was suspended in the bottom of the ninth and the Chiefs won the next day back in Peoria on an extra-inning walk-off single.

Cory Bernstine (Minor League Baseball): Throughout my time at MiLB, I have been fortunate enough to have seen and experienced why It’s Fun to Be a Fan of MiLB after visiting more than 100 MiLB ballparks. It has been incredible to see first-hand the deep community connections our teams have across the country. To select one memory is an impossible task, yet one experience perfectly summarized the MiLB story. It was April 13, 2017 (also marking the 20th anniversary of the home finale for the NHL Hartford Whalers) and I arrive in Hartford, Connecticut, for the Yard Goats’ first-ever game in Dunkin’ Donuts Park. From the first step inside the lively center city, I was met with thousands of fans and community leaders all rocking branded merchandise supporting their new professional baseball team — the first since the Hartford Chiefs in 1952. The sold-out crowd added an electric buzz that sent goosebumps down my arm once the first pitch was thrown as the new era of baseball in Hartford began. Aside from the BLT served between two glazed doughnuts and kabob with chicken and doughnut munchkins (great naming rights integration), the entire evening was a sight to see. It captured the MiLB story: community first, creativity and fan experience, and FUN.
Brad Bisbing (Buffalo Bisons): In 2017, I was lucky enough to be a part of two Bisons fans — separated by 85 years — coming together at the ballpark in a magnificent way. It all started with our annual July 3rd game, when an 11-year-old fan caught a baseball thrown into the crowd by our first baseman. Unprompted, the boy turned and gave it to 96-year-old WWII veteran in full uniform and said “thank you.” Days later, I received a letter from the veteran, named Richard Snethen, who was tremendously disappointed that he never got the boy’s name and was so moved by the gesture that he wanted to get the boy’s signature on the ball. Using Richard’s seat location and few clues, and after making a few wrong phone calls, I was able to find out who the boy’s family was. I then invited the two families back to the ballpark to be reunited and so Richard could get Ty’s signature on his baseball. … There’s no moment in my 16 years at the ballpark that I cherish more than this one.

Benjamin Boynton (Minor League Baseball): My first two games that I worked in Minor League Baseball are among my most memorable. I worked for the Danville Braves last season, and our Opening Day game was rained out, turning the second day of the season into a doubleheader. The first game had as exciting of a finish to a ballgame as you could ask for, a seven-inning contest that was tied 1-1 after regulation play. The Princeton Rays scored in extra innings on a sac fly, and then the D-Braves got a walk-off two-run homer to start the year with a dramatic 3-2 win. It was a great game, filled with excellent defensive plays and clutch pitching. The second half of the doubleheader was not quite the same story, with a combined 22 runs and five errors. Danville came away with the 12-10 win, despite giving up nine runs in what felt like the longest second inning in history. I’ll never forget the range of emotions I felt working my first real day of baseball. I honestly saw it all on Day 1, and it helped to ignite the passion I feel for Minor League Baseball. I felt like I was where I needed to be.

Casey Catherwood (Tacoma Rainiers): Opening Day 2015. It’s my first Rainiers game ever. Getting a job as the team’s Game Entertainment Coordinator just two months prior, I have been given the keys to a car I have no business driving. Cheney Stadium is packed and the team has arranged Mariners legend Edgar Martinez to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and I will be facilitating the execution of this special occasion. Amplifying the moment? He is being delivered in a helicopter that is hovering over center field. My mind is racing as the mechanical monstrosity lands. I can hear nothing. Do I even have a ball to give him? Time stops as he emerges from the roaring chopper. I clear my throat. “Welcome, Mr. Edgar. My name is Casey, if you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the mound to throw the pitch.” Edgar says something, but I don’t hear it. He follows me begrudgingly. The helicopter soars away, and as we approach the infield dirt, I plop the fresh baseball in his hand. He looks at me with a look of bewilderment. “Wait a second. I’m throwing a pitch?”

George Chavous (Birmingham Barons): I’ve been working for the Barons for the past 20 seasons. I started my first day on the job in 2001 as an usher helping fans as the Barons played their home games at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. In 2013, the Barons moved to a new state-of-the-art stadium in downtown Birmingham, Regions Field, which has picturesque views of the skyline. My fondest memory during the 2013 season was when the Barons beat the Mobile BayBears to win the Southern League championship, their first since 2002. Another fond event I’ve been part of during my time with the Barons is the Rickwood Classic. This game is held every summer at legendary Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in America. During these games, I’m able to interact with fans from across the country who come to Birmingham to partake in a special game that recognizes Barons teams of the past. … I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world, because I get to spend every day in paradise as I get to speak with fans, not only in the Birmingham community but across the country.

Adam English (Gwinnett Stripers): This unique time in our country has given me a great opportunity to reflect upon and appreciate just how fortunate I am to have been in the baseball industry as long as I have. Sixteen seasons have flown by, and when thinking of my favorite memory, so many things come to mind. Baseball has a way of bringing communities and people together in a way that creates special memories for everyone. My favorite memory is when I organized the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball game while with the Sacramento River Cats. Prior to a home game, along with some great partners, we got a group of local celebrities to face off against the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball team, a group of service men and women who all became amputees as a result of serving our country. They formed this team to help them deal with the loss of a limb and build camaraderie after getting out of the service. Oh, and they could really play, too. We raised $35,000 for the great organization, but what stood out was the effect it had on our fans and team. The spirit and passion of these people was infectious. Our players couldn’t wait to meet them, and one of the vets, who only had one arm, challenged one player to a push-up contest. Our player bowed out after 70 with the whole team cheering on the vet who was effortlessly doing one-armed push-ups. This group inspired our fans, our team, and it will always be a favorite memory of my time in baseball.
Alex Freedman (Oklahoma City Dodgers): Over 12 seasons working in Minor League Baseball, I’ve seen plenty of players on Major League rehab assignments. One clearly stands out above the rest: Aug. 26, 2017 — the night Clayton Kershaw pitched at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. There was a buzz in the stadium from the instant the gates opened. The official attendance ended up being 13,106 — the third-highest in the stadium’s history and highest since the ballpark’s inaugural season in 1998. Kershaw pitched five effective and efficient innings, allowing one run and two hits with eight strikeouts, albeit in a loss. (The future Hall of Famer has a career 0-1 record in Triple-A, and the Omaha Storm Chasers won’t ever let him forget that.) After he punctuated his outing with his final strikeout of the night, the crowd rose to its feet and roared as he walked back to the dugout. Kershaw responded with a tip of the cap, which fueled the fans even more. However, outside of that moment, it was kind of surreal how quiet the stadium was when Kershaw was pitching. It wasn’t due to lack of enthusiasm, but rather everyone being so focused and dialed in to watch one of the greats perform in their local ballpark.

Brad Friedman (Minor League Baseball): The Columbus Clippers, both at Cooper Stadium and Huntington Park, made countless appearances during summers of my upbringing. Like any place with harsh winters, the Clippers became synonymous with good times and warm days: a communal space for the city to enjoy our couple months of sunshine. It was the one place, regardless of traveling squad, everybody could agree on.
Gerald Jones (Minor League Baseball): Great memories at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida, perhaps one of the best venues across all of Minor League Baseball. Formerly known as McKechnie Field, this venue has played host to many Spring Training games, mostly of the Pittsburgh Pirates given the 50-year relationship between the city and the heritage National League franchise. But in the last 10+ years, this gem of a ballpark has served as home of the Florida State League’s Bradenton Marauders. My son’s high school baseball team had their end-of-the-year awards during pregame of a Marauders game. What an atmosphere on their recently constructed boardwalk, enjoying food and adult beverages with the other dads and families, with baseball in the backdrop of one of the more iconic scenes in America. The smell of burgers and dogs, the sun setting over the third-base bleachers, just an awesome scene. I had such a great time, I had to jog my memory of who the Marauders’ opponent was that night, which was the St. Lucie Mets. But that’s Minor League Baseball, the soul of America’s pastime. … It doesn’t matter who they play, it’s the experience at the park!

Justin Kelleher (Reno Aces): In 1997, the Portland Sea Dogs of Portland, Maine, were the Triple-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins. That year, when I was seven years old, the team published a few “enter to win” options in the local paper. The task: Kids would submit an essay on the topic of why they loved baseball. My mom ran to me in excitement, encouraging me to enter. Without hesitation, I began writing. A couple weeks later, I received a letter from the Sea Dogs announcing that I had won one of the exclusive prize options and would receive four tickets to a game — my first baseball game ever. I had lost my father four years prior and my mom took the role of both parents while also earning her master’s degree and working full time. Baseball was our bond then and that connection has lasted to this day. Thank you, Patricia Kelleher, for introducing me to baseball, taking me to many games, teaching me to not be afraid of the ball and for sharing this great sport with me.
Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians): The Indianapolis Indians have a rich history, one that goes back to 1902. Perhaps the most dramatic moment in our 100-plus years occurred in Game 7 of the 1986 American Association Championship Series. The Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of Montreal at the time, faced off against the Denver Zephyrs, Cincinnati’s Triple-A team. The scene was Bush Stadium in Indianapolis — Tuesday, Sept. 9. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Indians were trailing by a run. Razor Shines had been intentionally walked with first base open, setting the stage for right-handed batter Billy Moore to face right-handed pitcher Rob Dibble. The count went to 2-2 and Dibble threw Moore a fastball. Moore, who had gotten clutch hits all season long, lined a base hit into left field scoring Tom Romano as the tying run and Casey Candaele as the winning run. It was magic! And it was the first of four straight championships for the Indianapolis Indians.

Doug Kemp (Clearwater Threshers): The Clearwater Threshers organization wanted to start our own breast cancer awareness night for multiple years and decided to have our inaugural “Pitch for Pink” in the 2006 season. We partnered with our local hospital, Morton Plant Mease, and its foundation as the benefactor as we wanted all proceeds to stay local in our community. We asked the community to support by sponsoring with relatable vendor tables or purchasing tickets. We asked any breast cancer survivor who wanted to participate to do a survivor walk around the warning track pregame. The players all wore custom pink Threshers jerseys and we auctioned them off with other items to benefit the foundation. That first year we didn’t know what to expect, but the community came out in full force and the night was a huge success with over 5,900 attendees. Not only did the Threshers win this inaugural event, but our pitcher, Julio De La Cruz, threw a no-hitter, which made it even more memorable. The first “Pitch for Pink” event raised $31,000, and 14 years later, this annual event has raised over $300,000 for the Morton Plant Mease Foundation and all of these proceeds have stayed in our community. It truly was a great memory with a no-hitter and a great fundraiser.

John Kocsis (Columbia Fireflies): Trade Deadline day is one of the most exciting days for sports fans in any realm, and in my first season in Minor League ball, the Pittsburgh Pirates shipped closer Tony Watson to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the return of prospects Oneil Cruz and Angel German. A few days later, the two showed up in West Virginia, where I was working for the Power, for their first practice with the team. Cruz didn’t do much in practice, the 6-foot-6 shortstop certainly turned heads as he passed, but he was very quiet. Then batting practice rolled around and Cruz was the final player to step up to the dish. He watched a few pearls whiz by without offering a stroke. After being goaded by manager Wyatt Toregas, Cruz launched the next ball clear out of the stadium, across the street beyond the right-field porch and seven parking spots deep in a neighboring lot. He proceeded to drive the next three offerings out of the yard. Cruz played 119 games with West Virginia that season and the next, and to this day, I still haven’t seen a display of power that remarkable.
Dan Kopf (Chattanooga Lookouts): My favorite Minor League baseball memory came in 2017 in the Southern League playoffs. In Game 5 of the Southern League semifinals — the Finals were canceled due to Hurricane Irma — the Lookouts were trailing, 2-1, entering the bottom of the ninth inning. With a runner on first, Jonathan Rodriguez drilled a two-run walk-off homer to clinch the championship. As soon as he hit it, everyone in the stands knew the Lookouts had won. It was the hardest hit ball I have ever seen and I will never forget that moment.
Pat Malacaro (Buffalo Bisons): There have been so many great moments in now-Sahlen Field’s 32-year history, and I have been lucky enough to have witnessed them in person. However, the Buffalo Bisons’ exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians on July 1, 2002 remains my favorite. I grew up in the stands watching Barry Bonds hit a batting practice fastball off the center-field scoreboard. Fast-forward to about two decades later, when the likes of Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel were doing just the same in front of what felt like a Major League crowd [and it] still rings true. The amount of Friday and Saturday nights I look around Sahlen Field and marvel at how much those attending make the game feel like a big league atmosphere are too many to count, but on that night, it really came to life. From batting practice through the actual game, it was a fun experience to have the defending American League Central champions in Buffalo. And with the climate of Western New York in late March or early April, it is an experience that might not happen here for quite some time.
Sammy Parnell (Myrtle Beach Pelicans): My most cherished Minor League memory … there are too many to count! I basically grew up at the ballpark. It was my second home and a place that I found joy, laughter, happiness, family, lots of good food and everything in between. I think the memory that sticks out the most is when my older sister performed as “Buster Blues” with Bobby Masewicz and Dave Frost (Frosty) at the Altoona Curve as part of their Blues Brothers tour to different Minor League teams along the East Coast. It was a surprise for my dad, GM of the Altoona Curve at the time, and when he saw her on the field, I remember his eyes welling up with tears (sorry for exposing you, Dad!) because he loved it so much. She signed autographs, took photos with fans and had her 90 seconds of fame on the field between innings. We still talk about this moment at every family gathering and it’s a sweet reminder of how fun Minor League Baseball was, and still is, today. And yes, she still remembers every word and dance move to the entire performance to this day.

Vincent Pettofrezzo (Minor League Baseball): The first Minor League Baseball game I ever went to with my fiancé (now-wife) was a Threshers game on a Sunday afternoon. It was a “Bark in the Park” game and also the first MiLB game for Barkley, our Maltese. We all had a great time exploring the different areas of the ballpark and trying out some of the food and drink options. Late in the game, we decided to go sit behind home plate, to get some shade while we watched the end of the game. The Threshers were down, 5-0, going into the bottom of the ninth, and most of the fans had left at this point, but we stayed to watch them rally and come from behind, hitting two home runs in the ninth inning, including a two-run walk-off homer to win the game. I remember the Threshers winning via walk-off, but my wife and I had to look up what the final score was. What we did remember was the great time we had at the game with our pup and that we ended up going to several more “Bark in the Park” games because of our great experience at this game.

Ashley Salinas (Hickory Crawdads): Growing up, my family and I would plan our summers around trying to visit as many baseball stadiums as possible. Our most frequent visit was to Municipal Stadium, home of the San Jose Giants. While the countless nights of snacking on churros, betting on Smash for Cash and doing the “YMCA” along with the Party People of Section G will always be treasured memories, the night they won the 2009 California League championship stands out the most. As they secured the final out, the players stormed the field and Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” rang out across the speakers. After the trophy and flag presentation on the field, the players began to give away baseballs, bats and all of the equipment they could find. One player, Thomas Neal, spotted me and ran over to give me his cleats. Fast-forward eight years later, I was interning for the Augusta GreenJackets and Thomas Neal joined the club as the hitting coach.
Lindsey Settlemire (Clearwater Threshers): My earliest baseball memory was of the Clearwater Threshers. The year was 2004 — the team had recently changed monikers from the Clearwater Phillies and were set to play their inaugural season at Bright House Networks Field. My elementary school would be attending a night out at the ballpark, and held a T-shirt design contest in which the winners would be seated in a special section and get to throw out the first pitch. My twin brother and I eagerly entered and, much to our surprise, won the contest because of the phrase we put on the shirts — “Catch the game … before it catches you.” Our family joked that we should work for the Threshers marketing team because of our creative slogan. During the game, we were welcomed on the field, got our names on the video board and were treated like stars! At 8 years old, I was enchanted by getting to meet some of the players and feast on all the ice cream sandwiches I desired. Fast-forward 16 years, and I have the privilege of creating the same lasting memories for kids while working in the Threshers communications department.

Jake Trybulski (Reno Aces): Growing up in Temecula, California, the Lake Elsinore Storm played their home games just 25 minutes away from me. I remember going to countless games as a kid and even having my 8-year-old birthday party at Storm Stadium in 2003. But the one thing that always made me excited about going to watch games was hanging out on the grass berm down the right-field line in foul territory. That was your best chance to catch a foul ball or bug the visiting pitchers in the bullpen enough until they gave you a souvenir. If you didn’t get a baseball from a pitcher, four of five balls would land on the berm every game, so you’d better be ready to sprint to see who could get it. I remember showing up to the berm each game to size up the other kids’ athletic ability to see how my chances looked for catching a foul ball that day. Maybe got one in my whole life, but it was sure fun to chase them down. While we waited for the foul balls to land, all the kids would slide down the berm. My mom was never mad or upset at me, but she always seemed a little annoyed when I’d return to the seats asking for ice cream with grass stains all over my pants. I miss those days for sure.

Daneil Venn (Pensacola Blue Wahoos): Jimy Kelly Day with the Dunedin Blue Jays was unforgettable. Jimy became the youngest player to ever sign a professional contract when he signed with the Blue Jays in 1984 at age 13. His signing was the catalyst for the international signing regulations that still exist today to protect young players around the world. By 19, Jimy was out of baseball and he largely swore off the game, granting just one interview in the near-three decades following his career. Through a public records search and mailing letters to anyone with the initials “J. Kelly” in the Bronx, we found Jimy in 2017 and invited him to take part in Jimy Kelly Night at a ballgame in Dunedin, where he had played most of his Minor League career with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays and Dunedin Blue Jays. Jimy traveled to Florida to attend a game in July, his first appearance at a professional ballgame since his final pro season in 1990. Our fans treated him like a hero. We gave away Jimy Kelly baseball cards at the gates and the line to get his autograph stretched across the concourse. In happy happenstance, one of Jimy’s cousins, Juan Kelly, was our first baseman at the time, and caught his first pitch. We were playing the Florida Fire Frogs, whose manager was Rocket Wheeler. Rocket was Jimy’s first professional manager back in 1985! They shared a long embrace at home plate. Our players even lined up to get Jimy’s autograph, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sought him out specifically to thank him for the impact he had for future Latin American players. Jimy’s story should have never been forgotten, as his legacy continues today through each international free-agent signing. Being able to bring such an important figure in baseball history back to the game, even just for a day, is something I’ll remember for a long time.

Matt Woak (Dunedin Blue Jays): In September 2017, the team was headed to their first chance at a title since losing the championship game back in 2006. With the uncertainty of Hurricane Irma approaching, the Florida State League canceled its usual playoff format for a shortened best-of-3 series, winner to be named co-champions. The entire front office made the trip to Tampa to cheer on the team that night. We were all excited, nervous and exhausted from a grueling Florida season and preparing for the hurricane. After losing the night prior, Game 2 and 3 (if necessary) would be played as a doubleheader. In a game filled with Major League talent, the Blue Jays took Game 1 of the doubleheader. In the deciding game, emotions ran high as the Jays and Yankees battled to a 2-2 tie heading into the ninth. After two quick outs in our half of the inning, our spirits never dimmed. We were passing around a co-workers FitBit to check our rising heart rates! The Jays would go onto score three runs in the inning with an unforgettable two-out rally. The postgame celebration was filled with high fives, smiles and joyous champagne showers. It was special, in a time of crisis and uncertainty, the whole team and staff came together and enjoyed a championship season. One that I am sure none of us will ever forget!

David A. Wright (Minor League Baseball): In March 2017, we were attempting to formally announce a new partnership with ServiceMaster (Terminix). What better way to announce the relationship than to make an outing of it at a game? In our quest to find the perfect market and ballpark backdrop, we asked Terminix to come up with a handful of priority markets. Among the top of the list was South Florida. As a result, off we went to Fort Myers to take in a Minnesota Twins Spring Training game (also current home of the then-Miracle, now the Mighty Mussels). Based on our close proximity to Fort Myers, it didn’t take long for the entire Wright family to join in the fun, including pulling the kids from school for the mid-week game! Hammond Stadium is an immaculate ballpark and served as an incredible site for the ServiceMaster partnership launch. In addition to phenomenal weather and a great behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, somehow I found myself A.) catching my first-ever first pitch, and B.) casually sprawled in the safe arms of T.C. Bear! For what it is worth, despite the strong heckling from close family, friends and co-workers, I was successful at catching the first pitch!

Erik the Peanut Guy (Tri-City Dust Devils): The Tri-City Dust Devils just might be the best organization to work for in Washington State. So when they invited my dad to throw out the first pitch on Father’s Day in 2016, I wasn’t surprised … but he was! As soon as he heard about the invitation, he swelled with pride and we started practicing in the backyard. He was so excited! I’ll always remember the moment my dad, Ed Mertens — the man who taught me how to throw a baseball — stood on the mound and beamed with joy to the crowd. Dad had attended countless Dust Devils games in the stands, supporting me as the on-field host. Finally, he was the one getting some love at the ballpark. I had the honor of catching his pitch, and immediately afterward, we hugged and both promised to sign the ball. Nine months later, Dad suddenly contracted a respiratory disease and passed away. That had been our last Father’s Day together. Ever since, I’ve held this precious memory of our First Pitch close to my heart. I’ve been blessed to work with the Dust Devils for 19 seasons, but that moment — characteristic of what makes the team so special — will forever be my favorite.

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