Tomorrow I will be purchasing a dozen tickets to a baseball game for a group of people I work with. We will be going to a Greenville Drive (Single A Red Sox) minor league baseball game in early May. I don’t get to as many games as I used to, and I haven’t been to a Major League baseball game in an embarrassingly long time.
Still, baseball is baseball, and Fluor Field here in Greenville is a nice facsimile of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster of its own in left field.
This got me to thinking of all the players I’ve seen live over the years, in both minor league and major league baseball parks. So, inevitably, I decided to make a list of the best players I’ve seen in person at each position since my first game at Shea Stadium in 1974. I’ve included the year and the city in which I witnessed them play.
First Base: Steve Garvey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Willie McCovey (Shea Stadium, 1977), Willie Stargell (Shea Stadium, 1979), John Olerud (Seattle Kingdome, 1993), Mo Vaughn (Fenway Park, 1998.)
I was lucky to have seen a pair of first baseman, Garvey in ’74 and Stargell in ’79, who would each win their league’s MVP award that season.
Second Base: Dave Lopes (Shea Stadium, 1974), Rennie Stennett (Shea Stadium, 1976), Dave Cash (Shea Stadium, 1976), Roberto Alomar (Kingdome, 1993).
Not a lot to offer here. Alomar was just beginning to reveal his greatness in ’93.
Sorry, fellow Mets fan, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to add Felix Millan to this list.
Third Base: Ron Cey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Mike Schmidt (Shea Stadium, 1976, ’77), Lenny Randle (Shea Stadium, 1977), Richie Hebner (Shea Stadium, 1979), Butch Hobson (Fenway Park, 1979), Robin Ventura (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).
One Hall of Famer and…Lenny Randle. Hebner supplemented his income in the off-season by digging graves. Ventura’s career WAR of 55.5 is right there with several HOF’ers, including Boudreau, Medwick, Herman, Kelley, Terry and Gordon.
Shortstop: Bud Harrelson (Shea, 1974), Larry Bowa (Shea, 1976, ’77), Nomar Garciappara (New Britain, CT, Double-A Minor League park, while playing for the Trenton Thunder, 1995), Nomar Garciappara (Fenway Park, 1998), Edgar Renteria (Portland, ME, Double-A Minor League park, Portland SeaDogs, 1995), A-Rod (Fenway Park, 1999).
There’s some real talent to choose from there. Renteria was just 18-years old when he had a breakout season playing up north for the Portland SeaDogs. I watched him play there several times in ’95. I also watched a very skinny Nomar lash a triple and make an outstanding defensive play in Double-A for the BoSox minor league team that same year. He was clearly the star of the show that day.
Catcher: This is where mediocrity rules the day. Jerry Grote or Steve Yeager in ’74? (both fine defensive catchers), John Stearns (at Shea in ’78?) Stearns set the N.L. record for steals in a season by a catcher (25). How about Ed Ott (Shea, 1979) of the Pirates?
Charles Johnson of the Sea Dogs was a fine defensive catcher who could hit with some power. He became the very first draft pick ever for the Florida Marlins in 1992. I saw him play in Portland a few times in ’94 and ’95.
But I suppose I’ll have to take Jason Kendall who turned in a fine performance for the Pirates back in 2000 (Three Rivers Stadium.) Ironically, Kendall broke John Stearns N.L. single-season stolen base record for catchers a couple of years earlier.
If I wanted to cheat, I would add Pudge Rodriguez and Mickey Tettleton, both with the Rangers, each of whom I saw play in Spring Training in 1996 down in Florida.
Outfield: Jimmy Wynn (Toy Cannon came to Shea in ’74), Rusty Staub (Shea, several times throughout the mid-70’s), Dave Kingman (Shea, ’75 and ’76), Del Unser (Shea, 1975), Greg Luzinski (Shea, ’76, ’77), Lee Mazzilli (Shea, 1977-’81), Dave Parker (Shea, ’79), Freddy Lynn (Fenway, ’79) Jim Rice (Fenway, ’79), Dwight Evans (Fenway, ’79), Bobby Bonds (Fenway, ’79), Ken Griffey, Jr. (Kingdome, 1993, Fenway Park, 1998), Jay Buhner (Kingdome, 1993), Joe Carter (Kingdome, 1993), Brian Giles (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).
But Vladimir Guerrerro (Harrisburg Senators, Expos AA team, playing at Portland, ME, 1996) is responsible for my favorite jaw-dropping performance. I watched Vlad take apart the Sea Dogs in a game in the summer of ’96 where he hit a ball so hard to straight away center field, that it was still rising slightly on a line over the raised, distant scoreboard, and it just kept going like a missile until it hit a clump of trees at the base of the railroad track up on an embankment beyond the stadium.
I’d never heard a ball hit that hard in my life. Neither had anyone else in the park, for as young Vlad rounded the bases, the stadium was just stunned into silence. It was as if a shotgun blast had just echoed around the park. I remember turning to my brother after this homer and saying, “Looks like this kid’s got a pretty good future ahead of him, huh?”
Designated Hitter: I think I’ve seen only about a half a dozen games in American League ballparks, but I have seen three of the best.
Carl Yastrzemski (Fenway Park, 1979), Paul Molitor (Kingdome, 1993), Edgar Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998). Edgar did not play in the game I went to at the Kingdome in ’93.
Pitchers: Don Sutton (Shea, 1974), Tom Seaver (Shea, 1975), Jerry Koosman (Shea, 1976), Randy Jones (Shea, 1976), Jerry Reuss (Shea, 1980), Dwight Gooden (on Rehab., pitching for Tidewater vs. Maine Guides, Triple-A, Old Orchard Beach, ME, 1987), Al Leiter (Kingdome, 1993), Roger Clemens (Fenway Park, 1996), Tom Gordon (Fenway Park, 1996), Pedro Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998), Al Leiter (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000), Josh Beckett (Hadlock Field, Portland, ME, pitching for the Double-A Sea Dogs, 2001).
So I got to see Al Leiter twice, seven year apart, pitching for two different teams (Blue Jays and Mets.) I’ve seen five pitchers who have won Cy Young awards.
That’s it. By my count, I’ve seen nine players who are already in the Hall of Fame. I’ve also seen several others (A-Rod, Griffey, Jr., Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens) who certainly have a case for future HOF induction. Also, players like Evans, Staub, Nomar and Edgar Martinez were all among the very best players of their respective eras.
But an entire generation of new, young players has emerged in the last few years, few of whom I’ve had a chance to go out and see perform live.
Guess it’s time to buy those tickets.
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