Go Pro Baseball Wise: Minor League Memories

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We soon learned that a pro baseball career is 50 percent what happens and 50 percent how we adjust to it.


"The hardest thing down there is NOT the baseball, but adjusting emotionally and mentally to the lifestyle."
— Gary Gaetti,
former ML player, 20 seasons
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Now I Know How Casey Felt
Memories of a Minor League Season

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TWO: Minor league baseball IS a game of adjustments! (June 25-July 6)

FRIDAY, JUNE 25

At 10:10, the parking lot was vacant. By 10:15 it was a busy place, dotted with young men in various stages of casualness that could easily be called dishevelment. Each one carried a large green duffel bag with bats poking out the end in one hand and a pillow with bags of snacks balanced on top of it in the other. Dennis Gonsalves parked his blue van near the outfield fence in what would become his regular spot, followed by the bright yellow "hot-rod" that yielded Eppard, Gorman and Myers. Another car dropped off a couple of players and drove away.

They all deposited their gear into what became a large, messy pile next to the spot where the bus was supposed to park. As the bus pulled into the lot, another threesome arrived in the dark green Datsun they bought in Medford.

These three from Western Michigan University, outfielder Dave Peterson, pitcher Jeff Kaiser, and shortstop Ray Thoma, were quickly given the moniker "The Michigan Connection" by their teammates. They shared the car and an apartment in Medford.

Just as they finished parking, Jackson slowly sauntered over to them and pointed to a large knick in the windshield on the passenger side. "Man, you must've been doing ninety when you hit the bug that done that! Know the last thing that went through its mind?" Before anyone could respond he said, "Its butt!"

"We're taking bets on what day the darned thing actually falls out," Kaiser retorted.

"I don't know what you two are so tense about," Thoma jabbed. "I like the car just like it is. At least we don't have to worry about anybody stealing it while we're gone."

They bought the car when they first got to Medford. Apparently the lady selling it originally wanted $360, but Ray Thoma was able to get it down to $200 by giving her tickets for some home games. There is still debate whether they parked the car where they intended or just left it where the engine died.

In what would become their ritual, many got sodas from the machine in the clubhouse, sprawled in their seats, adjusted pillows and earphones, and waited as the trainer loaded the last of their gear.

Oakland chartered Greyhounds for the team. Eugene was their easiest trip, only four hours due north on the freeway.

If the character of a team emerges on the field, the cohesion of its players emerges on the road. Those hours on the bus are the stuff minor league baseball is made of. The poker games. Baseball trivia. Private conversations. Arguments over strategy and who REALLY made that error. Quiet time writing letters and reading. Trying to sleep in impossible positions. Squirming to avoid another elbow jab in the ribs. The jokes. The pranks. The laughter.

Lou Boudreau, member, Hall of Fame: "I think the traveling is one of the things we remember most about minor league baseball. Those twelve hour all night rides after a game, get off the bus, and play again that night. Ah, yes. We all remember. The best part of those rides was that those were the times we really got to know our teammates. Back then the only heat on the bus was the exhaust pipe running from the motor right down the aisle of the bus directly under our feet. If you were asleep and stretched out your legs, you could touch it and get burned."

At precisely 10:30, Rogers, always the last to get on the bus, counted noses, and realized three were missing. He kept writing on his clipboard and never looked up. He didn't say a word. The scowl on his face broadcast his displeasure loud and clear.

Just as the bus driver closed the door and started the engine, Bailey, Rojas and Hooker sped into the lot, stirring up a funnel of dust, and ran for the bus in a frenzy. "Wait for us, we're here!" they yelled as the driver opened the door for them. They threw their gear in and quickly found seats.

"Man, our alarm didn't go off. Sorry, Coach."

Rogers never looked up. He just kept writing.

They were off. Destination: Eugene, Oregon. Despite the 15-minute rush to get this act together, once the bus was in motion the atmosphere became lazy, dominated by yawns. Fortunately this was an easy two-game road trip. Once under way, the trainer handed out meal money of eleven dollars a day.

About twenty minutes later, after all the Egg McMuffins were devoured, "Come on, let's make a table and play some poker to pass the time," Eric Barry taunted.

"Sure, why not?" responded Rojas, grinning like a fox. "Hey, Bathe, Glick, O'Hara, wanna join us? I'd be happy to take some of that meal money off your hands."

Within minutes a stack of pillows became a table, cards and other paraphernalia were readied, and the game was on. This was the beginning of the biggest money exchange in minor league baseball!

"Ah-h-h, it's gonna feel so good sleepin' in a real bed tonight, and catching a little TV," sighed Phil Strom in anticipation of a motel room. "Those foam mats on the floor only make it for so long. I'm saving a fortune by not buying a bed, but I didn't know Oregon floors would be so hard."

At the other end of the bus several players snoozed. One or two gazed out the window, holding empty juice cartons in their hands to use with their dip. Rogers busily shuffled his papers and checked his watch. Every once in a while a sneer followed by laughter or an occasional, "I knew you were bluffing!" was heard from the card game.

Peterson and Kaiser talked quietly. "So, how's the shoulder coming along now?" Peterson asked.

"I feel it is getting better but it still aches after I throw a few. I don't want it to interfere with my mechanics, but I can feel myself changing my leverage to take some of the pressure off it. That's got me concerned."

"You sure they don't suspect anything's wrong?"

"Nobody said anything to me. My first start was scheduled for tomorrow, but with this wet weather, who knows? I want that first one so bad, you know, to see how it'll perform under game conditions. It's been 26 days."

The bus arrived at the motel about 2:45. Rogers announced that he had assigned roommates and would do the same for all roadies. "Be in uniform and back on the bus by 5:00 to head for the park." He read the pairings as the trainer went into the office and returned with a batch of room keys in his hand. Rogers then handed out keys as players got off the bus.

Since the majority of the team had played college ball and had road trip experience, they were not happy being assigned roomies. But they adjusted. They knew it was another way for them to get to know each other. As soon as the gear was literally thrown into the rooms, they quickly scattered in search of food.

"We're just going to the pancake house across the street. Wanna go?"

"Nah. I'm in the mood for some BBQ beef."

And in the distance, "Say, who won that poker game?"

"Rojas."

Those two-plus hours went by fast, and the bus was in place waiting for them by 4:30. Players gradually reappeared in uniform. Initially there was some horseplay, but as the minutes ticked by it was obvious that this attitude changed into one focusing on "the game" and what they hoped to accomplish.

Some meandered over to the bus, leaned against it and put on cleats. Others appeared in full regalia with the tape player in hand and earphones stretched over their caps. Quite a sight. Others inserted their dip as part of their preparation. When they saw Dennis Rogers approaching, they rushed to cram into the bus, and they were off to the ballpark.

There's a lot of baseball history tied up with Civic Stadium, home of the Eugene Ems, (short for Emeralds), the affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds at that time. They all knew it used to be a AAA park where the likes of Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone, Oscar Gamble, and George Foster played. It was the largest park in the league, and the greenest. Everything was GREEN from the grass to the green seats and green walls. The field was well groomed and all the teams in the league enjoyed playing there.

"I don't get this place at all. It's the home of the REDS, so why is everything GREEN?" We soon learned that Eugene is in Emerald County.

When the pitchers finished their running around the outfield, "Oh Mikki, have some dip?" pitcher Dennis Gonsalves asked pitcher Mikki Jackson as he removed that little round can from his back pocket.

"All men dip," Ed Myers stated without cracking a smile and the rest of pitchers crossed their arms and nodded until Jackson reluctantly took a dip and shoved it into his mouth.

"Ugh-h-h-h, now I'm turning green!" he coughed as he spit it out. Throughout the game they flashed that can under his nose and he groaned in agony.

In the bullpen Glenn Godwin warmed up for his first start. Strom was catching him.

"Still half an hour left to wait? Don't know why I'm nervous about this. I've pitched before big crowds before."

"Relax and pop one right in here," Strom encouraged him, punching his catchers mitt, "C'mon baby, right down the old shooter."

Godwin threw another one, then hesitated again.

"Look, we go back a long way," Strom tried to calm him. "You're the one with all the confidence, remember? Lighten up. Don't let the fans get to ya. Where's the loose, cool guy I used to share margaritas with on the beach in San Diego?"

That one got to Godwin, who turned slowly with a silly smile on his face and responded with his usual Tom Snyder imitation: "Oh, what the heck, I don't know." They both laughed and Glenn Godwin threw harder.

Medford lost its first game that night, but not without a fight. A Charlie O'Brien homer put the A's ahead in the first. In the second the Ems got two runs off A's pitcher Glenn Godwin, who smiled broadly at each hitter in what he thought was an intimidating fashion. He would later learn it only served to make hitters mad and all the more determined to hit him. By the sixth the Ems were ahead 4-1. Godwin left and Dennis Gonsalves came on in relief. The top of the seventh saw two Eugene errors result in three Medford runs to tie score. In the top of the eighth Orsino Hill, who said he was Darryl Strawberry's nephew, hit his first homerun and Medford couldn't pull it out in the ninth. Dennis Gonsalves' first pro decision was a loss. Final score: Eugene 5 - Medford 4.

Quiet wasn't the word for it. It was DEAD SILENT in the Medford dugout while each player gathered his gear and headed for the bus. They had to shower and change back at the motel. Medford rule: no talking on the bus after a loss. Time to reflect. As the bus got back to the motel Rogers announced a 1:30 curfew.

SATURDAY, JUNE 26

Early risers left their rooms around eleven. Their first stop was the nearest newspaper rack in search of the latest edition. The first time I saw what was to be their daily ritual, I got such a kick out of them. Someone inserted the quarter for one paper, then several grab papers, pull out the sports pages and leave the rest on top of the paper rack. There were never enough to go around, so they passed them back and forth.

"Which two rooms are they keeping?" Mike Gorman asked because they check out of the motel by noon on the last day of the trip to save money. Two rooms are kept to store all their gear and to change in before they head for the park.

It turned into another dark, dreary, rainy day. By two o'clock it was a full-fledged storm and the game was postponed. By three o'clock we were all back on the road to Medford.

SUNDAY, JUNE 27

"YES! Playing home games in Medford is the best place. And Sunday the best day for baseball," Graham yawned as he stretched. "Play a two o'clock game and have the evening free to catch a flick or something…just like real people."

There was lots of energy and chatter during infield and batting practice. They knew this game would not be rained out and they were champing at the bit to get down to business.

"It's gonna seem funny playing a different team today. I kinda liked those Ems," Bathe smiled as he swung three bats over his head while he approached the batting cage to take his swings. Assistant Coach, Tom Colburn, pitched to him.

"You may not like these Padres so much. I hear they have some tough pitchers. I think they've got one of the hundred-thousand dollar bonus boys, Jimmy Jones."

"Oomph!" Bathe grunted as he swung and missed." I almost forgot about him. He isn't goin' today, is he?"

"Nope."

"Whew." He hit the last of his pitches over the left field wall and began running the bases.

The sounds of bats cracking, balls popping into mitts, and guys laughing attempting to stay loose echoed throughout the park every day a couple of hours before game time. This was really the only time they could PLAY baseball. Everything else was business…their job.

When the Walla Walla Padres entered the park in their dark brown uniforms, different Medford players glanced at them at varied intervals, but there was no break in the action on the field. The Michigan Connection looked at each other, then scanned the visitors until they spotted Osbe Hoskins, their former teammate at Western. There was no further acknowledgement.

"^^*&^%$#@$^&*&%#!@!!!" Ray Thoma grumbled. "I nearly slipped and broke my pride during infield. It's just too wet and the infield's too muddy. We're gonna soak our a-a-a-ankles off out there."

"Yeah. I guess Zambonys are major league machines," someone agreed.

To quote Don Hunt, sportswriter for the Medford Mail Tribune: "The rain stopped in the Rogue Valley Sunday, but the storm continued at Miles Field."

"Kaiser, are you starting tomorrow?"

"Think that's gonna be my game. He has me charting tonight."

The two-game series against the Padres was enjoyable, at least from Medford's point of view. The fans certainly got a preview of what the season had in store for them: finesse pitching, clutch hitting, base stealing, home runs, and games won in the last at bat.

Sunday, after back and forth baseball for five innings, with the Padres ahead 3-2, the A's stampede was in full swing when Eppard singled with the bases loaded. Suddenly everything got out of hand and Medford wound up with thirteen hits, eleven of them singles. Mike Gorman pitched six fine innings for the win. The Medford defense was flawless. Final score: Medford 12 - Walla Walla 3.

MONDAY, JUNE 28

More rain soaked the field during the night last night and the field didn't look good. The groundskeepers were summoned early and after three hours of cleanup, the powers that be decided that there would be baseball at Miles Field that night.

Between infield and BP the trainer waved the players over to the third base area and yelled, "Hey, your bats are here!"

It looked like a mob scene at a Macy's Day sale, as they shuffled through the cartons of bats looking for the ones with their names on the outside. Inside was their first professional bat order…personalized bats.

"Just look at that," Dave Peterson sighed as he rubbed his big hands over the word "Peterson" burned into the barrel of his bat. "I've always dreamed about this very moment. I'll send one home and always cherish it." I think he knew he was talking to himself because the other players were deep into their own feelings.

"Awesome," Jim Eppard commented as he counted all six bats in his order.

Later outfielder Tony Laurenzi told me of his disappointment that day. "'Ra-renzi' really isn't a nickname. It's my given name donated to me by Louisville Slugger. We knew we'd get an order of bats early in the season with our own names on them. So I complete my order blank, very carefully printing my name… ''L-A-U-R-E-N-Z-I' and then write M110 and 35-31."

"When the orders came I was looking for my bats and couldn't find them. So I picked up one that resembled my name: 'R-A-U-E-N-Z-I.' Geez, my first bat order and they couldn't even spell my name right! I told Doc to take 'em back because I didn't want 'em. He said that they don't send bats back, so I was stuck with 'em. AND I was stuck with that name! I never use those bats in a game, only in batting practice."

"I'll keep at it," Brian Graham said to Rogers as they walked down the third base foul line.

"Don't let it get to you. You have a reputation for being intense on the field, and that can get in your way," Rogers began. "Just relax and do what got you here. You're used to being the star of your team, but now you're here with a squad of former stars and playing against a squad like that, too. The pressure you put on yourself is natural. Oakland expects you to go through a period of adjustment. That's what the minor leagues are for. We've only played a couple of games. Give yourself a chance. Relax and it'll come."

Graham nodded and went to the cage to take his swings.

By game time everyone was certain of the weather. It would stay dry during the game, but no guarantees after that. LHP Jeff Kaiser got his first pro start. After some early control problems he made it through six innings with a 7-3 lead.

The game was decided in the third when seventeen-year-old LHP Mitch Williams, who would later be nicknamed 'Wild Thing,' yielded eight walks, one single, and five runs. In his defense, the benches in both dugouts had plenty to say about the performance of the rookie umpires that night.

Jeff Kaiser completed six innings in his first start. Ed Myers collected his first save of the season as the team got its third win. Final score: Medford 8 - Walla Walla 5.

The blackboard said: "Bus departs for Bend at 10:30 AM."

TUESDAY, JUNE 29

Second roadie. This time they were off for a five game outing, the first two against the Bend Phillies and the final three against the Salem Angels. Yes, in the minor leagues American and National League affiliates play each other. It's a matter of geography.

The action in the Medford parking lot began around 10:15 as players arrive laden down with the usual pillows, food, sports pages, and etc. The pile of green bags got taller with each new arrival. They were all loose, enjoying the satisfaction if their last two wins…a win streak.

The Michigan Connection, minus one, arrived. "Where's Thoma?" Graham asked in passing.

"He's not making the trip, something's wrong with his throwing arm, so he's gonna see the doctor while we're gone," Kaiser explained.

"Ouch! Tough break," Graham responded. "Has he ever heard of Wally Pipp?"

"So how far we goin' today?" Rojas tormented last week's poker losers as he fanned his previous winnings, carefully counting the money. "Where's Bend, anyway? Do ya think it's far enough to give you guys some time to try to win your money back?"

On the dot of 10:30 the bus pulled away from Miles Field and headed North on Interstate 5. About an hour later they left the freeway and headed into the mountains. The ride on the winding road was slow, long and scenic for those who remained awake.

By the time they finally got to Bend, they were restless. They were all aware that Bend is a national tourist attraction in the winter because it's one of the better places to ski in the United States. However, in the summer it seemed like just another small, sleepy rural community. They were disappointed…until the bus pulled up to the beautiful condos in a park-like setting next to a lake and the coach announced they would be assigned four to a room …in those condos. Bend has since blossomed into the city they expected to find.

After he repeated the room assignment-key distribution ritual, they scattered and there was no trace of players. That is, unless you happened to be the switchboard operator. It was lit up like a Christmas tree! Most players can't afford to have phones installed for the three-month season, so road trips offered the opportunity to get caught up on calls back home. Collect, of course. It became one of the first priorities on road trips, especially for players who had a great game the day before or had a special girl back home, or both.

When the bus pulled up at Vince Genna Field, home of the Bend Phillies, everybody was surprised. It was smack in the middle of a large neighborhood of new homes. The park itself was so clean it sparkled, even the parking lot.

"How can this place be so RED?" Elton Hooker laughed when they got to the field. "It's blinding me. Anybody got shades?" he asked as he rubbed his eyes.

"You've got enough trouble seein' the ball and hittin' it without shades," one of his buddies kidded.

It was true. Not only was everything red, it was glossy and glared in everyone's eyes during afternoon games. Fortunately the Northwest League only played day baseball on Sunday.

All in all, it was a great little park with a capacity of 2,000, with wooden benches for most of the seats with folding chairs behind the plate in an area marked "reserved." The parking lot was sand so there was no dust like the gravel lot in Medford. Clean.

The lineup had its first major change without Thoma at short. Brian Graham, who had been playing in right, moved in to cover for him, and Tony Laurenzi played right field.

During the three hours of that game the Medford A's didn't make any friends among the 400 fans in attendance. They scored in eight of their nine at-bats, ripping nineteen hits! Though they didn't know it yet, a new pattern was being established. Brian Graham sparkled in the infield and demonstrated his hustle and versatility. Laurenzi showed his power at the plate. Quiet Jim Eppard continued to let his bat do the talking by going 4-6 with a double and 4 RBIs. Bob Bathe showed them why his nickname is "Boomer" by going 3-4 with two doubles and two RBIs. In short, they made it easy for Eric Barry to gain his second win despite the eleven hits he yielded. Final score: Medford 13 - Bend 3.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30

Before noon Ed Myers, former Arkansas Razorback, was on the phone with his mom back in Arkansas. "Yep, really. I couldn't believe it myself. This guy just came over with a briefcase, opened it up, and called all the draft picks from our team over there. He told us he had a contract with TOPPS Bubblegum Company. They said they'd pay us five dollars to sign with them. Get this. It's a big ol' pink check that looks like a HUGE piece of bubblegum and says TOPPS on it. I signed a contract sayin' they could use my picture on one of their bubblegum cards if I make it. They said if I make it they'll give me all kinds of royalties and stuff. I'm not real sure when they're fixin' to make the card, but he said we don't get anything out of it until we make it to the show. Oh, and one more thing. Get this. I get $10,000 a year from them just for havin' my picture on the card. Then the guy gave me a box with 10,000 other cards in it. I'll mail it home when we get back to Medford."

They spent a lazy day hanging around the condo watching TV, walking around the grounds and feeding the ducks in the lake, reading sports pages, and "resting." By 5:30 they had donned their uniforms and as they stood around waiting for their bus many patrons at the condos stopped to admire them. They looked sharp and confident.

"Epp, did you ever find a game room?" Peterson teased in a mocking tone.

"Yep. Heard it calling me," he smiled.

"What happened on General Hospital today? I slept through the whole thing."

"I saw most of it. Here's what you missed," another voice began.

"I saw All My Children if anybody wants to know about that one," another added.

"No way!" a chorus resounded.

This game turned out to be a pitching duel. Glenn Godwin didn't give up his first hit until he had two down in the seventh, and it was an infield hit at that. He only allowed three hits before he left the game. Bend's RHP Steve Witt, younger brother of long time Major League pitcher Mike Witt, scattered nine hits before making his exit in the ninth.

At the end of nine innings the score was tied at one. "This is ridiculous! We got nineteen hits last night and now we gotta play extra innings because we can only score one lousy run," Phil Strom moaned as he paced the dugout holding his bat.

"Relax. You'll get your chance to be a hero yet," Bathe patted him on the top of his head like a little kid.

With one out in the top of the tenth, Laurenzi doubled and Bailey beat out an infield hit. Pinch hitter Pat O'Hara bounced one up to the mound, but the pitcher overthrew first and allowed Laurenzi to score the tie-breaking run.

The bottom of the inning was equally exciting…and nerve-wracking. The Phillies got a one out single and the next batter reached first on an error. This was followed by a
long fly ball into center field that was finally caught by Luis Rojas. No runs scored. The game ended when relief pitcher Steve Ontiveros caught the batter looking at strike three. It was his only decision for the Medford A's, as he learned before the game that he had been promoted to the AA team in Connecticut. Final score: Medford 2 - Bend 1.

As the bus pulled into the condos, Rogers announced, "Early curfew tonight. Bus leaves for Salem at 10:00 AM."

THURSDAY, JULY 1

In the morning Dennis Rogers stood beside the bus writing in his little black book as the commotion of players arrived. He never looked up, but waited till all the gear was loaded and all players were in their seats. He got on the bus, asked the driver to leave them for a few minutes, then began. "I want to have this little team meeting with you now so you can think about what I have to say during the ride to Salem. You've completed the month of June and the first week of the season. You've already played a lot of baseball with your high school and college schedules, then getting things together here in Medford."

He paused. "But even more than that, you've been EXPOSED to playing baseball every night. You've been EXPOSED to the way Oakland does things. You've been EXPOSED to winning. You've been EXPOSED to the lifestyle of a professional baseball player at home and on the road."

He looked up to note that all eyes were on him. "Naturally some of you are more satisfied with your performance than others. So far I'm satisfied with all of you. But your real challenges are just beginning. July has 31 days and we're scheduled to play 32 games, including two doubleheaders to make up for rainouts. You'll have only one night off for the Major League All-star Game, which I'm sure you'll all watch," he winked and almost smiled.

"You've never played a schedule like that before and it will take its toll in a variety of ways. It'll be up to you to deal with whatever the month has in store. Your strengths on and off the field are what got you here in the first place. Remember that when the going gets tough. And take it one day at a time. As you know, at home I'm at the park at least three hours before every game and am available to you if you want to talk. On the road phone my motel room and we'll make arrangements to get together if you need to see me about something. That's it." He called the driver to come back, took his seat, and the team was on its way.

The trip to Salem was uneventful, highlighted by various snoring sounds. By two that afternoon all the formalities were completed and their quest for food was in progress.

Shortly before six o'clock the bus dropped them at Chemeketa Community College Field where the Salem Angels played. This was definitely the most unique facility in the league. It was massive! The playing field was framed by portable metal bleachers. It had concrete benches behind home plate. The dugouts here were really
dug out. The visiting team had to use a public restroom as a makeshift locker area reserved for their convenience. The Medford A's would develop an intense dislike for this park which would plague them the entire season.

"Scott Glanz was one of my teammates at the University of Arkansas," Ed Myers commented as he slowly looked over Salem's program for this night's game.

"Yeah? What's he throw?" asked Graham.

"He's pretty tough. He pitched a no-hitter for the Razorbacks before he hurt his arm and they sat him down awhile," Myers answered matter-of-factly in his slow, Southern accent. Must be okay now, though, 'cause they're fixin' to start him tonight."

"I caught him a couple of summers in semi-pro," Charlie O'Brien added. "When he's on he's got good control."

The A's looked impressive during their pre-game workouts. Rogers taught them to pick up their feet as they snap the ball around the infield. "Quicken your feet quickens your hands," he constantly told them. They were gaining rhythm and confidence as a team and it showed.

It was Mike Gorman's second start on the mound, and the team was riding on a five-game winning streak. The A's went on the rampage in the second when they sent fourteen batters to the plate and scored nine runs before Glanz and Angels knew what hit them. It was an exciting team effort highlighted by a grand slam from Charlie O'Brien.

As if that were not enough, Gorman pitched a no-hitter through 5.1 innings when Mike Madril got a solid single and eventually scored to end the shutout. In six impressive innings pitched, Gorman struck out ten. His second win was on the record. Mikki Jackson made his first relief appearance before Myers got the last two outs. Final score: Medford 10 - Salem 5.

Dennis Rogers requested a quiet ride back to the motel. "Think about why you're here and what we're doing. Don't be cocky, be classy," he reminded them.

FRIDAY, JULY 2…SATURDAY, JULY 3

Between eleven and noon Friday morning the majority of the activity at the coffee shop was outside…at the news rack at the main entrance. According to the now established habit, they left the pile of papers, minus the sports pages, on top of the rack. There was never any time to read the entire paper after all. "#@$%$#!!" O'Brien exclaimed proudly. It says my grand slam flew 415 feet outa there last night!"

"Yeah, but it probably would've been a pop fly back in Medford," his teammates kidded him.

"Let's see," Bathe pulled the paper down on one side and looked over his shoulder," if you read further you'll see that you owe all this glory to Graham, Eppard and me. I mean, if we wouldn't have been on base at the time, well, just another single."

"Thanks a lot," O'Brien laughed and gave Bathe a fast five.

"No problem. Anytime we can make you look good, let us know."

In another booth, "Oh-oh. I can feel you smiling on the other side of that paper," Elton Hooker teased as he slid into the seat on the other side of the table.

"Hey, man, you had your face in that paper for so long there must be somethin' 'bout you in there."

"Yeah," Bailey smiled his 'the Devil made me do it' smile without looking up. "You name's in here, too, but I'm sure that's a misprint."

"What? Lemme see that thing." Hook grabbed the paper. "It say I got a double and a single. I don't see no misprint," and he poked Bailey in the ribs.

Laurenzi and Graham sat at the end of the counter and ate quickly. "God, I gotta get outa that room today and find something to do," Laurenzi moaned. "I don't see how those guys can sit in front of the boob tube all day watching soaps. Geez!" He shook his head in disapproval.

"I know what you mean," Graham agreed. "Let's check out that mall we passed on the way into town. There's gotta be a game room, a mall, or a matinee or SOMETHING."

"Geez, if I don't find a laundromat and take care of that bag full of stuff, the damn thing is gonna blow up," and he yawned and stretched his arms over his head. "Oh what the hell, I got enough to make it till we get back to Medford. I miss Mom the most when that bag is full. Maybe I'll get me a girl back in Medford and let her to do it for me," one of the rookies away from home for the first time moaned.

"That's a good idea," another of the younger players answered. "Seems to me the last time you did your laundry everything came out pink!"

"So? I think I look good in pink!" he smirked.

The day dragged by slowly. They all seemed bored. They were finally getting a real taste of the lifestyle of the pro baseball player. There's always so much time to kill but never enough time to accomplish anything. Every place they stayed had a pool, but they weren't allowed to swim or even lie around in the sun because it "drains their energy."

They didn't have to be at the park until six. When they finally got there the Angels were just finishing their infield routines. The A's headed directly to right field to stretch and deposited their gear in the visitors' dugout as they passed. In a few minutes the pitchers began their laps along the outfield fence from the right field corner to the left field corner and back again…eight times.

Bailey and Hooker, both free agents who played on last year's championship team, teased each other about sitting on the bench more than they wanted to. Nobody wanted to be a filler, and they were afraid they were stuck in that role. Not good news, they agreed, but they knew that when they were in the lineup they'd have to break out and show Rogers something. Finally, they slapped hands as if convincing each other…or themselves…that they'd have a good season. "I'm a prospect and you're a prospect!" they said in unison and ran onto the field.

Frank Robinson, member, Hall of Fame: "In any organization the people classified as prospects are the top people, the most talented, and 99% of them have been drafted. Fillers are those who come in to fill specific positions so you can field a team at whatever level for the prospects to play on. Fillers are so valuable to the organization because they're teachers. They also allow us to develop prospects at a reasonable pace and not rush them along too fast."

Jimmy Stewart, former ML player; manager, Eugene Ems: "There's fillers in every organization and they're the good guys. They're usually players the organization feels cannot make it to the big leagues but they're of good character and set fine examples for the younger players. They play a good game of baseball and we want them around."

Eddie Mathews, member, Hall of Fame: "There's no iron clad rule on how to go about acquiring fillers. Usually, when we're filling out our minor league rosters we look around for released ballplayers at positions we need for that particular year. It's great for them because it gives them another chance to show what they can do and be seen by the scouts again."

While Assistant Coach Tom Colburn pitched BP to the A's, Dennis Rogers and Salem's manager Joe Maddon chatted and did their "clipboard thing."

Players from high school and Latin American countries dominated the Salem team. Medford players already knew about their pitching. Their number one pick (8th in the country), LHP Bob Kipper and Kirk McCaskill, who chose baseball after also being drafted by pro ice hockey, had the most press. The surprise came later when they faced Rafael Lugo from Venezuela.

During all the activity, Medford's pitcher, Jim Feeley, sat alone in the dugout. He was pensive, seemingly planning his strategy for the game. Everyone stayed out of his way. This was Feeley's second season with the team and he obviously felt the need to deliver a win. Suddenly he jumped up, acted confident and mentally prepared, and trotted to the bullpen to warm up.

Feeley was one of a kind. He went through a lot just for a chance to play pro baseball in the Oakland organization. He yearned for success yet he always seemed to shoot himself in the foot. Last year he only pitched a handful of innings due to various nagging injuries. Rumor was the organization thought he was a whiner.

He was a loner by design. He chose to rent a room from a family in Medford rather than room with other players. They tried to get him to be more a part of the team by playing little pranks on him, but he always protested their attempts at humor with, "Aw, c'mon now," in his deep voice with his Iowa accent.

To top it off, after the first week or so he didn't get much support from Rogers or his teammates because he didn't seem to want it. He was there because he threw the ball extremely hard, but wild, and opposing batters were totally intimidated. In fact, nobody wanted to catch him in the pen, let alone in a game.

My observation was that Feeley never received attention from roving pitching instructor Jim Perry, or from any other source. He was more or less left to figure things out for himself. He never did.

The events of these two games were the source of what became a full-blown phobia concerning the Salem Angels and Chemeketa.

Friday night the team that had 42 hits in its last three games could only scrounge three for all its efforts. Feeley hit the first batter he faced then pitched effectively before leaving the game after three. Relief pitcher Greg Mine gave up six runs, and that was enough for the Angels, whose cause was furthered by four Medford errors. Then, adding insult to injury, with Bathe on second and one run in the ninth, Phil Strom walked then promptly got himself picked off first base for the last out. Final score: Salem 6 - Medford 3.

Duane Murphy, former ML player, 12 seasons: "Let me tell you. You're always gonna have those days, even in the major leagues. But it seems so much worse in the minor leagues 'cause you know there's always scouts or somebody out there watching you. Heck, they're even out there at this level [majors] because there will be certain teams wanting to trade for you. In the long run they just wanna see how you play, and that's always good. And there's always things like 'I got up on the wrong side of the bed,' or 'I don't feel so good.' But those are NOT excuses for dropping that fly ball or missing the cut-off man or taking the collar. We're expected to perform at top level…our very best…every day when we go to the park and step on the field. That's what being a professional baseball player is all about. We have to put it aside and get on with the next game. That's all we can do. What's done is done."

Saturday I had the chance to meet and interview two Salem players, pitcher Bob Kipper from Aurora, Illinois, and infielder Mike Rizzo, who lived down the street from Wrigley Field in Chicago. They struck an immediate friendship and became roommates for the season. While most players found cheap apartments, these two had the right idea. They got a deal from a nice motel in Salem and rented a double room. It saved them lots of money. They had furniture, free phone, daily maid service, and a 24-hour coffee shop. Smart, huh? I thought so.

That night a large crowd arrived earlier than usual for the game, and the Medford dugout was almost as noisy as they were. Strom started the chatter. "Notice how many of these guys can't speak English but they're learning baseball speak. Listen closely and you'll hear 'em yell to the pitcher, 'Common beeeeeeg guy, you can do-o-o-o-o-o eeeeeeet!'"

"Man, these fans are ser-I-ous," pitcher Mikki Jackson complained as he walked in from the bullpen.

"Glad I'm not on the hill tonight," Barry laughed.

"I gotta GET these guys tonight!" Strom interjected, banging the head of his bat on the dugout steps. "They picked me off first like a dog last night." He clenched his lips. He wasn't joking around any more.

"Go get 'em beeeeeeeg guy, you can do-o-o-o-o-o eeeeeeet!" Glenn Godwin mimicked and got a dirty look for his trouble.

By the time the game began, the A's had convinced themselves last night was a fluke and tonight they'd be invincible. The place was electric. Angels' fans were hyped for victory, and the action on the field was exciting. Jim Feeley's outing was brief, and things went down hill for Medford after that, and the A's came up short. Final score: Salem 6 - Medford 3.

According to schedule, all room keys had been turned in that morning, so after the game they showered at the field using the Angels' facilities. The bus stopped at Wendy's for a few minutes, then they settled in for a quiet ride back to Medford. They arrived at Miles Field at 3:45 A.M. The place was black except for the reflection of a few lights from the sawmill across the street. Before they exited the bus, Rogers reminded them to be at the park by 4:30 that afternoon. Within minutes the place was desolate and silent.

SUNDAY, JULY 4…MONDAY, JULY5…TUESDAY, JULY 6

By three o'clock players began drifting into the park. The Michigan Connection arrived and, as usual Ray Thoma was chattering. But this time he wasn't kidding around. He wanted to find out about the games he'd missed.

A few players approached him wondering if he would play that night.

"Can't," he answered without his smile for the first time. "Tendonitis. "

Bob Feller, member, Hall of Fame: "You never want to imagine injury, but if you do have an ailment, the best thing for it is rest. At this level they're always afraid someone's gonna take their position. The old story of Lou Gehrig and Wally Pipp pops into their minds. But they must rest and do whatever their manager tells them, or risk permanent injury that could end a career before it gets off the ground. Resting is much harder mentally than playing injured."

"WHEW! @*)^***&%@@!!! Doc, did these uniforms get washed? They stink! They still look filthy!" loud complaints rang out from the clubhouse.

"So that's what I'm smelling. I thought someone locked a bunch of cats in here while we were gone."

They were not happy campers, and with good reason. "AW, &&^$%^%&^$@, quit acting like a bunch of @$&&%$# babies!" the trainer shouted back in his gruff voice. "They got washed. We just ran out of soap."

"Yeah, right. So what are we paying clubhouse dues for?" another player mumbled under his breath.

"To keep Doc in milkshakes," another snickered.

They had no choice and they knew it. They began dressing down and suiting up, but they were not happy about it.

The blackboard said a team meeting was scheduled for 4:45.

"Team meeting? Have no fear guys. I'm pitching tonight so everything's cool," Eric Barry

"Terrific. I know we all feel so much better now," another answered sarcastically.

The meeting was brief. One of the players told me later that Rogers calmly but seriously explained his hopes that the double losses at Salem woke them up. He reminded them they were not invincible after all, and they'd better shape up and stay focused on their goals.

I never attended their meetings. It wasn't my place. I never sat in their dugout because I didn't earn a seat there like they did. That was their world.

Perhaps Rogers had a magic touch, or maybe it was just their own anger at losing the series at Salem. Whatever it was, the Medford A's had a snappy batting practice, and took the field with confidence to face the Salem Angels on their own turf for this three-game series. They wanted revenge. They got it.

In a nutshell, the fireworks that followed the game seemed insignificant compared to those created by the team as they swept the series. Sunday, 10-1; Monday, 22-3; Tuesday, 9-7.
 
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