Tag Archives: Minor League Baseball

Southpaw Flashback: Orlando’s Historic Tinker Field Felled by Progress

Editor’s Note: For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 5 on our countdown is a column from May 6, 2015.

After receiving a one year stay of execution, the appeals process for a historic ballpark in Orlando, FL. ran out last week and the grandstands of Tinker Field began to crumble in the name of progress.

Think of almost any baseball player from the 20th Century and odds are pretty good that they stepped foot on the infield grass of Tinker Field at one time or another.

For several years one of the highlights of my birthday was seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play at Tinker Field. Photo R. Anderson
For several years one of the highlights of my birthday was seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

From Spring Training for Major League Baseball, to full seasons of Minor League Baseball, the quaint little ballpark in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl was a unique venue where a who’s who of baseball players played from 1923 to 1999.

The last professional affiliated baseball at Tinker Field occurred in 1999 with the Orlando Rays who were the Double-A farm team for the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the Orlando Rays were the last of the Southern League teams to call Tinker Field home, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

The Orlando Twins, Orlando Cubs and Orlando Sun Rays were among the many teams to call Tinker Field home.

The Orlando Juice of the Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA) even spent a season playing on the hallowed field in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl.

This ticket stub allowed me entrance to Tinker Field where I ended up meeting one of my favorite baseball figures Earl Weaver outside the third base dugout. Photo R. Anderson
This ticket stub allowed me entrance to Tinker Field where I ended up meeting one of my favorite baseball figures Earl Weaver outside the third base dugout.
Photo R. Anderson

Eventually it was the shadowy neighbor looming over right field that signed Tinker Field’s death warrant.

While time and neglect certainly played a role in the demise of the nearly century old facility, it was a massive expansion of the Citrus Bowl that hastened the demise of Tinker Field.

The expansion of concourses crept into right field to the point that Tinker Field could no longer function as a professional baseball field due to an outfield depth that would make a Little Leaguer feel like Barry Bonds sending everything he hits over the fence.

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida.  Photo R. Anderson
Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

So, despite being declared a national historic site, the demolition of Tinker Field is in full swing with the goal of removing every trace of grandstand, bleacher and dugout before a June Rolling Stones concert takes place at the Citrus Bowl.

Of course, while I can’t get no satisfaction in the fact that the stands where I spent summer nights of my youth will soon be reduced to dust, I can take some solace in the fact that the actual playing field will be saved as a small nod to the history that occurred there.

There is also some solace in the fact that many of the seats from Tinker Field were removed and will be sold to fans for use in their dens and Florida rooms.

Still despite saving some seats and the clay and grass part of Tinker Field, it will not really be Tinker Field anymore without the stands which once echoed with the sounds of the crack of the bats, cheering fans, and the Caribbean accented shouts of a peanut vendor who looked an awful lot like O.J. Simpson.

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida. Of the three lost Ballparks the loss of Tinker Field hits the hardest as it is the one where I made the most baseball memories.

Tinker Field was where I first was able to see a live Spring Training baseball game on my birthday which is a tradition I still try to maintain each year.

Tinker Field was where I met and spoke with the late Earl Weaver on the third base line.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark. Photo R. Anderson
While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Tinker Field was also where I saw the Clown Prince of Baseball himself, Max Patkin, perform his shtick on a sunny Florida day.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.

During our trips to Tinker Field my mom and I were often joined for a few innings by team president, Pat Williams, who was also the General Manager of the Orlando Magic at the time, and I used to think how cool it would be to be a team executive getting paid to watch baseball.

I have yet to fully realize that dream of spending all of my summer nights as a Minor League Baseball employee but I may yet before all is said and done and when I do it will be because of those nights at Tinker Field.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World and it was easier to sell everything at a discount instead of moving it to the new facility.

I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap. To this day I am amazed that the employee correctly guessed my hat size just by looking at me. I am also amazed that in the years since my head has grown to the point where I can no longer comfortably wear the fitted wool cap.

I don’t know what happened to that vendor but I like to think he lived out his remaining years comfortably after his days at the ballpark were over randomly telling people on the street how big their heads were.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World.  I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap that I treasure to this day. Photo R. Anderson
I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World. I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap that I treasure to this day.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orlando Rays’ time at Walt Disney World was short lived and the team moved to Montgomery, Alabama and became known as the Biscuits.

To this day there are still no Minor League Baseball teams in Orlando making the decision to tear down Tinker Field an easier pill to swallow for some.

Others point to the peeling paint and overworked plumbing as reasons that it is best to raze the ballpark instead of spending money to preserve it and bring it up to current code.

In Houston people are dealing with a similar potential loss of a treasured sports fixture as the pending demolition of the Astrodome seems all but certain.

Recently fans were allowed inside the Astrodome as part of its 50th birthday celebration. The long term fate of the so called “eighth wonder of the world” is unknown. Like Tinker Field the Astrodome last hosted professional baseball in 1999.

With each year that passes it seems more and more likely that the Astrodome will also fall victim to a wrecking ball despite its historical significance.

The loss of the physical building, while difficult, does not take away the memories that occurred in those facilities.

Just as I am sure that there are people with fond memories of whichever Ballpark they grew up with, I can close my eyes and still picture Tinker Field the way I remember it right down to the tennis ball throwing peanut vendor, and the sounds of the rattling ceiling fans that tried their best to cool fans on those humid Florida nights.

I prefer to think of Tinker Field like it was, and not like the neglected facility it became.

The wheel of progress is always turning and sometimes it brings a bulldozer with it to raze the buildings of our youth.

Ticket stubs like this one from a Spring Training game at Baseball City Stadium, and memories are all that are left from the three Ballparks from my youth that have been torn down. Photo R. Anderson
Ticket stubs like this one from a Spring Training game at Baseball City Stadium, and memories, are all that are left from the three Ballparks from my youth that have been torn down.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess the morale of the story is to treasure your brick and mortar Ballparks while you can while building up memories that can last long after the Ballparks are gone.

Or as Simon and Garfunkel would say, “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Ballpark memories to preserve.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

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Orlando’s Tinker Field Felled by Progress

After receiving a one year stay of execution, the appeals process for a historic ballpark in Orlando, FL. ran out last week and the grandstands of Tinker Field began to crumble in the name of progress.

Think of almost any baseball player from the 20th Century and odds are pretty good that they stepped foot on the infield grass of Tinker Field at one time or another.

For several years one of the highlights of my birthday was seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play at Tinker Field. Photo R. Anderson
For several years one of the highlights of my birthday was seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

From Spring Training for Major League Baseball, to full seasons of Minor League Baseball, the quaint little ballpark in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl was a unique venue where a who’s who of baseball players played from 1923 to 1999.

The last professional affiliated baseball at Tinker Field occurred in 1999 with the Orlando Rays who were the Double-A farm team for the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the Orlando Rays were the last of the Southern League teams to call Tinker Field home, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

The Orlando Twins, Orlando Cubs and Orlando Sun Rays were among the many teams to call Tinker Field home.

The Orlando Juice of the Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA) even spent a season playing on the hallowed field in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl.

This ticket stub allowed me entrance to Tinker Field where I ended up meeting one of my favorite baseball figures Earl Weaver outside the third base dugout. Photo R. Anderson
This ticket stub allowed me entrance to Tinker Field where I ended up meeting one of my favorite baseball figures Earl Weaver outside the third base dugout.
Photo R. Anderson

Eventually it was the shadowy neighbor looming over right field that signed Tinker Field’s death warrant.

While time and neglect certainly played a role in the demise of the nearly century old facility, it was a massive expansion of the Citrus Bowl that hastened the demise of Tinker Field.

The expansion of concourses crept into right field to the point that Tinker Field could no longer function as a professional baseball field due to an outfield depth that would make a Little Leaguer feel like Barry Bonds sending everything he hits over the fence.

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida.  Photo R. Anderson
Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

So, despite being declared a national historic site, the demolition of Tinker Field is in full swing with the goal of removing every trace of grandstand, bleacher and dugout before a June Rolling Stones concert takes place at the Citrus Bowl.

Of course, while I can’t get no satisfaction in the fact that the stands where I spent summer nights of my youth will soon be reduced to dust, I can take some solace in the fact that the actual playing field will be saved as a small nod to the history that occurred there.

There is also some solace in the fact that many of the seats from Tinker Field were removed and will be sold to fans for use in their dens and Florida rooms.

Still despite saving some seats and the clay and grass part of Tinker Field, it will not really be Tinker Field anymore without the stands which once echoed with the sounds of the crack of the bats, cheering fans, and the Caribbean accented shouts of a peanut vendor who looked an awful lot like O.J. Simpson.

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida. Of the three lost Ballparks the loss of Tinker Field hits the hardest as it is the one where I made the most baseball memories.

Tinker Field was where I first was able to see a live Spring Training baseball game on my birthday which is a tradition I still try to maintain each year.

Tinker Field was where I met and spoke with the late Earl Weaver on the third base line.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark. Photo R. Anderson
While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Tinker Field was also where I saw the Clown Prince of Baseball himself, Max Patkin, perform his shtick on a sunny Florida day.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.

During our trips to Tinker Field my mom and I were often joined for a few innings by team president, Pat Williams, who was also the General Manager of the Orlando Magic at the time, and I used to think how cool it would be to be a team executive getting paid to watch baseball.

I have yet to fully realize that dream of spending all of my summer nights as a Minor League Baseball employee but I may yet before all is said and done and when I do it will be because of those nights at Tinker Field.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World and it was easier to sell everything at a discount instead of moving it to the new facility.

I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap. To this day I am amazed that the employee correctly guessed my hat size just by looking at me. I am also amazed that in the years since my head has grown to the point where I can no longer comfortably wear the fitted wool cap.

I don’t know what happened to that vendor but I like to think he lived out his remaining years comfortably after his days at the ballpark were over randomly telling people on the street how big their heads were.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World.  I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap that I treasure to this day. Photo R. Anderson
I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World. I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap that I treasure to this day.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orlando Rays’ time at Walt Disney World was short lived and the team moved to Montgomery, Alabama and became known as the Biscuits.

To this day there are still no Minor League Baseball teams in Orlando making the decision to tear down Tinker Field an easier pill to swallow for some.

Others point to the peeling paint and overworked plumbing as reasons that it is best to raze the ballpark instead of spending money to preserve it and bring it up to current code.

In Houston people are dealing with a similar potential loss of a treasured sports fixture as the pending demolition of the Astrodome seems all but certain.

Recently fans were allowed inside the Astrodome as part of its 50th birthday celebration. The long term fate of the so called “eighth wonder of the world” is unknown. Like Tinker Field the Astrodome last hosted professional baseball in 1999.

With each year that passes it seems more and more likely that the Astrodome will also fall victim to a wrecking ball despite its historical significance.

The loss of the physical building, while difficult, does not take away the memories that occurred in those facilities.

Just as I am sure that there are people with fond memories of whichever Ballpark they grew up with, I can close my eyes and still picture Tinker Field the way I remember it right down to the tennis ball throwing peanut vendor, and the sounds of the rattling ceiling fans that tried their best to cool fans on those humid Florida nights.

I prefer to think of Tinker Field like it was, and not like the neglected facility it became.

The wheel of progress is always turning and sometimes it brings a bulldozer with it to raze the buildings of our youth.

Ticket stubs like this one from a Spring Training game at Baseball City Stadium, and memories are all that are left from the three Ballparks from my youth that have been torn down. Photo R. Anderson
Ticket stubs like this one from a Spring Training game at Baseball City Stadium, and memories, are all that are left from the three Ballparks from my youth that have been torn down.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess the morale of the story is to treasure your brick and mortar Ballparks while you can while building up memories that can last long after the Ballparks are gone.

Or as Simon and Garfunkel would say, “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Ballpark memories to preserve.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

May the Fourth Be With You and Play Ball

Today is May 4th, and in many Ballparks in galaxies both near and far, far away, teams will be celebrating in blockbuster ways in honor of a little science fiction franchise that first hit the global scene before most of the current professional ballplayers were even born.

That science fiction franchise was Star Wars and for those who may not be aware, May 4th is known as Star Wars Day due to a pun surrounding a popular phrase found in the films.

That phrase of course is “May the force be with you,” which can easily translate to “May the fourth be with you.”

The link between Star Wars and baseball has lasted for many years. Today, one Star Wars Day the tradition continues as several Minor League Baseball teams will wear special Star Wars themed jerseys. Photo R. Anderson
The link between Star Wars and baseball has lasted for many years. Today, one Star Wars Day the tradition continues as several Minor League Baseball teams will wear special Star Wars themed jerseys.
Photo R. Anderson

For years baseball teams have celebrated May 4th in the Ballpark but how many times can you really dust off that storm trooper costume to throw out the first pitch before it gets a feeling of been there done that?

With teams looking for creative and new ways to celebrate Star Wars Day it was only a matter of time then until May the Fourth was celebrated on a Minor League Baseball diamond in the form of players wearing Star Wars themed jerseys.

Two years ago the Wookie awakening occurred when the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A Affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, celebrated both May the Fourth, and May the Fifth, wearing jerseys that looked like a Wookie complete with utility belt.

Not to be outdone the Kane County Cougars, the Chicago Cubs Class A affiliate, went Wookie wild last year with a double dose of furry jerseys on May 2 and an encore on August 30.

While players dressing up as Wookie is a fairly new Ballpark trend it is not the first time that a Wookie, or at least an actor who played a Wookie, has been at a Minor League Ballpark.

Even the players on the Jumbotron get a Star Wars treatment as was the case when the St. Louis Cardinals visited Minute Maid Park a few years back. Photo R. Anderson
Even the players on the Jumbotron get a Star Wars treatment as was the case when the St. Louis Cardinals visited Minute Maid Park a few years back.
Photo R. Anderson

During a May 1, 2010 game between the Oklahoma City Red Hawks and the New Orleans Zephers Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Wookie extraordinaire Chewbacca, threw out the first pitch as part of the 30th Anniversary celebration of the original Star Wars film.

While Wookie jerseys have a certain been there done that feel to them after two years on the field, a timeless go to jersey involves a certain trash can shaped droid.

Last year the Durham Bulls, Class Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, celebrated May the fourth in R2-D2 uniforms. This year The Round Rock Express, Class Triple-A affiliate of Texas Rangers, kicked of Star Wars Night a tad early by rocking the R2-D2 look on the Dell Diamond last Friday.

While the Round Rock Express started the celebration early, the Sugar Land Skeeters will wait until August 8 for the force to be with them on Star Wars Night showing that the world of Star Wars cannot be contained to a single day.

One does not need to be from a galaxy far, far away to feel the force on May 4th. Photo R. Anderson
One does not need to be from a galaxy far, far away to feel the force on May 4th.
Photo R. Anderson

With the spirit of Star Wars lasting from generation to generation it is likely that the force will still be strong in the Ballpark in August when Star Wars Night rolls around.

Another popular go to jersey for a Ballpark Star Wars celebration is the ever popular Darth Vader look.

It seems that if a team is going to the trouble of wearing Darth Vader jerseys though they should invite James Earl Jones, the man behind the voice of Vader, to announce the players.

Of course with James Earl Jones playing a pivotal role in Field of Dreams it seems even more appropriate to have his booming voice over the Ballpark public address system.

That truly would be a field of dreams to see James Earl Jones announcing a game with players dressed up as Darth Vader.

It would be made even more magical if the announcement was made using the Darth Vader voice box.

The Sugar Land Skeeters will celebrate their Star Wars Night in August which means I still have some time to decide what to wear. Photo R. Anderson
The Sugar Land Skeeters will celebrate their Star Wars Night in August which means I still have some time to decide what to wear.
Photo R. Anderson

Just picture it, “Now batting (insert breathing sounds), Ray (insert breathing sounds), Smith”

Of course players are not the only ones who get into the May the fourth festivities.

Often times fans dust off their finest galactic duds to head to the Ballpark as part of the celebration.

A few years back a complete regiment of Storm Troopers descended upon Minute Maid Park as part of the Houston Astros’ May the Fourth celebration.

It is all done in good fun and is kind of cool to see the worlds of film and baseball combine in such an entertaining way.

Another staple of many May the Fourth Ballpark celebrations is a post game fireworks show.

Baseball, hot dogs, and post game pyrotechnics, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course if they could manage a Millennium Falcon pregame flyover it would be an epic May the Fourth indeed.

With a new batch of Star Wars films slated to come out over the next few years it is almost certain that the link between Jedi knights and balls in flight will continue for years to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if I can still make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. And May the fourth be with you.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

 

Hooks will Host Missions in Futures Game at Minute Maid Park

Tomorrow the Corpus Christi Hooks, who are celebrating their 10th year of existence, will play their first home ever game away from Whataburger Field when they host the San Antonio Missions in a Texas State League Futures game at Minute Maid Park.

While Minute Maid Park is usually home to the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball, the facility will transform into a Minor League Ballpark for one night as the Double-A Hooks of the Astros farm system play the San Diego Padres farm club the Missions.

Of course there are some people who might think based on the performance of the Astros the past few 100 plus loss seasons that Minute Maid Park was already playing host to a Minor League ball club.

Despite appearances at times the Astros are in fact a Major League ball club.

Even though the Houston region is home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent Atlantic League, tomorrow’s game will mark the first affiliated regular season Minor League Baseball game played in Houston in over half a century.

The Corpus Christi Hooks will play their first home game outside of Whataburger Field tomorrow night at Minute Maid Park against the San Antonio Missions. Photo R. Anderson
The Corpus Christi Hooks will play their first home game outside of Whataburger Field tomorrow night at Minute Maid Park against the San Antonio Missions.
Photo R. Anderson

Although there are three Ballparks that the Hooks normally play at within four hours of Houston, for those unable to travel to Frisco, San Antonio or Corpus Christi the Futures Game will be their first chance to see them play in person.

For many years I have traveled to Frisco, Texas to see the Hooks play the Rough Riders at Dr. Pepper Ballpark.

I even ventured out to see the Hooks at their home Ballpark a few years back but bringing the team to the base in Houston is an excellent way to build the brand while giving fans a chance to see the future of the big ball club.

Staging a Minor League game in Houston is also a great way to gauge potential interest in moving one of the team’s clubs closer to the home region as has been a recent trend among the relocation of Triple-A clubs.

Besides market research another thing the Futures Game has going for it is rarity since the chance to see a Minor League Baseball game within a Major League Ballpark does not come along that often.

It is likely that the atmosphere within the Ballpark will be a cross between the intimacy of a Minor League game and the spectacle of excess of a Major League game.

The trick with any event like this is striking the right balance between the two.

The players will also need to strike the balance of not getting overwhelmed at the prospect of being inside a Major League Ballpark and just play their game.

The Corpus Christi Hooks have called Whataburger Field home for all of their 10 seasons of play as a Minor League affiliate of the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson
The Corpus Christi Hooks have called Whataburger Field home for all of their 10 seasons of play as a Minor League affiliate of the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

While the stands may be larger the distance between the bases and from the pitcher’s mound to home plate remains the same between a Minor League and Major League diamond.

As noted before I cut my in person baseball watching teeth mostly in the Minor Leagues and have a special place in my heart for the game at that level.

While there are always exceptions, the game at the Minor League level always seemed to be more about the players and less about the pay check.

While every Minor League roster includes high paid prospects for the most part the rosters are filled with guys just trying to make a living playing the game that they love for as long as they can.

Minor League Baseball is also very much about the fan experience. From the kids running after foul balls to the people filling out their score cards there is a certain atmosphere that makes the Ballpark come alive.

In recent years the corporate aspects of the Major League game have made their way into the Minor League system so it will likely not be too long until the Minor Leagues become just as corporate driven as their MLB counterparts.

One can only hope that Minor League games remain affordable to the point where families can continue to go to experience the game in person and pass that love of the game on to future generations.

At its core the game of baseball will always be best experienced live. There are certain elements that even the best surround sound high definition television cannot replicate.

Besides, one cannot catch a ball or a free t-shirt from the comfort of their couch.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get ready for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

McGrady Shows That he Wants to Be Like Mike

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon’s attempt to become a professional baseball player.

For those who may have been too young to know, or old enough to have forgotten, “Air Jordon” took a stab at being “Ballpark Jordon” during a stint with the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon's tenure as a Minor League Baseball player. Tracy McGrady is trying to be like Mike and make the rster of the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League. Photo R. Anderson
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon’s tenure as a Minor League Baseball player. Tracy McGrady is trying to be like Mike and make the roster of the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.
Photo R. Anderson

As a 31-year-old multimillionaire with NBA titles under his belt Jordon certainly did not fit the mold of the typical Minor League Baseball player but in a gesture of good will towards his new teammates his “Airness” bought the team a new bus to travel all of the Southern League back roads on.

Throughout Jordon’s time with the Barons Ballparks across the Southern League sold out as fans crowded to see the future NBA Hall of Famer in action on the diamond.

Jordon’s time as a baseball player was also given the Hollywood treatment in the movie Space Jam.

When the Michael Jordon baseball carnival rolled into a Ballpark every media outlet in town sent a reporter and a photographer down to capture every swing of the bat and to capture the electricity in the stands.

By most accounts Jordon’s baseball career was a complete flop.

Or to put it more kindly Jordon was one of the many Minor League prospects who just don’t pan out and have to fall back on another career in order to put food on the table.

For Jordon the post baseball career included a return to the NBA and the Chicago Bulls and some more championships.

Now, 20 years after the Jordon baseball experiment another retired NBA star is set to try to find extra innings in his athletic career through Minor League baseball.

After retiring from the NBA, Tracy McGrady is trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.

While it is unknown if McGrady will earn one of the 27 roster spots available on the team his presence has already created a bit of buzz around the Skeeters facility.

At 6’8” McGrady creates a towering presence on the mound.

Former Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady is looking to join the ranks of the Sugar Land Skeeters as a pitcher. Photo R. Anderson
Former Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady is looking to join the ranks of the Sugar Land Skeeters as a pitcher.
Photo R. Anderson

Teams tend to like taller pitchers as they allow the ball to have more downward movement in most cases.

So from a size and stature standpoint McGrady has the intangibles to be a successful pitcher.

From a marketing perspective the Skeeters, fresh off of an Atlantic League crown, are benefiting from the publicity that comes from a former basketball player turned pitcher.

The Skeeters are also the team who lured Roger Clemens out of retirement to make a couple of starts during their inaugural season to stir up some publicity so they know a thing or two about putting on a show.

Like Roger Clemens who had both ties to Houston and a Hall of Fame worthy career, McGrady is also quite a household name around town with the local fan base since he was a member of the Houston Rockets.

Of course as Michael Jordon showed it is not easy to switch gears late in one’s career and try something completely new.

There have certainly been successful two sport stars before but most of them played both sports at a high level throughout high school and college before going pro.

Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are perhaps the most famous two sport athletes and each played both baseball and football at a high level.

If all goes to plan Tracy McGrady will be up on the Texas jumbotron soon for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
If all goes to plan Tracy McGrady will be up on the Texas jumbotron soon for the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

But neither Jackson nor Sanders waited until after retiring from one of the sports to pick up the other.

I think the world needs another Bo and “Prime Time” to spice things up but I also think the commitments from teams on athletes nowadays would make it difficult for a two sport star to succeed.

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, and under contract of the Texas Rangers, is the next logical player to be a two sport star but it is unlikely that the Seahawks would want to risk their star quarterback getting injured on the baseball field.

Of course Wilson could always decide to go into baseball after his NFL career is over since baseball players on average can play longer than football players.

But that brings us back to McGrady and his attempt to turn pro in a new sport.

In order for McGrady to make the team he will need to knock one of the existing pitchers off of the roster.

Rosters will be finalized next week so it will be known at that time whether Tracy McGrady can add professional baseball player to his already impressive athletic roster.

There will be a few Spring Training games between now and the roster deadline to allow him to show his stuff on the mound and for the coaches to decide whether or not he makes the opening day roster.

If Tracy McGrady does make the roster for the Skeeters and trades jump shots for curve balls he will join a unique set of players who have enjoyed a second act with a new sport.

As another bonus should McGrady defy the odds and make the team is that his battery mate behind the plate will be Koby Clemens, son of Roger Clemens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch a basketball player pitch.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson