We don’t get many current or former major league players to play at Hickory.
There are other teams in the South Atlantic League that are close enough to get occasional visitors from their parent major league clubs. Rome (Ga.) is an hour drive from Sun Trust Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves. Lakewood (N.J.) is an hour and 15 minutes from Philadelphia, while Hagerstown (Md.) is about 90 minutes out from Nationals Park in Washington.
However, Hickory has never been anywhere close to its major league affiliate. To have a major leaguer rehab here, it’s about as rare as the sightings of Big Foot. So, when the Rangers announced that Martin Perez is scheduled to pitch here today, the excitement for fans in our corner of the baseball world is amped up.
Should Perez make the start, he will become the tenth former big leaguer to play here, the third after David Lundquist and Jurickson Profar to return to Hickory after playing here previously. I thought I’d take a moment to give fans a little history of previous major league players that have donned a Crawdads uniform.
Chicago White Sox affiliation
Jason Bere (1996 and 1997) The right-hander pitched in the American League Championship Series in 1993 and followed that up with an all-star appearance in 1994, during which he finished the strike-shortened season at 12-2 in 24 starts. He was never really the same after that and he experienced elbow problems in 1995 that eventually led to a Tommy John surgery late in 1996. As part of a series of rehab starts with several of the White Sox affiliates prior to the surgery, Bere threw a three-hitter over five shutout innings and struck out five. Following the surgery, he returned for another rehab start the next July. This start wasn’t as sharp as he gave up two runs on four hits over three innings.
Jim Abbott (’98): One of the baseball’s most inspirational players, the left-hander was trying to work his way back to the major leagues after the California Angels released him in spring training of 1997, following a 2-18 season. After spending time away from the game, the White Sox signed him in May 1998 and Abbott came to Hickory soon after for his first minor-league start. Over four innings, Abbott gave up a run on three hits, walked two and struck out two. Abbott went on to pitch for the White Sox and finished up his career in 1999 with Milwaukee.
Josias Manzanillo (’02): The right-hander made his big-league debut two seasons before the Crawdads played their first game in 1993. Strictly a reliever, Manzanillo pitched for six different clubs before the Pirates picked him up in 2000. Manzanillo became a free agent after the 2001, but after he was unable to sign with another team, the Pirates resigned him. However, under the rules of that time, Manzanillo was unable to pitch for the major league club until May 1. So, Manzanillo took to the hill with Hickory for an outing. In his two innings of relief, he gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits and struck out one. Manzanillo returned to the Pirates on May 1, but got hurt and sat out six weeks before coming back to the mound. The Pirates later released him and he pitched for two more big-league seasons before calling it quits in 2005.
Bob Henley (’02): Henley was the first big-league position player to come to Hickory. Very little is known about his signing and no date is available for the game in which he played. A catcher, Henley played just 41 games in the majors in 1998 with the Montreal Expos. An elbow injury cut short his tenure in the majors and after abbreviated seasons in 1999 and 2000, the Expos cut him in spring training 2001. Pittsburgh signed him in 2002 but the only appearance he made with the organization was with Hickory. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout as the team’s DH. It turned out to be the final game as a player. Henley is currently in his fifth season as the Washington Nationals third-base coach.
David Lundquist (’04): Lundquist has several unique contributions to Crawdads history. He is the only player to suit up for Hickory as a part of two different affiliations. Lundquist is the first player to later return as a coach, as he led the pitchers in 2006 and 2007. He is also the first to return to Hickory after playing in the big leagues. The right-hander made 27 starts for the team in 1994 as a part of the White Sox days. Lundquist went on to make his big-league debut for Chicago in 1999 and later pitched in 2001 and 2002 with the San Diego Padres. Lundquist was a minor-league free agent signee with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2004, After struggling at AA Altoona, Lundquist was sent to Hickory and he became a crucial part of the team’s championship run. He posted a 0.93 ERA in ten relief outings and posted 21 Ks in 19.1 innings. His stint with Hickory was the last stop as a player. He is currently in his third season as the pitching coach for AAA Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia).
Adam LaRoche (’08): The slugging first baseman came to the Pirates in 2007 from the Atlanta Braves in a trade that involved two other Hickory Crawdads. Jamie Romak also came to the Pirates and suited up for Hickory that April. Brett Lillibridge, a shortstop on the 2006 squad, went to Atlanta. An intercostal strain put him on the disabled list in July 2008 and it was at Hickory that he played three games before rejoining the Pirates in mid-August. In his first game with the Crawdads, LaRoche crushed one of the longest home runs ever hit by a lefty. The blast one-hopped the service road the runs beyond the right-field fence. LaRoche went 6-for-10 with a double and the home run. He went on to play seven more seasons and retired during spring training of 2016 with the White Sox.
Daniel Bard (’14): The combination of “Steve Blass” disease – the inability to throw a baseball accurately – and surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome derailed the pitching career of Bard. A month after the procedure, the Texas Rangers took a flier on the right-hander when they signed him to a minor-league deal in February 2014. He made four appearances for the Crawdads from June 5 to June 15 and recorded two outs. The yips raged for Bard has he hit seven batters, walked nine. The Rangers released him on June 18. The Cubs, Cardinals and Mets each had a go at fixing what ailed Bard before he officially retired during the previous offseason.
Jurickson Profar (’15): Shoulder injuries cost the former top major league prospect two full big-league seasons. Once Profar resumed baseball activities following a surgery for a torn labrum in early 2015, he joined his brother Juremi at Hickory in late August 2015 to start his rehab assignments. The 2011 South Atlantic League’s MVP went 9-for-33 as the Crawdads DH with a double and a homer over nine games. Profar is currently with the Rangers.
James Jones (’16): The former fourth-round pick of the Seattle Mariners made his major-league debut with the club in 2014. Jones was traded to the Texas Rangers in November 2015 and then released two weeks later. The Rangers re-signed him eight days later and decided to convert Jones to be a pitcher. He first saw game action on the mound with the AZL Rangers rookie affiliate before joining Hickory. Jones’ debuted with Hickory on August 9 and was pulled after giving up four runs on four hits and a walk over 2/3 of an inning. It was soon found that Jones needed “Tommy John” surgery and was out for a year. Jones returned this year with High-A Down East and is currently on the roster at AA Frisco.