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The 1993 Hickory Crawdads: Stories of the first season

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Bottom row (L to R): Toby Lehman, Frank Menechino Top row: Andrew McCormack, Brian Woods, John Quirk, Bill Proctor (courtesy John Quirk)

(The following is what I hope will be a series of articles about each of the 27 seasons of Hickory baseball.  As I crank out more entries, the layout may get tweaked, but the idea was to give a sense of some of the names that came to L.P. Frans Stadium, as well as their stories. For this article about the 1993, I reached out to as many players and personnel through social media. My thanks to Ted Rich, Chris Gay, Dre Levias, Chris Mader, JuJu Phillips, Bill Proctor, Bob Mumma and John Quirk for responding with their memories and, in some cases, their photos. Many thanks also to Ashley Salinas of the Hickory Crawdads for scrapbook photos, which will be a part of this story.) 

As the Hickory Crawdads wait to play their 28th season at L.P. Frans Stadium, it is hard to imagine the area without minor league baseball. However, Catawba County was without a professional team for 30 years after the Newton-Conover Twins of the Class D Western Carolina League folded up shop after the 1962 season.

To break the drought of pro baseball, the wheels went into motion to bring a team back to Hickory. The city’s last minor league was a one-season return of the Hickory Rebels in 1960, also in the Western Carolina League. (The Rebels also played in 1939-1940, 1942 and 1945-54).

After six seasons at Sims Legion Park off I-85 in Gastonia, Don Beaver led a group that purchased the Gastonia Rangers from then-Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn. On land donated by the Winkler Family, L.P. Frans Stadium – named after Pepsi bottler Lee Polk Frans, who financed construction – took shape amid the surrounding forest to begin play in the South Atlantic League in 1993.

While games were played and future major leaguers came to town, the story of those early days were the people of Hickory, who embraced the idea of pro baseball playing in their town.

“I first remember the overwhelming support for the grassroots campaign of politicians and business leaders, who led the fundraising  efforts for a new ballpark,” said JuJu Phillips, who was on the steering committee that helped to make the dream of professional baseball come true and later served as one of the team’s public address announcers. “The excitement of bringing back professional sports was over the moon. It was Hickory’s ‘Age of Innocence’ about pro sports and baseball, an idea that became reality in a few short years. It was a definite ‘can do’ spirit that existed back then.”

With the biennial change of minor league affiliations due, the Crawdads ditched the Texas Rangers as the parent club and brought on the Chicago White Sox, which had made shifts of their own. The White Sox dropped its short-season affiliate in Utica, N.Y. in favor of two class Low-A teams. South Bend (Ind.) and now Hickory.

The town welcome its first players:

With the area hungry for pro baseball, the reception of the players by the locals was overwhelming.

“The team was considered rock stars,” Phillips said. “Limousines brought them from the Charlotte Airport for a “Meet the Crawdads” event at Frans Stadium before the season opener.”

Chris Mader, who played third for the Crawdads in the inaugural season, said the players got caught up in the excitement of the fans for the new team. “The people were truly jazzed to have a professional sports team in Hickory and the city was on fire. No matter where we went, the people were so welcoming and wanted to ask questions, get autographs, and ensure the players enjoyed living there.”

Mader

The excitement translated into box office success for the Crawdads, which drew 283,727 fans for the season, still a club record. However, the first year was not without its hiccups.

First-year growing pains:

A few weeks before the season began, the so-called “Storm of the Century” dumped nearly a foot of snow in Hickory on March 13. That put further pressure on construction workers to get the stadium ready for a mid-April opener.

When the time came to play ball, L.P. Frans was still being put together. From the unfinished canopy to unpaved parking lots, there was still work to be done. Most notably, the clubhouse was not finished.

“(My) favorite memory was on opening day,” recalled pitcher Chris Gay. “They still hadn’t finished the clubhouse because of a big snow off season. So, we were dressing in motor homes and had to hang our clothes on a piece of rope!”

Mader remembered the trailer-home clubhouses more vividly. “So, we only had access to a trailer (no showers, no training room, weight room, etc.) And not showering after an eight-hour day in a baseball uniform made that trailer nice and ripe after games!”

The parking lot took a while to get paved, as well. Pitcher Bill Proctor, who came to the Crawdads for the second half of the season after the White Sox took him in the 1993 draft, said the scene took him back to his home in Oregon.

“Every night,” Proctor recalled, “I just remember all the cars coming and going and all the dust that would be flying everywhere. It reminded me of being home on the farm by how dusty it was.”

Along with the stadium complex, the new field still had its share of issues. Outfield Dre Levias remembered how it affected him on a particular play.

“The outfield grass was laid in patches; therefore, the baseball would bounce from left to right making it hard to field ground balls. One game, a hard ground ball was hit to center field. I bent down to field it and when I looked up, the ball was nowhere in sight. It had went straight through my legs, not touching any of my glove – all the way to the outfield wall, Man, that was the longest run of my life going to get that baseball.”

As a team goes through its first season of doing things, lessons are learned. Such as it was on a fireworks night. Phillips had this memory:


“The night the hillside caught on fire during fireworks, which the team seemed to have about once a homestand, or every Friday and Saturday nights. Anyway, it was before the Hickory Fire Department came and watered down everything. We finished our interviews, walked back to the press conference to witness a major fire, that was near the gas reservoir also on the hillside.”

The Games Begin:

Anthem

The National Anthem before a game during the 1993 season (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

The team opened on the road and went 2-6 (the Crawdads as a franchise did not get above .500 until the 2014 season) before playing their first home game against Fayetteville (NC) on April 16. David Elsbernd threw the first pitch, Eddie Pearson had the first hit and scored the first run, and 6-foot-5, 240 lb. Juan Thomas blasted the first home run for Hickory. The Crawdads went on to win the first game 5-3 in front of 5,026 fans that squeezed into the ballpark.

The intensity of the fan base lasted throughout the season, and according to the Phillips, it was a crowd that stayed into every pitch.

“Fans often waited several hours to get tickets,” said Phillips of the buzz during the game, which lasted until the last out. “(They) cheered at everything. Groundouts to short, mostly though after good plays, and even the walk-up music that we played on cassette tapes. We usually tried to have something that had a person’s name in the song, even the opposition. It was a different time, more innocent. Except I used to have fans bring me beer especially on Thirsty Thursday.”

First baseman Ted Rich said the energy was felt on the field, as well.

“When (catcher) Bob Mumma would step into the batter’s box,” recounted Rich. “The announcer would say ‘Bob Moooooooooma’. And the whole crowd would yell ‘Mooooooooma’. It was fantastic.

Rich added, “The atmosphere was electric every night. Packed stadium (4500 fans I think), great announcers and between innings entertainment, and of course the Crawdad speeding around the field on the ATV. We were not a good baseball team, but the fans packed the stadium and supported us all season.”

Ted Rich

1B Ted Rich (courtesy Ted Rich)

Hickory went 52-88 in 1993, however, the love affair the fans had with the team did not wane.

“Since I didn’t get to Hickory until after the 1993 draft (14th round), I missed the first couple months there,” Proctor remembered. “The fans were crazy for baseball and I just remember the atmosphere was so energized.”

Ben Boulware, who was a seventh-round pick out of Cal Poly in 1993, was more direct. “You train your entire life,” said Boulware, “and to come to Hickory with a first-year stadium and crowd going nuts, (it) was super special and something I will never forget.”

Promotions:

Conrad

By all accounts, Chris Mader was the most popular player on the team that first season. A 53rd-round pick of the White Sox in 1991, he was the team’s only representative to the South Atlantic All-Star Game that season. He still has the club’s eighth highest on-base pct. in a season (.398), which was aided by 81 walks, the third most in a season.

mader (wife)

Crawdads 3B Chris Mader (r) and wife Kristen (courtesy Chris Mader)

The legend of Mader perhaps began on what would be an otherwise mundane night in April. The local Domino’s Pizza had a promotion that when the Crawdads scored ten or more runs, everyone in attendance would receive a small cheese pizza the next day.

The Crawdads had reached nine runs after seven innings with one more shot at pizza glory.

“As I recall,” Phillips said, “the chant went up for “Pizza, pizza, pizza” from the crowd of 3400.” Mader delivered with a two-run double that sent the fans into a frenzy – “it was like we had won the World Series,” said Mader – and the Domino’s franchise into a frenzy the next day to make good on the short-lived promotion.

Mader also had the honor of a ballpark item named after him.

“We had a lot of great promotions,” said Mader. “But I have to say, the day I found out they named a sandwich after me in the right field grille was something I will never forget! The ‘Toe- Mater’ sandwich.”

As teams often do, famous figures from sports are brought in for meet-and-greets with fans. One such guest had a special memory for Ted Rich.

“There was a night when Warren Spahn threw out the first pitch,” said Rich. “He was one of my Dad’s heroes, and he autographed a ball for me that night that my father still has today.”

Future Major League Players:

Seven Crawdads from the 1993 team went on to achieve major league status. Arguably, the most successful major leaguer to have played at Hickory was Magglio Ordonez. Six times an American League all-star, and the first former Crawdad to start in the Mid-Summer Classic (2007). Ordonez is the only former Hickory player to reach 2,000 hits and he finished his career with a .309/.369/.502 slash line.

“I had some great teammates,” Mader recounted. “But the guy with the most tools was Magglio Ordonez. He was a 5-tool guy (batting, hitting for power, fielding, throwing & running). He was rough around the edges and Hickory, but I knew he would make it all the way to the big leagues.”

However, as a skinny 19-year-old in his first full season, the Venezuelan hit .216 in 84 games with a .330 slugging pct.

“Magglio Ordonez was on that team,” said Phillips. “But, who could have seen a 165-pound skinny outfielder who hit under .200 that first year would ever make it to the big leagues as a slugger.”

Two other players that had major league impacts were Frank Menechino and Greg Norton. Menechino parlayed a 45th-round pick out of Alabama into a seven-year career with Oakland and Toronto. He is currently the hitting coach for the White Sox.

Frank Menechino

Frank Menechino hit .281 for the Crawdads during the 1993 season. (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

“At the time,” remembered Proctor, “I always thought that Frankie Menechino was the best player on that team. He showed up a couple weeks after me. The way he played the game and went about his business impressed me. The first time I shook his hand and he had this vice grip of a handshake; I knew the kid was tough as nails. He was a great teammate, leader and was fun to have in club house.”

Norton was the White Sox’s second-round pick out of Oklahoma. He joined the Crawdads just after his selection by Chicago. Although he hit just .244 that summer with Hickory, he made an impression on several of his Crawdads teammates.

“Greg could play multiple positions and had a sweet left-handed swing,” said Ted Rich of Norton, who spent 13 seasons in the majors, often as a key bench player.

Pitcher John Quirk, another 1993 White Sox draftee added to the Crawdads in the second half was enamored of both Menechino and Norton. Selected in the 23rd round, Quirk immediately saw those two were above anything he had seen at Westchester CC in New York.

“We had Magglio,” said Quirk. “But he wasn’t developed yet. Frankie just played with an edge and no fear and Norton was just as smooth as they come. Great bat and a great glove. You’ve got to understand, I played at a small JUCO and these guys played at Alabama and Oklahoma. So, I was in awe in the beginning.”

The Crawdads had two catchers go on to the majors. Catcher Chris Tremie was the first former Crawdad to make it to the majors, when the White Sox called him up on July 1, 1995. He spent brief tenures with four different teams before giving it up after the 2004 season.

Nerio Rodriguez had 13 errors and 12 passed balls in 72 games behind the plate for Hickory. The Baltimore Orioles turned him into a pitcher in 1995 at high-A ball and Rodriguez shot up the latter to the majors the next year. While he did not catch on long term in the big leagues, he became a force in the Mexican League, where he was named that circuits pitcher of the year twice.

Nerio Rodriguez

Catcher Nerio Rodriguez in a game vs. the Columbus Red Stixx (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

Pitchers Mike Bertotti and Tom Fordham each had brief bit-parts with the White Sox in the mid-90s.

Magglio Ordonez and the Waffle House:

Mader was Ordonez’ roommate on the road, and, as such, Crawdads’ manager Fred Kendall gave him the assignment of watching over the future major league star.

“Our manager wanted to make sure I took care of him,” said Mader. “So, I would make sure that he was working out, getting to meetings on time, etc. When we would go on the road, one of my favorite stops was always the Waffle House, because we do not have those restaurants back in the Northeast.

“So, I would take Magglio with me, and as he was learning English, he would just read the sign and would pronounce it “waffly-hoo.” Keep in mind, we were not making a bunch of money, so the price point at the Waffle House is also quite attractive to us at that time! But the way he would pronounce it would just crack me up. So, whenever we would go on the road, our favorite restaurant was always the “waffly-hoo”.

Magglio HR

Magglio Ordonez after belting one of his 3 home runs during the 1993 season (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

A tough season:

Overall, the 1993 Crawdads were not a particularly good team, as the offense often sputtered. As a group, the offense set several lows that still stand. The Crawdads hit just .224, nearly 20 points lower than the next worst team in the South Atlantic League. The 1993 team still holds marks for the fewest hits (1028 in 140 games), doubles (166), homers (48), total bases and slugging (.307). On the mound, they had just one shutout, 22 saves and walked 566 hitters, all club worsts.

As the losses mounted, the frustration of manager Fred Kendall increased, according to Phillips, who often covered post-game pressers outside the team’s double wide.

Kendall Ump

Crawdads manager Fred Kendall and a South Atlantic League umpire argue a call during a 1993 game (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

“The fiery skipper often times would blow off steam after the losses mounted,” Phillips shared. “He was very creative with his use of the F-bomb as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb.   He reminded me of a cross between Jim Leyland, and Jim Mora.”

Memorable Games:

Along with “Pizza Night” and the L.P. Frans opener, the 1993 season had a few memorable moments. Perhaps the biggest of them all came on May 15th when Wayne Lindemann pitched the only nine-inning, complete-game, no-hitter in team history in a game at Albany, Ga.

Bill Proctor remembered his initiation into low-A in a game he pitched against Greensboro, then a Yankees affiliate.

“At the time,” said Proctor, “I had no clue how good this player would be or who he would become. All the Crawdads players were hyping this guy up before I faced him. Derek Jeter was the first professional player I pitched to in a game.  I remember that moment like yesterday.   Derek Jeter, Nick Delvecchio and Matt Luke, in that order in Greensboro.

For Quirk, a diehard Yankees fan, it was his second start against a hated rival.

“My favorite moment on the field was beating Capital City (Columbia, SC) in my second start 2-1. I lost to Fayetteville in my first start, so I was super excited that I won. It was great because they were a Met affiliate and I was always a Met hater. They had Ron Washington as their manager and Brian Daubauch (Major Leaguer) and Tim Timmons (MLB Umpire) was supposed do the plate, but he got sick.”

Away from the Park:

According to several players, Yesterday’s was the favorite spot to hang out after a game. However, it nearly got one player in trouble.

“My favorite off-the-field memory,” said Quirk, “Was when Fred (Kendall) said if we got caught out after curfew we were going home. We went to, I believe, Yesterday’s and Fred walked in and I crawled out the door. “Fred seemed mean, but he was really good to me my whole career.”

However, the biggest off-the-field pastime was provided by a local, Ron Goans, referred to affectionately as “Captain Ron.”

“Myself and a few players met a man we called Capt. Ron,” said Bob Mumma. “He would take us out on the lake after some games and on our off days. I loved the lake at night.  Did some fishing and some drinking and just relaxed to get away from baseball for a while.”

Quirk stated that Ron and his wife Kathy were “very generous to all of us and treated us like family…I still keep contact with them. Beautiful people.”

Mader said that the Goans helped players fill in the inevitable gaps that came with making about $850 a month.

“Not only would he let us borrow necessary home goods like plates, silverware, etc.,” Mader said. “But he would occasionally take us out on fishing trips on his boat and those were some of the fondest memories that me and many of my teammates had while in Hickory. He also introduced us to “double cupping” on the boat. Which I soon learned was having two red solo cups, and mixing bourbon with Sun Drop, and switching the cups back-and-forth to mix the drink. Genius!”

1993 HICKORY CRAWDADS    Win/Loss: 52-88  Attendance: 283,727

ROSTER (Post-Crawdads baseball career): 

FIELD STAFF: 

MANAGER: Fred Kendall: The native of Torrance, CA spent 12 seasons as a catcher in the major leagues, much of them with the San Diego Padres with whom he was on the original team in 1969. He played one season each with Cleveland and Boston before capping his career with a return to San Diego for the 1979 and 1980 seasons. His minor league managerial career started in 1992 at Utica (NY) before he moved up in the affiliation to Hickory for two years. Kendall had several tenures as a major league bullpen coach with Detroit, Colorado and Kansas City. He retired after the 2007 season.

Kendall

1993 Crawdads manager Fred Kendall (left) during a light moment in the dugout (courtesy Hickory Crawdads

PITCHING COACH:  Curt Hasler: He has been in the White Sox system since playing with the rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League in 1987. Hasler became a coach when he joined the Crawdads for their first two seasons. His first major league tenure as a coach came in 2017, when the White Sox named him their bullpen coach. Hasler is now the team’s assistant pitching coach.

HITTING COACH: Mark Salas: He played eight seasons in the major leagues with six different clubs before leaving as an active player in 1991. Two seasons later, he joined the White Sox as a coach at Hickory and has remained with the organization since. Salas has been the team’s bullpen catcher since 2007.

PITCHERS:

Ricky Bennett: Spent one more season in the White Sox organization before he started a front office career as an area scout with the Detroit Tigers. Was Director of Player Development with the Houston Astros from 2005 to 2010. Has been a pro scout with the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2013.

Mike Bertotti: Spent just nine games with Hickory (11.61 Ks per 9 IP). Had a quick ascent with the White Sox and debuted with the team in July 1995. Was up and down with Chicago through 1997, then bounced around minor league baseball with Oakland, Seattle and the Yankees. Last pitched in 2002 with New Jersey of the Northern League (indy ball). Is currently a baseball instructor at Frozen Ropes in New York.

Mark Brincks: Pitched the 1994 season in the White Sox organization before his release. Had two seasons with Moose Jaw in the independent Prairie League.

Don Culberson: Was released by the White Sox in 1993. Pitched two seasons for the Cubs organization, making it to High-A Daytona before leaving the game.

David Elsbernd: Returned to make six more appearances for Hickory before his release.

Dave Fitzpatrick: Made six relief outings for Hickory in 1993, then pitched in ten games at Low-A South Bend in 1994 before his release.

Tom Fordham: Returned to make 17 starts for Hickory in 1994. He made it to Chicago in 1997 and had a short stay over two seasons with the big-league club. Played in the Milwaukee (2000-01) and Pittsburgh (2003) organizations before leaving the game.

Chris Gay: Was released by the White Sox in 1993. Last pitched for Rochester of the Northern League. Currently owns Cover All Bases baseball training center in Arlington, Tex.

Toby Lehman: Stayed in the White Sox chain one more season before spending two seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Reached the AA level at Bowie in 1995.

Wayne Lindemann: The only player to throw a 9-inning no-hitter for the Crawdads. Was in the White Sox system through 1995, but did not advance past high-A. 

Johnny Malaver: Released after nine games with Hickory in 1993.

Andy McCormack: Did not advance past Low-A with the White Sox through 1995 but enjoyed a stint at AA Akron-Canton with the Cleveland organization in 1996.

Doug McGraw: Had just five games (1 start) with Hickory before his release. Pitched in 1994 at Osceola (High-A/ Houston) before leaving baseball.

Mickey McKinion: Returned to Hickory in 1994 for 28 games before his release.

Jason Odgen: Spent one more season with the White Sox in 1994, making it to High-A before his release.

Richard Pratt: A 1993 draftee out of South Carolina, he returned to have one of the best seasons in Crawdads history the following year (11-6 in 29 games/ 23 starts, 2.02 ERA). Still holds the club record for lowest ERA by a qualifying pitcher (112 IP) in a season and is third in WHIP (1.01). Made it to AAA Calgary in 1998 before parting ways with the White Sox. Pitched more season at Bridgeport in the Atlantic League (indy) in 1999.

Bill Proctor: Played one more season in the White Sox chain in 1994 before his release.

John Quirk: Stayed in the White Sox system through 1996 but did not advance past high-A. Played independent ball in the Northern League at Bangor in 1997 and New Jersey in 1998. Later went on to coach college ball. Was the pitching coach at Fairleigh Dickinson in 2006 before a three-year stint as the head coach at Lehman College (NY) from 2007 to 2009.

Juan Soto: Released after three starts for Hickory. 

Fred Starks: Released by the White Sox while at Hickory in 1993.

Starks

RHP Fred Starks (courtesy Hickory Crawdads

Robert Theodile: Drafted by Chicago in 1992, the right-hander made 41 starts (2nd in club history) for Hickory over three seasons. He eventually moved up to high-A to stay in 1996 and made it all the way to AAA Calgary in 1998 before he shifting to the Milwaukee Brewers chain in 1999. Theodile last pitched in 2001 for Saltillo in the Mexican League.

Brian Woods: Drafted by the White Sox in 1993, the Northeastern Conference pitcher of the year moved up to South Bend after ten starts. Woods stayed with the White Sox through 1998 and made it as far as AAA Nashville. He had a brief stint at AA New Haven (Colorado) before calling it a career.

Brian Woods

RHP Brain Woods in a game vs. Asheville 1993 (courtesy of Hickory Crawdads)

 

Pitching Leaders

WinsRicky Bennett 8 
LossesDavid Elsbernd 9 
ERAMike Bertotti 2.11 
Games PitchedRicky Bennett 41 
Games StartedDavid Elsbernd 19 
Complete GamesWayne Lindemann, David Elsbernd    2 
ShutoutsWayne Lindemann 1 
SavesToby Lehman 7 
Innings PitchedRicky Bennett 112 
Hits AllowedRicky Bennett 112 
Runs AllowedDavid Elsbernd 74 
Earned Runs AllowedDavid Elsbernd 51 
Home Runs AllowedMickey McKinion 12 
Hit BattersToby Lehman 12 
Walks AllowedToby Lehman 57 
Walks per 9 IPRicky Bennett 1,85 
StrikeoutsRicky Bennett 98 
Ks per 9 IPMike Bertotti 11.61 
Wild PitchesFred Starks 10 
WHIPMike Bertotti 1.19 

CATCHERS: 

Wayne Faircloth: Stayed in the White Sox chain through 1994 before his release.

Bob Mumma: Had parts of two seasons with the Crawdads and they moved up to South Bend before his release. He returned to his alma mater at Maryland-Baltimore County in 1996 to become an assistant. Mumma took over the program as the head coach in 2012 before resigning from the position after the 2019 season. 

Nerio Rodriguez: After struggling at and behind the plate, the Baltimore Orioles took him on as a pitcher and it was with the Orioles that Rodriguez made his major league debut in 1996. He bounced to the Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals through 2002 and last pitched for an affiliated team with the Pirates chain in 2006. It was with Monclova of the Mexican League that Rodriguez made his mark, with three all-star game selections. He was named the circuit’s pitcher of the year in 2007 and 2008. Rodriguez was a pitching coach for the Los Angeles Angels system in the Dominican Summer League until 2016. 

Chris Tremie: The first Crawdads to get to the majors, Tremie had brief stints with the White Sox, Rangers, Pirates and Astros, with whom he wrapped up his career in 2005. Tremie moved into coaching the next year with the Cleveland Indians and stayed in the system through 2018, the last six seasons as the manager at AAA Columbus. He is now in his second year as the minor league field coordinator for Cincinnati.

Infielders:

Ben Boulware: Hit just .193 in 18 games for Hickory after the White Sox took his as the 7th round pick out of Clemson but returned the next year to win the South Atlantic League batting title (.332). Played his entire career in the White Sox chain, last in 1997 at High-A Winston-Salem. Currently the owner of Baum Bats.

Jason Evans: Played his entire career in the White Sox chain, making it to AAA in 1997 with Calgary. His final season was at AAA Nashville a year later. Currently works in Hickory as a mortgage broker.

Jason Evans

Jason Evans (left) is greeted after a homer during the 1993 season (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

Dan Fraraccio: Had a brief stint at AAA Nashville in 1995 but played mostly at high-A with the White Sox before his release in 1996. Bounced back to AAA to stay with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and San Diego Padres chains before ending his career at Las Vegas in 2000.

Scot Hollrah: Released while with the Crawdads in 1993. 

Chris Mader: Arguably the most popular player in the first season, Mader returned to the team for a second season before his release. The Cleveland Indians picked him up and he finished his baseball career in 1995 with high-A Kinston.

Frank Menechino: Drafted in the 45th round out of Alabama, he thrived during the season’s second half at Hickory, posting a .281/.403/.416 slash. Menechino was a key player for Oakland, as the Athletics went to the playoffs three times during his six seasons there. His major league career capped with Toronto in 2004-2005, but Menechino stayed in the game as a player through 2008 in the Italian League. He started his coaching career in 2009 with the New York Yankees system and got his first major league coaching job with Miami in 2014. He is currently the hitting coach for the White Sox. 

Geovanny Miranda: The Panamanian had one more season with the White Sox, that including a turn at AAA Nashville before his release. Miranda coached for two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, including a South Atlantic league turn at Low-A Charleston (WV) in 2001.

Ordonez, Salas, Miranda, Rodriguez

(L to R) Magglio Ordonez, Mark Salaz, Geovanny Miranda, Nerio Rodriguez (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

Greg Norton:  The second-round pick of the White Sox played in 71 games for Hickory before a quick climb up the chain. His big-league debut came with the White Sox in August 1996. Norton spent 13 seasons in the majors with six team, the last coming in 2009 with Atlanta. A year later, Norton was the hitting coach at AAA New Orleans, then became the manager of the club for two seasons. After serving as the hitting coach at Auburn, Norton returned to coaching in pro ball as the minor league hitting coordinator for the Boston Red Sox, where he remains in his fifth season. 

Eddie Pearson: The White Sox first-round pick in 1992 stayed in the chain through 1998 but could not get past AAA before he signed to play in Korea in 1999. From then, Pearson spent the remainder of his career bouncing between the Mexican League and independent ball, where he received several all-star nods. Pearson was the 2003 Northern League player of the year, while at St. Paul, but he was unable to receive another shot with an affiliated team. His last season came in 2006 with Kansas City in the Northern League.

Wil Polidor: He played just 15 games with Hickory and topped out at AA with the White Sox in 1998 before they cut him loose. Polidor got one more shot in the Philadelphia Phillies chain before they, too, released him in 1999. He went on to become a player agent and is now with the Octagon Agency, with which he has represented several players, including Felix Hernandez.

Mike Randle: He went 0-for-6 in three games with Hickory before his release. 

Jimmy Reyes: The middle infielder lasted just one more season with the White Sox at South Bend and high-A Sarasota before his release.

Reyes

Jimmy Reyes slides into second during a double play attempt by Asheville (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

Ted Rich: The University of Florida alum played in 16 games at Hickory before the White Sox let him go.

Juan Thomas: The slugging 1B stayed in the White Sox chain through 1997, but it was with the Seattle Mariners organization that Thomas reached his peak in 2001 at AAA Tacoma. Cincinnati also gave him a shot at the same level in 2003 before Thomas left affiliated ball for good. He bounced around several indy league teams before his career ended in the Golden League at Calgary. Thomas was a volunteer assistant coach with Augustana (SD) College from 2012 to 2015.

OUTFIELDERS: 

Geronimo Aquino: Went 0-for-10 with 8 Ks in four games before the White Sox released him.

Marc Harris: Played in 79 games for Hickory but hit just .188 before he was released by the White Sox. 

Dre Levias: Returned for the 1994 season before he bounced around the White Sox system at three levels in 1995-1996. Hit his ceiling at High-A Winston-Salem before his release.

Sandy McKinnon: Remained with the White Sox through 1998, reaching the AA level his final two seasons. The Arizona Diamondbacks picked him up for the 1999 season and his final games came with AA El Paso. 

Magglio Ordonez: Named to the initial class of the Crawdads’ hall of fame in 2014. Played 15 seasons in the major leagues with Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. Hit a walk-off home run for Detroit to clinch the 2006 American League Championship Series and a World Series berth. Won the AL batting title in 2007 (.363). Had a 200-hit season in 2007. Posted seven seasons of 100+ RBI, four seasons of 100+ runs scored and four consecutive 30+ HR seasons (1999-2002). Won three Silver Slugger Awards. Named to the All-Star Game six time and became the first former Crawdad to start in the game in 2007. Was second in the AL MVP voting in 2007. 

Scott Patton: Returned to the Crawdads in 1994 before the White Sox let him go. Went back home to college to play football at Saddleback College (CA) and then Nevada-Las Vegas. Was an NJCAA All-American in 1995. 

Eric Richardson: Led the team with 42 steals in 1993, which is still the 10th highest total for a season in club history. Returned to Hickory for part of the 1994 before a bump-up to South Bend. He made it to high-A before his release. Richardson coached a couple of seasons (2004-05) in the Phillies system. He returned as a coach in the White Sox chain in 2018 at rookie affiliate Great Falls.

Richardson

OF Eric Richardson (courtesy Hickory Crawdads)

HITTING LEADERS:

GAMES PLAYEDChris Mader 120 
BATTING AVGFrank Menechino .281 
AT BATSEric Richardson 412 
RUNSChris Mader 54 
HITSChris Mader 107 
SINGLESEric Richardson 83 
DOUBLESChris Mader 25 
TRIPLESJimmy Reyes 7 
HOME RUNSJuan Thomas 12 
RBISChris Mader 49 
TOTAL BASESChris Mader 155 
WALKSChris Mader 81 
INTENTIONAL WALKSJason Evans 2 
STRIKEOUTSJuan Thomas 124 
STOLEN BASESEric Richardson 42 
Caught StolenEric Richardson 15 
On Base PCTFrank Menechino .403 
Slugging PctJuan Thomas .418 
Sacrifice FliesChris Mader, Greg Norton, Jimmy Reyes 4 
Sacrifice HitsJimmy Reyes 8 
Hit By PitchJuan Thomas 7 

 

1993 Season stats

 

An interview with 2017 Crawdads manager Spike Owen

Spike Owen was all set to be the manager at Hickory for the 2016 season. That was until late February when Texas Rangers third base coach Tony Beasley was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment. So, into the gap stepped Owen.

The experience for Owen with the major league club was a valuable one for him, as he was able to watch big league manager Jeff Banister on a daily basis.

“I was appreciative to be on the major league staff,” said Owen during the 2017 Texas Rangers Winter Caravan held by the Crawdads at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C. on Wednesday. “I learned much more from him (Banister) than he did from me. He made things easy for his staff, which is what I intend to do with my staff…”

“His dugout presence was unbelievable and I think that’s so important at whatever level, how to react at what’s going on in the game at a given situation and how you handle yourself.”

The reset button has been set and Owen – at least for now – is scheduled to try his hand at managing the class Low-A Crawdads. Banister – who said on Wednesday he’s known Owen since Owen’s playing days at the University of Texas – was impressed with how his long-time friend handled the responsibility given to him last year. Confident in Owen’s abilities as a player developer, Banister said the former big league infielder should be a perfect fit for Hickory.

“He’s a guy that has great patience with players and has a teacher’s mindset and a servant’s heart,” said Banister. “A guy that I think is going to be great on the development side and has had success already on the development side.”

I had a chance for an interview with Owen prior to the luncheon on Wednesday. Here is some of what he had to say.

 

You were set up to come here last year and things have a way of, in baseball, I guess like the rest of life, having a change of plans.

Owen: As in everyday life, with baseball it’s about making adjustments. Obviously, I found out late that Tony Beasley, our third base coach, had cancer and so Banny had called me to ask if I would fill in for the year at third base.  (It was) a great experience, obviously being in the big leagues again – I hadn’t been there since ’95 – and that was a great experience and I’m very thankful that I was chosen to do that.

Now that Tony was healthy, I was looking forward to getting back into my managing career. I’ve only managed for one year in 2015.

I’m a little bit familiar with Hickory, when I was roving in  2009-2010 so I’ve been in and out of Hickory for those two years and enjoyed it when I came in. I’m looking forward to spending the summer up here.

 

Are you more pleased to be managing or would you rather stay in the Majors in some capacity? I know the goal is to always get to the Major Leagues, but you want a managing career as you said.

Owen: It’s a tough question, as you said,  because when I first got into coaching in the Minor Leagues, I wasn’t quite sure what direction and I think there’s probably a lot of guys that are like that. But the more that I’ve been in it, and now experiencing the big league level last year as the third base coach, it gives me more motivation to try to get back there in whatever capacity.

But, I’m very excited about managing again. Like I said, I haven’t done it a lot and I enjoyed it and I enjoyed being the guy in charge on the bench.  So, with this opportunity opening back up for me to manage is something that I’m excited about.

 

What’s the biggest adjustment you’ll have? You were getting the first-class treatment last year. Is there going to be an adjustment getting back on that bus and going to Lakewood (N.J.) and Hagerstown (Md.)? How do you make that adjustment?

Owen: You know, you just get on the bus and roll. It is what it is. Obviously the things in the big leagues are first class as they should be. But to me, the travel is part of the gig. The fun part is working with the players – the young men and young kids – and trying to help their development to reach their dream of going to the big leagues.

So, I know that my time in High Desert managing, I didn’t know what to expect from High Desert all the way to this first year managing and that age group. I’ve been in Triple-A for a long time and I loved it.

From everything that I’m hearing, I actually don’t know the guys on our team and we won’t know until the end of Spring Training. But with me being in the big leagues last year and not down at the minor league Spring Training, and not being around the younger guys, I’ve got to get acquainted with them and obviously will in Spring Training pretty quick.

 

I know you won’t know until late March early April and the guys actually get the tickets to fly out here, but one name we’re hearing a lot is Leodys Taveras – the outfielder that everybody is assuming that he’s going to come and play at center field at some point in 2017. What do you hear about him and his tools? Everything that I’ve read is that his tools are off the chart for him being so young.

Owen: I’d have to agree with what you’re saying, because I haven’t seen him also. I have read a little bit about him and obviously the skill set that he brings. So, it’ll be exciting to see him at Spring Training. Again, if he’s slotted to come to us I’d obviously love to have him, but we’ll kind of see how that plays out.

 

What’s the biggest thing you’re looking for as far as being in Hickory full time?

Owen: I look forward to being in North Carolina and this part of the country. I haven’t spent much time here except my time roving. The Sally League – getting a new league – it’s all going to be new to me. I think just seeing the country and hopefully having a solid year for the Crawdads. I look forward to the baseball side of it – obviously, that’s what I’m here to do – and getting these young guys ready and hopefully have a great year.

 

What’s an adjustment you’ve made as far as being in one spot as opposed to roving?  Do you like one over the other or does one have more of an advantage?  

Owen: Well, when I was roving you get to get home more, which is a huge advantage of doing that job. Going in and out of your affiliations for three or four days and being on the road, and then being able to go home for three, four, or five days.

When you’re in full season you pack up and go to Spring Training and you don’t get home until September. Obviously we have an All-Star break and a few days off, but with me being in Texas, that’s a pretty long flight. So roving that’s really the main thing.

But to me, there’s something about being with the club from the start to the finish that I really enjoy to seeing, because when you rove, you don’t get to see the development like you do when you’re with them every day and see the progress that they’re making. You may come in and not come back in for a month or so. Yeah, they’ve played a really good three days , but you see them for three games and then you’re gone again. So, just kind of starting from the beginning and finishing it off and seeing the progress that they’re making.

spike-owen

2017 Hickory Crawdads manager Spike Owen speaks during the Texas Rangers Winter Caravan held at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C. on Wednesday (courtesy of Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

Jurickson Profar Begins another Journey to Arlington from Hickory

For the first time since September 27, 2013, Texas Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar suited up for a regular-season game Thursday night when he served as the designated hitter for the Hickory Crawdads during an injury rehab assignment.

Noticeably more filled out and chiseled than he was as the Crawdads shortstop in 2011, the now 22-year-old Profar missed the past two seasons with a torn shoulder muscle that he suffered in a weightlifting session during spring training, according to the Rangers media guide. After unsuccessfully trying to resume baseball activities several times last year, Profar finally underwent shoulder surgery in February 2015.

Profar has been in Hickory since Tuesday and finally hit the field Thursday night against Charlestown (S.C.) as the designated hitter. He is expected to DH again on Friday before the Crawdads hit the road for Delmarva (Md.) for a five-game series with the Shorebirds. It is not yet been determined how long Profar will be with the Crawdads.

Jurickson Profar played his first game in two seasons wihen he suited up for Hickory on Thursday (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jurickson Profar played his first game in two seasons wihen he suited up for Hickory on Thursday (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

In front of several of the Rangers front office brass – which included senior director of player development Mike Daly and senior director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg – Profar went 1-for-4  with a sharply-lined single to right in his final at bat of the game in the seventh prior to his removal for a pinch-runner.

Batting left handed in all four plate appearances, Profar was jammed by a fastball for a 4-3 grounder in the first. He then popped up a fastball to second in the third before topping a curve ball in the fourth for a weak 1-3 comebacker.

“I felt good,” said Profar of his first live action in two seasons. “It’s been a while, but it felt the same. The first couple of ABs my timing was a little bit off, but by the third AB I got it. So, it felt good to be back playing and doing what I love.”

As far as the shoulder goes, Profar said that it felt good and the prescribed throwing program is coming along well.  Profar is not expected to do any throwing in games until this fall.

While Profar missed playing the game over the past two seasons, he doesn’t envision a major setback of what was once a fast-track journey to the majors once he resumes playing on a regular basis.

“I just work out every day,” said Profar.” I just believe in myself and when I’m ready it’s going to be the same or even better. It wasn’t that hard because every day I go with a positive mind. Every day is a day closer to be playing. Now I’m here and back to playing.”

Profar understands the full recovery of his shoulder is a long process and that it will take time. Rather than being in an anxious rush back to get back to Arlington, he is content to let the process play out as he gets back onto the field.

“Just being myself and just play. It’s been two years out of baseball, and I’ll come here and just play. Now everything is going to be good. I’m just having fun playing day-to-day.”

One perk of Profar’s time in Hickory is the opportunity to play with his younger brother Juremi, an infielder with the Crawdads.

“It’s good to get to play with my brother. I remember the old days when we used to play in the backyard and now we’re playing pro ball together.”

Jurickson Profar (second from left) observes action from 3B dugout (L-R Luis  Ortiz, Profar, Carlos Arroyo, Josh Morgan, Brett Martin, Dillon Tate, photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jurickson Profar (second from left) observes action from 3B dugout (L-R Luis Ortiz, Profar, Carlos Arroyo, Josh Morgan, Brett Martin, Dillon Tate, photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

NOTES: Profar is the sixth major-leaguer to rehab in Hickory. Others included Jason Bere (’96-’97), Jim Abbott (’98), Josias Manzanillo (’02), Adam LaRoche (’08), and Daniel Bard (’14). Profar is the first former player to return to Hickory in a major league assignment… Profar is the 51st player to play for Hickory in 2015. That ties the club record for the most players on a Crawdads roster for a season. The 2008 team also had 51 players… The Profar brothers are the second set of brothers to play for the team at the same time. In 2014, pitchers David and Ryan Ledbetter were on the roster together for the first month of the season. Pitchers Jose and Anyelo Leclerc wore a Crawdads uniform a year apart. Jose pitched for Hickory in 2013 with Anyelo coming a year later…. Profar comes to Hickory at the age of 22-years, five-months. According to Baseball Reference.com, the average age of South Atlantic League hitters is 21.5-years-old, while the average pitcher is 22.0.

Hitting the Midway Point: An Interview with Josue Perez

Greetings from vacation-land! I’m using the road trip/  all-star break to recharge some batteries and get ready for the second half.

I put together an interview with Texas Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Josue Perez while he was in Hickory during the last homestand. Perez was the Crawdads hitting coach in 2012 and was scheduled to come back to Hickory this season before he took the coordinator’s job.

Perez talked about several of the Crawdads hitters (or at least the ones I thought to ask him about) and their progression in the first half.

Overall, it’s a good group of hitters. They had a good start; they’ve had some down time. Overall, what have you seen with the group of guys?

Perez: Very pleased, I’m very pleased with the group of guys we have here, mostly. Out of the gate, they started out really good. They kind went through a bump in the road there and now we’re trying to get them back together again. I mean, that’s baseball. Overall, I like what I see.

We’ll continue to work on staying with a plan and having a plan for the at bats, especially with guys on situational hitting More often than not, they’re able to do it. Early in the year they were doing a great job with situational hitting, where we’d score a lot of runs without getting a big hit. We’d score in a lot of different ways. It’s teaching these kids how to win ball games without necessarily hitting three, four, five home runs in a game. They’re learning from it and they’re getting it, so I’m very pleased.

I know Frankie (Crawdads hitting coach Francisco Matos) is very proud of how these guys have gone about their business.

Let me ask you first about Luke Tendler. He got off to a good start and had a little bump. What do you see from him?

Perez: I think it’s all about going back to basics. Early in the season, he had a plan. He had an approach and he was executing it. Being able to stay on the fastball and be up on everything else. Lately, it’s been the lack of being able to be ready on time. So, he’s missing a lot of fastballs and he’s late getting into position and that’s the reason he’s been struggling a little bit. He’s going back to basics and making sure that he’s still on the fastball when he goes up to bat.

Luke Tendler propelled a hot start into a SAL all-star game start

Luke Tendler propelled a hot start into a SAL all-star game start (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

You’ve had guys like him and Trevino this year. When you were here in 2012 it was Chris Grayson, who got off to a great start. It seems to be a pattern where a college guy will get off to a good start when no one has really seen them yet, and maybe they’re a bit more advanced because of their age. Then they hit that little lull. Is that a problem that you see when you work with them?

Perez: No, I wouldn’t say that; I would say it’s about adjustments. Obviously when facing opposing pitchers, we don’t know a lot about them, just like they don’t know a lot about us. So, at that particular time, the hitters have the advantage. Once the opposing pitchers see the tendencies, they’re going to make an adjustment. And now, you’ve got to make an adjustment back to them. The good ones do make an adjustment and the other ones struggle to get back into it. So it’s still about making adjustments.

Are these kids, because for one reason or another they were so successful in college for the most part, or they wouldn’t be here, have they really had to learn how to make adjustments before they got to this level?

Perez: I’m pretty sure that a lot of the guys did it, or else they wouldn’t be here. That’s just the nature of competing. If you want to win the at bat, or you want to win the game, you have to make an adjustment from game to game. But here it’s a little bit different, because it’s not game by game, it’s at bat to at bat. Sometimes, it’s pitch to pitch. The ones that are able to do that are the better ones.

I think somewhere along the way, they have to make that adjustment. Here it’s more magnified because the pitchers are better. They have better stuff and they’re able to express it a little bit better.

Let me ask you about (Jose) Trevino, who is another one that got off to a good start and seems to be finding his way again.

Perez: You have to take into consideration with Trevino that he is behind the dish for the first time in a full season. He’s been catching a lot of games. He’s a kid that plays with a lot of energy and a lot of life. He’s really into every pitch behind the dish and he’s the same way as a hitter. So, a lot of times we ask those guys to be a catcher first and then a hitter. We’re trying to combine both of them and I think he’s one of the good ones that’s going to be able to do it – both catch and hit.

Again he’s hitting the ball on the rope, like you said, and he had a big three-run bomb a couple of days ago. He’s starting to feel that early feeling back again. Again, it’s just a matter of – and we talk about this all the time – it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Along the way you’re going to find some ways to fight. If you fight the right way, you’re going to stay above water. So, he’s doing a good job of it.

Jose Trevino leads the Crawdads with 9 homers ad 37 RBI  (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Jose Trevino leads the Crawdads with 9 homers ad 37 RBI (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Josh Morgan is in a nice stretch over about a 35-game stretch. He was one that started slow and come on as the season progressed. What do you see with Josh?

Perez: The word with Josh is he’s basically rolling right along. He was a little bit off when we first started the season. To his credit, and Frankie’s credit, he’s worked hard every day on trying to get him back to the way we saw him in spring training. Getting him into position to hit, making sure he’s staying on the fastball, making sure he stays on his front, not trying to do too much, stay away from the air, backspin the ball. So, little by little, he’s started to not only believe it, but execute it. And now he’s executing it more often than not.

He’s starting to back spin the ball, taking good pitches and getting into good counts, driving the ball. So, he’s been able to maintain it for a long period of time, which is pretty remarkable at his age, to see it. I hope he’s able to keep it the right way, now.

Josh Morgan leads the Crawdads in batting avg. (.301) and OBP (.386)

Josh Morgan leads the Crawdads in batting avg. (.301) and OBP (.386)

Jairo Beras, I know has had a disappointing start – especially given where he ended up last year – with injuries and other things that have happened. What’s the plan for him at this point?

Perez: It’s about now. It’s about being where his feet are. It’s about winning the moment. It’s about the rest of the year. We’re not talking about the past. That’s over. Can we win every day from now on? That’s basically the message to him. Forget about it and let’s start over. This is a new beginning. Every day, come to the ballpark ready to play. Help this team win, which is in a really good place right now. They’re playing for something. Not only are they playing because they want to be big leaguers and reach the majors, but they’re playing to win it. It’s always fun when you’re in that kind of environment. We want him to be a part of it and he wants to be a part of it. This is about the moment. Be a good teammate everyday and do whatever you can now to win this moment. That’s the plan.

It’s been pretty good since being back, both offensively and defensively. The motivation’s been good and he wants to play. Deep inside, he wants to reach his dream and that’s always going to be the biggest motivation. Now, he’s got the baby, so that’s a big motivation that he’s playing for. Again, it’s about how he can win the moment from now on.

Jairo Beras had a strong finish to the first half when he hit .333 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and scored 10 runs in the last 10 games (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Jairo Beras had a strong finish to the first half when he hit .333 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and scored 10 runs in the last 10 games (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Rock Shoulders is a guy who came here with some experience. He’s got here and basically hit into some bad luck. He’ll hit the ball on the screws and it’s finding people. What do you expect to see from him?

Perez: I saw him in Round Rock. He was there for about a week or so, because we needed some bodies there. He did a really good job there. We actually won a game 1-0 in Round Rock and he hit a solo home run. Then he took a couple of other good swings and had another really good game there. So, I came down here saw that he was struggling without struggling kind of deal, where he’d hit a few balls well, he had no luck. The next thing you know, he went a few days without a hit. That’s just baseball.

A lot of times, you do a lot of good things and things don’t go your way. Again, he’s in a position right now where he’s going to be able to help this team. Right now, some of the luck is starting to go his way and he’s starting to put some good at bats together. He’s starting to swing the bat and I know he had some good power numbers with the Cubs. So hopefully we can see that some of that in this organization and try to help his career.

Rock Shoulders joined the Crawdads mid-May (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Rock Shoulders joined the Crawdads mid-May (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

(Eduard) Pinto had a good winter and starting well and like most everybody else tailed off. He just looks like a hit machine. When he’s in a groove, you’re not going to get it by him. He’s also starting to show a little patience lately.

Perez: He’s a professional hitter. And now like you said, now he’s adding that patience at the plate and is able to stay with his plan and stay with his pitch and not go away from what he wants to do at the plate. He’s going to going to become a little bit more of a professional hitter. He has a really good feel for hitting and a really good barrel awareness. He knows how to use the whole field. He’s fun to watch and he brings a lot of energy and he’s only 20.

Eduard put up a .273/.321.375 slash in the first half (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

Eduard Pinto put up a .273/.321.375 slash in the first half (Photo by Tracy Proffitt)

He reminds me – and I don’t know why and whether or not this is an accurate comparison – he reminds me of Tomas Telis for whatever reason. He has that stocky body at the plate and quick hands and a good eye.

Perez: Yes, especially from the left side, it’s a little bit of Telis. Telis probably swings a little bit harder than Pinto does, but it’s pretty much the same guy. He’s scrappy, knows how to barrel the ball, goes the other way, and pulls it when he has to. He goes up there to hit. He’s a good hitter and hopefully we can get him up in the system so we can do something good for him.

Who else do you need to talk about?

Perez: (Michael) De Leon and the heart and soul he brings to the team. Obviously, we know that the hitting is always going to be light right now until he grows into his body a little bit more. A lot of stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score, he does it. That’s why I bring him up.

I think he’s the heart and soul of this team. I love some other guys, obviously, but what he brings to the game – the energy, he’s always happy the plays that he makes, he quarterbacks the whole field from the shortstop position, and how much this team trusts him – is pretty remarkable at his age.

I had the pleasure to watch him last year in the playoffs at the end of the year at Myrtle (Beach). He came up in clutch situations and got big hits in the playoff, including a three-run bomb in the championship series. So I know what type of player he is in big moments.

SS Michael De Leon continued to bring defensive wizardry to the Crawdads infield (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

SS Michael De Leon continued to bring defensive wizardry to the Crawdads infield (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

He’s not afraid of big moments.

Perez: He’s not, and actually he looks for them. That’s what you want.