One thing that can happen when a new baseball stadium is under construction – if you're old enough – is a flood of memories about the teams and the ballparks of yesteryear come to mind. That leads to thoughts about how good some of the players on those teams were and wondering what kind of players will be on the 2006 Greenville team. And what kind of baseball futures will they have?
The first park I can describe from personal experience was called Cambria Park, named for a baseball executive with the then-Washington Senators. The first baseman on that 1938 team was named Mickey Vernon. Some voices in the first base bleachers that year abused Vernon in the field and at bat. He got even with them by winning the American League batting championship in 1946 and again in 1953. He made it to the majors the year after he played here and lasted 20 years in "The Show."
Some time after that, Greenville's home park was named Meadowbrook.
That was still the name in 1965, when Jerry Koosman pitched for a low Class A team owned by the New York Mets. He didn't have a Hall of Fame season here, winning five and losing 11. That Mets team was followed by one in 1966 that had a 19-year-old pitcher named Nolan Ryan. He led the Class A Western Carolinas League in strikeouts and walks. Three years later, he and Koosman were on the staff of the Mets team that won the World Series.
At the end of his Greenville season, the Mets called Ryan to New York. He went from New York to California to Houston to the Texas Rangers, spending 27 years and striking out 5,714 batters, the most in major league history. Koosman won 222 games and retired 20 years after his season here.
Greenville was the home of the 1948 Spinners, who won the Sally League championship and had three starters in its infield who made it to the majors. Shortstop Rocky Bridges had a glove and range that the Dodgers could not ignore, at least for two years. After those, he played for four other teams before becoming a famous minor league manager.
Third baseman Don Hoak had 11 years in the majors after he was here in '48, and had a baseball rule named for him. He was running from first base when a Pittsburgh teammate's grounder looked like a double play ball to Hoak, so he stopped, fielded it and tossed it to an umpire. He was out for interference, but his teammate was safe and the earth stayed still until baseball wrote a new rule.
Ben Taylor was the first baseman on that '48 team and looked like a sure major leaguer -- smooth swing, total bat command. But he played in only 52 major league games, another illustration that you can't always know.
Probably the best Greenville team has been the 1992 Braves, who won 100 games. Two reasons were third baseman Chipper Jones and catcher Javy Lopez. They were stars on the 1995 Atlanta team that won the World Series. Their home park was Greenville Municipal Stadium. So the point may be that it hasn't mattered what the home field was, superstars have grown from anywhere they played here.
Dan Foster – Retired sports editor Dan Foster writes occasional commentary for The Greenville News.