In this latest installment of this series, where we choose an all-time Team Virginia, we round out the starting infield with our Shortstop.
And the clear choice here is Pirates SS, and Richmond-native Gene Alley.
Alley played for the Pirates from 1963-1973, a career that was cut short due to injuries. In his time, he was never a great hitter, but made his mark with his glove. He won 2 Gold Gloves in his career (1966-1967) turning double plays with Pirates HOF great Bill Mazerowski, one of only 8 middle-infield duos to win Gold Gloves together in the same year. In 1966, Alley worked with his double play counterpart to turn 161 DPs, a record that still stands today. Alley was a 2-time all-star (1967-1968) and won a World Series with the Pirates in 1971.
Alley was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
For years, even decades, the University of Virginia has been known as a hotbed of talent for the sport of football. (Every NFL draft since the early 1980s has seen at least one NFL player get drafted out of UVA.) But make way, football, Major League Baseball is gaining steam.
As of Tuesday, September 15th, when the Orioles recalled P Tyler Wilson (Midlothian) from Triple-A Norfolk, a record 10 Wahoos appear on major league rosters. Here is the rundown of the UVA-to-MLB pipeline:
San Francisco Giants reliever Javier Lopez (Fairfax) played at Virginia from 1996-1998. He currently leads all active major league players with 4 World Series rings. (2007 with the Red Sox and the three SF titles of the 2010s.)
St Louis Cardinals IF Mark Reynolds (Va Beach) played at Virginia from 2001-2004. His 236 career homers are 23rd among active major league players.
Washington Nationals IF Ryan Zimmerman (Va Beach) played at Virginia from 2003-2005. In the 2005 draft, he was selected in the first round by Washington, the very first draft choice in the history of the Washington Nationals, who had just moved to DC from Montreal. Zimmerman is the last player left from the team’s inaugural season in Washington, and has clearly become the face of the franchise. His 10 career Walk-off homers are 2 short of the NL record). On March 30th, 2008, he christened the new Nationals Park with a walk-off HR to beat the Braves. In the summer of 2015, he cracked the 200 HR milestone. In his time as a National, his resume also includes an all-star game, a Gold Glove, and 2 Silver Sluggers.
Oakland Athletics P Sean Dolittle played at Virginia from 2005-2007. In 2014 he was 10th in the AL with 22 saves, and made his first all-star game.
Also currently on Major League rosters: Cleveland Indians P Kyle Crockett (Poquoson), Arizona Diamondbacks IF Phil Gosselin, Tampa Bay Rays OF Brandon Guyer (Herndon), Seattle Mariners C John Hicks (Richmond), San Francisco Giants OF Jarrett Parker (Stafford), and Wilson.
Major League Baseball, Wahoo strong!!!!!!!!
When minor league baseball returned to Virginia’s capital city in 2010, it marked a rebirth of pro baseball in the city. From 1966-2008, Richmond was home to the R-Braves. the AAA affiliate of the Richmond Braves. But stadium issues plagued the team’s final years. and the Atlanta Braves finally gave up on seeing a badly needed new facility in Richmond, and pulled the team out and moved them to suburban Atlanta.
After a dark 2009 at the Diamond, baseball returned in 2010, as the Eastern League’s Connecticut Defenders, AA for the Giants, moved south to Richmond and became the Flying Squirrels. Part of the agreement of the team coming to Richmond was that a new facility would be forthcoming.
2015 marked the 6th season at the Diamond for the Squirrels, and no new stadium, and none on the horizon.
While the lack of a new stadium remains a source of frustration for Flying Squirrels management, SF Giants management, and even the Eastern League powers-that-be, as well as throwing some doubt into the future of pro baseball in Richmond, that is not stopping fans from flocking to the ballpark to see future San Francisco Giants. Final attendance figures are in for the 2015 season, and for the 4th time in their 6 years, the Flying Squirrels were tops in the league in attendance. A total of 417,010 fans showed up to the Diamond in ’15 to watch their beloved Squirrels, pulling in approximately 800 fans more than 2nd-place Reading.
Richmond also won the EL title in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
10 former Squirrels now in the Bay Area.
The Richmond Flying Squirrels appear headed nowhere off the field with regards to the ongoing drama in Virginia’s capital city about replacing the aging Diamond. On the field, they are 27-26, 6 games out of first place in the Eastern League’s Western Division, have won three in a row, 7 of their last 10, and sit 2 games out of a playoff spot.
Yes, the same Richmond Flying Squirrels who not long ago went through the misery of a 15-game losing streak.
On April 13th, Richmond defeated Altoona in a rout 10-3, in the opener of a 3-game series. The next day, the game was rained out, and on the 15th, the Squirrels lost to Altoona 3-0, kicking off a losing streak that reached 15 games. It got so bad that team front office man Todd Parnell pledged to abstain from showering until the team won a game. That losing streak put the team at 3-17 after 20 games, by far dead last in the league. They broke their losing streak on May 4th, defeating that same Altoona squad by a score of 5-1, the first of 6 straight wins.
Since that hellish losing streak, they have gone 24-9, and are now just 2 games out of a playoff spot.
What has fueled this squad’s turnaround? SS Rando Moreno is batting .331 in 40 games, and has increased his batting average by 16 points in the last 10 games. 2B Kelby Tolmlinson is batting .421 over the 5 games, .359 in the last 10 games. On the mound, RHP Joe Biagini is 4-3 with a 1.82 ERA in 9 starts, and has 35 strikeouts to only 12 walks. posting a 1.03 WHIP. Returning LHP Jack Snodgrass won 4 games for Richmond before he was promoted to AAA.
Should be an interesting summer for the Giants AA affiliate.
C John Hicks (Richmond) certain to start 2015 at AAA, but could be in Seattle this season.
In the latest installment of this series where we look at ballplayers inducted in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, we turn to a 2-sport star, OF Brian Jordan.
Jordan grew up in Baltimore, MD, but came to Virginia to play his college ball, choosing Virginia’s capital city, the University of Richmond Spiders. After graduating from Richmond, he was selected in the first round of the 1988 MLB draft by the Cardinals, a year before he was a 7th round draft pick of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. (The Bills would cut him during training camp.)
Jordan started out his baseball career in the Cardinals system, climbing the ranks while at the same time playing for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL. In 1991, he even led the Falcons in tackles and was voted as an alternate to the Pro Bowl squad. That, however, would be the end of his football career, as in 1992 he signed a new contract with the St. Louis Cardinals that included a signing bonus of $1.7 million to focus on baseball exclusively and end his football career.
Jordan made his major league debut in 1992, and for those first three seasons he was a utility outfielder. In 1995, he became an everyday outfielder for the Cardinals, and delivered big time, batting .296 with 22 HR and 81 RBIs in 135 games, and even posted a respectable .339 on base percentage. In 1996, he continued to excel, batting .310 with 104 RBIs, and his .422 batting average with Runners in Scoring Position held up as a new Cardinals record until it was surpassed in 2013. He also hit a major league leading .684 with the bases loaded.
Jordan had a horrendous 1997 season, batting .234 in 47 games with ho homers and only 10 RBIs, but bounced right back in 1998, batting .316 with 25 HR and 91 RBIs. This power surge landed him a huge contract with the Atlanta Braves. In 1999, his first season with Atlanta, he would bat .283 with 23 HR and a career high 115 RBIs, and made his first and only all-star game. (Also appearing on the NL squad that year was fellow Richmond Spider and fellow Virginia Sports HOF inductee Sean Casey, ’14.) Jordan’s exploits would be a key factor in the Braves going to the playoffs, and he even keyed the Braves NLDS win over Houston, batting .471 with 7 RBIs, including a 12th inning GWer in Game 3. He hit 2 HR in the NLCS but was held to only one hit in the World Series.
Jordan’s numbers leveled off in 2000, but in 2001 he got himself back on track, hitting .295 with 25 HR and 97 RBIs in helping the Braves hold off the Phillies and Mets to win their 10th straight division title. The following winter he was traded to the Dodgers in the blockbuster deal that brought Gary Sheffield to Atlanta.
He hit .285 with the Dodgers in 2002, but injuries started to catch up with him. He left and signed a 1-year deal with the Texas Rangers, but hit a paltry .222, and again was hampered by injuries. He returned to Atlanta for 2005 and 2006, but could not shake the injury bug, and retired from playing baseball after that 2006 season. He finished his MLB playing career with a .282 batting average, 184 HR, and 821 RBIs.
Brian Jordan was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in the Class of 2009.
Continuing this series spotlighting ballplayers inducted in the Commonwealth’s Hall of Fame, we turn to 1B Sean Casey.
Casey was born in New Jersey and grew up in Pittsburgh, but when it came time to go to college, he chose to come to Virginia, playing for the Richmond Spiders. In 1995, he batted .461 to lead all Division I batters, and was subsequently drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Indians, but was traded to the Reds 3 seasons later. He would go on to a 12-year career in the bigs with 5 teams, but had his greatest success with the Reds. He made 3 NL all-star teams with the Reds (1999, 2001. 2004), and batted over .300 in 5 of his 8 years in Cincinnati. Casey did help the 2006 Tigers get to the World Series, and did his part, batting .529 with 5 RBIs, albeit in a losing effort. He also spent time with Pittsburgh and Boston before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. He batted .302 in 1405 career games, and was in the Top 10 in the league in batting 3 times as a Reds player. In 2012 he was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame.
Sean Casey was a member of the Class of 2014 for the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. He is now a commentator on the MLB Network.
Since moving from New York to San Francisco in time for the 1958 season, the San Francisco Giants have been, well, not inept, but highlights have been few and far between. Oh sure, they have had great players like Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and other notable names. In 1989, they got swept in a World Series that was best known as the Earthquake Series. In 2012, Matt Cain joined a very exclusive fraternity by throwing one of only 23 Perfect Games in baseball history, and first in franchise history.
But in terms of winning, the Giants were not doing so. From 1958, the first year in San Francisco, until 2009, the franchise had only 7 playoff appearances. Think about that for a minute, 7 in 52 seasons, and only three of those resulted in pennants (1962, 1989, 2002).
Times have drastically changed in the City by the Bay. In this decade, the Giants have won three World Series titles, generating talk of whether of not the Giants have become a modern dynasty. At the same time, Minor League Baseball returned to Virginia’s Capital City, Richmond, in 2010, with the new Richmond Flying Squirrels, San Francisco’s Double-A developmental club.
Baseball fans in Virginia’s Capital have watched with pride as several former Flying Squirrels have gone on to stardom 3,000 miles away in San Francisco and help resurrect the Giants franchise.
1B Brandon Belt and SS Brandon Crawford both played for the inaugural Richmond Flying Squirrels squad of 2010. 2B Joe Panik (2013) completes 3/4 of the Giants starting infield that played here. OF Matt Duffy (2014) batted .332 in 97 games before bypassing Triple-A and going to the Giants, and at 23, was the youngest player on the Giants World Series roster.UTIL Andrew Susac (2013) batted .256 with 46 RBIs in 84 games with the Squirrels before debuting in San Francisco in 2014. On the mound, P Hunter Strickland (2014) recorded 11 saves for the Squirrels before heading west, and in the NLDS, he recorded the save in an 18-inning game against Washington-at 6 hours and 23 minutes, the longest playoff game in baseball history.
With the slew of players heading west from Richmond, who could be next? I like 2 names. OF Jarrett Parker (2014), a Stafford-native, hit .275 with 12 HR, 58 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases in 100 games with Richmond before actually getting promoted to San Francisco, where he sat in the dugout for one game, before getting sent down to Triple-A, where he hit .278 in 24 games. I also like SP Jack Snodgrass (2013-2014). Snodgrass has won 23 games while posting a 3.64 ERA at Richmond. Conventional wisdom says he will be at Triple-A to start 2015, but with the Giants rotation having some question marks after Madison Baumgarner, Snodgrass might get a chance to break camp with the big club.
When the Boston Red Sox broke their nearly century-old curse in winning the World Series in 2004, they did so with a roster of aging players and veterans and free-agent signees. Red Sox ownership knew they could not always depend on such a formula for winning. Not withstanding the 2007 Red Sox team, which won the World Series again with very much the same forumula as the 04 squad, the Red Sox knew they would have to start investing in their player development system to really have a shot at sustained success.
Right about this same time, about 700 miles away, the Salem Avalanche franchise, a Houston Astros affiliate in the Carolina League, was going through a series of ownership changes before they finally were sold to Fenway Sports Group, an arm of the Boston Red Sox ownership group, who were prepared to instill something special in this community when their PDC with the Astros expired after the 2008 season.
Highlights were few and far between with the Salem franchise. Too few Salem players had gone on to the big leagues after playing here, a tenure that included affiliations with Houston, Colorado, and Pittsburgh over the last 30 years. Their 2006 division title was the first for the franchise in 18 years, and when they won the 2001 Carolina League championship as a wildcard, it was the franchise’s first league title since 1987. Clearly, a new beginning was needed for this franchise.
Fenway Sports Group was determined to implement something special, determined to bring baseball pride back to this small city, located in the lower Shenandoah Valley. To say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED is an understatement.
Since 2009, the first year as the newly re-named SALEM RED SOX, the team has put up an impressive resume. They have made the playoffs three times in six years. In 2009, they made it to the Carolina League title series before falling to their Rte 460 rivals, Lynchburg. In 2013, they steamrolled their way to the Carolina League title, sweeping Myrtle Beach and Potomac to win the franchise’s first championship since 2001. In 2014, they won the Wild Card before falling to Myrtle Beach in the first round.
What has led to their success in this new beginning for the franchise? Remember that minor league baseball is all about player development, and a lot of the success in Salem is attributed to people who now call Fenway Park home. OF Daniel Nava (2009) was a part of the first Salem Red Sox squad and now is a mainstay in the Red Sox outfield, having batted .273 in three seasons with Boston. SS Xander Bogaerts (2012) became the everyday SS for Boston in 2014 and responded by hitting .241 with 13 HR and 51 RBIs. OF Jackie Bradley, Jr. (2012), a Richmond-area native, struggled at the plate but has become one of the premiere defensive players in baseball and was a finalist for the Gold Glove in 2014. 3B Wil Middlebrooks (2010) has emerged as the regular 3B for the Red Sox and a power threat to boot, the 2014 injury-plagued season not withstanding. Should he not be recovered from his injury, fellow 3B Garin Cecchini (2013) has emerged as a top prospect. 2B Mookie Betts (2013) jumped all the way to the Boston in 2014 and responded by hitting .291 in just 52 games. OF Bryce Brentz (2011) made his major league debut this year and hit .308 in 9 games.
On the mound, P Anthony Ranaudo (2011) made his major league debut in late season and won 4 games over a two month trial totaling 7 starts. In the bullpen, Drake Britton (2011, 2012), Matt Barnes (2012), and Brandon Workman (2012) have shown flashes of promise and could have a future with the Red Sox.
With so many Red Sox players emerging, the Salem-to-Boston pipeline is strong. With that in mind, who else could be the next one to emerge? I am picking LHP Henry Owens. Owens pitched in Salem in 2013, and won 8 games as a starter, but posted a 2.92 ERA, and had more strikeouts (123) than innings pitched (104). He finished the 2014 season in AAA and could emerge in Boston sometime in 2015.