Wake Up! Baseball Is About To Start

Pardon me while I wipe the sleep from my eyes, because this is the week when I realize that baseball is coming soon.

On Thursday the Mariners hold their annual Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon, when they have several speakers talk about the state of the team entering spring training. I attend this each year, and walk out of the room afterwards hyped for the start of another season.

This weekend the Mariners open up Safeco for the annual FanFest, which has a similar effect on the fans. You can hang out in the stadium, meet some players, and get geared up for the season.

My regular internet browsing of baseball sites led me to a preseason college Top 25 (link below), and that gets the mind thinking “wow, I think they start playing in like two weeks!”

On top of that, last week the Rainiers put tickets on sale for the Triple-A All-Star Game and Home Run Derby (click here to purchase), and I figured we ought to do another… Triple-A All-Star Flashback!

Tacoma is hosting the 30th annual Triple-A All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on July 12. We’ll spend the winter looking back at the previous years, to give fans an idea what they can expect in Tacoma this summer.

1996

This was a rather odd all-star game in that it played out as a pitcher’s duel despite being held 4,200 feet above sea level at Salt Lake’s Franklin Quest Field (now known as Smith’s Ballpark).

The National League beat the American League, 2-1. Hometown hero Todd Walker of Salt Lake hit a solo homer to give the AL a 1-0 lead, which it carried into the eighth inning, before Indianapolis catcher Brook Fordyce hit a two-run shot to put the NL on top.

The big fun as far as we’re concerned came in the Home Run Derby. Greg Pirkl became the first Tacoma player to win the derby title, beating out Lee Stevens of Oklahoma City in the finals. Only one other Tacoma player has won the Home Run Derby: Bucky Jacobsen at Pawtucket in 2004.

Pirkl must have been a lot of fun. He was a Triple-A slugger with some promise – in 1995 he hit 15 homers in 174 at-bats for Tacoma, started the all-star game, and must have gotten injured or something. He hit six homers in 53 at-bats during a major league call-up to Seattle in 1994.

Pirkl went to Japan in 1997, came back in 1998 – and converted to pitching. He pitched in the low minors in 1998 and 1999, and then disappeared.

He predates my time in Tacoma, but maybe not yours – if you have any memories of Greg Pirkl in Tacoma, please share them in the comments. He hit 36 home runs for the Rainiers in just 522 at-bats between 1995 and 1996.

1996 Triple-A All-Star Game Fun Facts:

  • Pirkl started at first base and went 2-for-3 with a double. He was not the only Tacoma Rainiers starter: James Bonnici was the designated hitter, and he went 0-for-1.
  • Two pitchers tossed three scoreless innings in the game, both for the AL: Nashville’s Scott Ruffcorn and Syracuse lefty (and future Rainier) Huck Flener.
  • Managers were Sale Lake’s Phil Roof and Ottawa’s Pete Mackanin. Mackanin is currently the Philadelphia Phillies manager.
  • Some current Mariners coaches and instructors are listed on the roster but did not play in this game. Minor league coach Brant Brown and Mariners first base coach Casey Candaele are both listed as all-stars but do not appear in the box score.
  • Players who appeared in the 1996 Triple-A All-Star Game and went on to have long major league careers include Dmitri Young, Todd Walker, Neifi Perez, Brian Giles, Dustin Hermanson, and Kelly Stinnett.
  • Salt Lake’s Steve Klauke led the radio broadcast; he’s still with the Bees and is one of the longest-tenured announcers in the PCL. One of his partners in the booth was current Miami Marlins broadcaster Glenn Geffner, who was with Rochester in 1996.

On Thursday we’ll take a look at the Rainiers corner infield candidates.

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