Super Bowl Ends, Spring Training Begins

The Super Bowl has come and gone, and for many fans that marks the start of baseball season*. Spring training starts next week.

For proof that baseball is starting soon, I ordered my scorebook today. I wrote a post about this a few years ago and it (very surprisingly to me) remains one of the most visited on this site – here it is.

We’ve got quite a few interesting links today, especially if you want to read about the Mariners and get hyped for spring training. Those stories are down below.

Here in Tacoma we’re prepping for an All-Star season, so let’s 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.

1997

The 1997 Triple-A All-Star Game was the final one played in the original format, due to an overhaul of Triple-A baseball as a whole.

With three Triple-A leagues, the first ten Triple-A All-Star Games were played as American League affiliates against National League affiliates.

After the 1997 season, the three Triple-A leagues condensed into two circuits, with the PCL and the International League swallowing up the American Association. The PCL grabbed six American Association clubs, and increased from ten teams to 16.

So from 1998 to now, the Triple-A All-Star Game has pitted the PCL against the IL. The 1997 game was the last one to divide up the teams by major league affiliations.

The 1997 game was filled with really good future major leaguers.

A crowd of 11,183 fans filled Iowa’s Sec Taylor Stadium (now called Principal Park – it’s the same stadium) to see longtime big league stars Paul Konerko, Magglio Ordonez, Todd Helton, and Richie Sexson before they made their mark on the major leagues.

Representing the Albuquerque Dukes (Dodgers), Konerko started at third base (!) and went 1-for-2. He won the PCL Most Valuable Player award in 1997, batting .323 with 37 homers and 127 RBI. He went on to hit 439 major league homers, most coming for the Chicago White Sox after he was traded twice before his career got going.

Magglio Ordonez was a career .309 hitter in the majors, with four 30+ home run seasons and 294 career dingers, but he went 0-for-2 representing Nashville in this all-star game.

Helton was wearing a Colorado Springs Sky Sox uniform, and he started at first base and went 0-for-2 in the game. He made his major league debut three weeks later and ended up batting .316 over 17 big league seasons, with 369 homers.

As for Sexson, you know him as a former Mariner. He got called up by Cleveland that September, and eventually hit 306 major league homers – 105 in a Mariners uniform. In the 1997 all-star game he was representing Buffalo, and he came off the bench and went 0-for-1.

Those four players combined to hit 1,408 major league homers.

The American League won the game, 5-3, as another future major leaguer homered during a three-run second inning. That was Frank Catalanotto of Toledo (Detroit), who went 2-for-4 with the homer, a double, two runs scored, and two RBI.

1997 Triple-A All-Star Fun Facts

  • Managers were Gary Jones (Edmonton) and Tim Johnson (Iowa).
  • The Rainiers new hitting coach played in the game. Dave Berg was a Triple-A All-Star representing Charlotte, he started at shortstop, and went 0-for-1.
  • In addition to the players mentioned above, other longtime major leaguers who appeared in this game included Aaron Boone (Indianapolis), Craig Counsell (Colorado Springs), and John Halama (New Orleans).
  • Halama pitched two scoreless innings. Four years later he was a member of the 116-win Mariners starting rotation, and during a brief three-start interval with Tacoma he pitched the first nine-inning perfect game in PCL history.
  • The Rainiers had two all-stars: infielder Brian Raabe and catcher Alan Zinter. Zinter started and went 0-for-1, Raabe came off the bench and singled in his only at-bat. Raabe batted .352 for Tacoma that year, which marked the highest average in franchise history until Jesus Montero hit .355 in 2015.
  • Helton navigated an eleven-slugger field to win the Home Run Derby. Other participants included Konerko, Boone, and future Rainiers outfielder Ryan Radmanovich.
  • Current PCL broadcasters Deene Ehlis (Iowa) and Dan Karcher (Colorado Springs) teamed up on the national radio broadcast.

Links:

Check back Thursday when we preview the Tacoma Rainiers starting rotation candidates.

*Not for me. As a college basketball junkie, baseball season officially starts for me when Cal loses in either a) the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament, or b) the second or third round of the NIT, or c) on the first day of Pac-12 Tournament. Hoping for option A this year.

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