Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jose Herrera loves baseball

Way back in 1993 I had just graduated college. I was single, no children, was working for a software company that made sport simulation games and was just being introduced to minor league baseball.

The local Greensboro Hornets were a South Atlantic League team and part of the New York Yankees farm system. The Hornets ended up winning their division due to a potent offense that scored almost five and a half runs a game. One of my all-time favorite players, first baseman Nick Delvecchio, hit 21 home runs and had an OBP just shy of .400. He also was an amazing defensive first baseman, posting 113 assists (second in the league was 79).

Two-thirds of the starting outfield would go on to the major leagues. Matt Luke was in leftfield and Shane Spencer was in right. Luke hit for the cycle during one game, the only time I have witnessed a player doing so live. He also led the league in total bases. Error-prone shortstop Derek Jeter committed 56 errors during the season but hit .295 and has had a fairly decent professional career since.

The team had speed, too, as second baseman Robert Hinds stole 50 bases and centerfielder Kraig Hawkins swiped 67 to lead the league.

Catcher Tom Wilson also reached the major leagues and led the league with 91 walks in just 120 games. Even the third baseman, Scott Romano, was a steady performer.

One of the teams that could match Greensboro offensively, though, was the Hagerstown Suns. Another favorite player of mine, D.J. Boston, was their first baseman and was maybe the best athlete I have ever seen. Boston was voted the league MVP at the end of the season and at 6'7" and 230 pounds, he looked like he should be a monster slugger. He only hit 13 home runs, though, showing a sweet swing for average. He hit .315, fourth in the league, and belted 35 doubles, which was third in the league. Amazingly, he showed tremendous grace at first and stole 31 bases during the season. He played like a guy half his size, something I am sure hurt him in his quest to reach the majors.

The other big threat for the Suns, and the guy who caused me to recall all this seventeen years after the fact, was outfielder Jose Herrera. Herrera finished second in the league in hitting and made the end of season All-Star team. Before the season ended, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics with Steve Karsay for Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. Two years later the A's would bring Herrera up to the majors. He played two seasons for them but was done as a big leaguer at the age of 23.

What got me thinking about Herrera? Last night my youngest son sang the National Anthem with a local choir at a Lancaster Barnstormers game. The Barnstormers took on the York Revolution and their cleanup hitter for the evening was none other than Jose Herrera. He was York's DH and is currently seventh in the league in batting average, hitting .319. This is his sixth season in the Atlantic League and I wouldn't be surprised to see him continue to keep playing.

It's guys like Herrera who I really admire in the baseball world. He will be turning 38 in two weeks but is still playing the game he loves. There's no money in the Atlantic League. Some players occasionally get back to the majors after playing in the Atlantic League but not after six seasons and not at age 38. And unlike a lot of other players who will hang on and try to find a way to make it out to the ballpark for their job instead of an office even though their skills are gone, Herrera is still contributing to his team. He's also bringing back a lot of fond baseball memories for me which is great. Congratulations, Jose, on your successful baseball career. I wish you many more, hopefully with the Atlantic League.

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