Minor League Memories: Where Have You Gone, Daren Epley?
I was somewhat surprised when the invitation came my way to contribute during Tony's recovery. While I frequent the site, and have appreciated Tony's work for some time, I don't consider myself any kind of expert on the minor leagues, or players developing.
I am a big fan of minor league baseball though. It started for me around 1989, when I would go to Canton-Akron Indians games down at Thurman Munson Stadium. At the time, Canton-Akron was the AA affiliate for the Indians. The stadium was nowhere near what Canal Park is today. There were no seats, only metal bleachers. No suites. No luxury boxes.
The dugouts were underneath the seats, and I have to imagine it was loud for the players hearing fans walk up and down the metal bleachers all game.
My favorite pastime at the stadium was autograph fishing. Before the game we would throw lines over the fence, and down to the players to ask for autographs on cards. We made small holes in the corners of hard plastic card holders to attach the line to, and clipped a sharpie to the line. Most players (like Charlie Nagy and Mark Lewis) were gracious enough to take some time to pull the card out and sign it for us. Others (like Joey Belle and Carlos Martinez) didn't want to be bothered and never signed.
Then there was Rudy Seanez. Seanez played for 9 big league clubs in his career, and currently owns a Cold Stone Creamery for all those interested. Rudy didn't quite understand the autograph fishing process. We had purchased packs of cards from the stadium featuring all the AA Indian prospects, and when we saw Rudy walking toward the dugout from warming up we shouted his name and threw his card in the protective holder and lowered it over the side. Not wanted to disappoint a couple of young fans Rudy took the marker and proceeded to sign. The plastic sleeve.
Yep. From that day on I had his autograph on whatever card I wanted. Just pop it in the signed plastic sleeve!
It was an exciting time to watch minor league baseball. The majority of the Cleveland stars of the mid-nineties all made it through Canton at some point. Even if it was just a rehab start. The Tribe's triple A club was in Colorado, and so for short rehab starts they all came to Canton. Thome, Ramirez, Giles and Belle all played there. At the time we had no idea these guys would have that kind of success at the major league level, but it was certainly fun to watch them pound out runs down at Thurman Munson.
As exciting as those players were, our favorites were always the guys that hung around longer than everyone else after a game, or spent more time before the game talking with fans. Guys like Daren Epley and Ken Ramos. Epley was a 4th round pick in 1988, and played for Canton-Akron for the majority of 3 seasons. He had a good year in 1992, leading to a promotion to AAA Colorado. He never saw the majors in Cleveland or anywhere else.
Epley was a career .265 hitter in the minors. That 1992 season he hit .327 for Canton-Akron. But he was out of baseball 2 seasons later. Jared Goedert anyone?
I would encourage anyone to take in minor league baseball on a regular basis. It's a great way to get to know the players long before they show up in Cleveland. But if you can't get there regularly, Tony's writing brings them to you. Get well soon sir.
As I mentioned before, Rick is the co-founder, co-editor, writer extraordinaire over at WFNY. Rick is certainly one of the most visible writers out there, and WFNY has become one of the most concise Cleveland sports websites on the planet. Rick was the first to e-mail me back saying he'd write a piece for IPI. Thanks to Rick, and to WFNY for helping Tony out.
If you are interested in adding a piece as a guest columnist over the next month, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).