'Matt White Night' attracts big crowd for Suns

June 06, 1997


Staff Writer

Ace pitcher Matt White returned to the area Thursday and put in an appearance at Hagerstown's Municipal Stadium, where fans turned out by the thousands for "Matt White Night."

Hagerstown Suns officials had hoped to build a blockbuster four-game series with the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs around White, who was a star right-hander at Waynesboro High School. An injury has kept White off the team's roster, but it didn't keep him from participating in the festivities.

Waynesboro Borough Council members participated in pre-game activities, the Wayne Band performed and White's mother threw out the first pitch - to her son.


This was to be the week that White, 18, pitched against the Suns as a member of the RiverDogs, but a back injury prevented him from taking the field.

Dressed in a RiverDogs uniform, White pledged to sign autographs during the third and fourth innings. But the line for his signature continued to snake the length of the grandstand on the third base side well past the fifth inning as fans clutched baseballs, Matt White posters handed out at the gate and other items.

"He said he's going to get to everyone once," said his mother, Deb. "We are having a great time - just fantastic, the support he's getting."

The RiverDogs are the Class A affiliate of the new Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who signed White last year.

Surveying the crowd of 4,125 - the largest attendance of the year - Suns owner Winston Blenckstone said he was pleased with the turnout.

"It's a good indication of the interest in baseball in this area," he said. "Probably, many of the people here are coming from southern Pennsylvania. It's good to see we can market in all of our areas."

Blenckstone briefly allowed himself to speculate about the size of the crowds that would have come out had White been able to pitch on Thursday.

Blenckstone's hope is that some of the fans who came out to see White will return and help turn around sagging attendance totals this year.

Several fans standing in line for White's autograph expressed interest in seeing other games, but most made it clear White was the reason they came out.

"Came out to see a hometown hero," said Pat McDonald, a teacher at Waynesboro Middle School who knew White as a youth. "I'm glad he could show up."

Fairplay resident Dave Hattle said he was hoping to see White pitch for the first time.

"They don't know what they're missing," said Buck Strock, who graduated from Waynesboro High School with White.

Strock said he faced White only once, in a youth baseball game. He recalled that White tossed a no-hitter and struck out 20 batters that day. It did not take long, Strock said, for him to decide White had major league potential.

"Once I struck out to him," he said. "He humiliated us."

Waynesboro resident Jeff Howe said he also had attended Wednesday night's game, his first Suns game of the year. He even praised the team's stadium.

"It's great. I really enjoy them," he said. "It's a great ballpark. I'm glad we have something like this."

Waynesboro officials got some financial mileage out of Thursday's game. The borough bought tickets on discount and then resold them for a profit.

Councilwoman Vicki Huff said she was hoping to raise between $1,500 and $2,000 to help renovate the Northside Pool.

Huff said the crowd would have been even larger if there had not been so much confusion about whether White would be able to show up.

"Matt is such a fixture in Waynesboro," she said.

Tampa Bay officials said earlier this week that White would not make the trip to Hagerstown but would remain at extended spring training camp in Florida, where he has been in extended rehabilitation for a back injury. In the end, however, the team allowed White to make the trip.

Councilman Delmos Oldham, who threw out one of the first pitches, was White's first baseball coach. Oldham said he coached White for five years in youth league.

"When Matt was 8 years old, he was as good as a lot of the 12-year-olds," he said. "And as time went on, he just got better."

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