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Suns road trip ends with a twist(er)

June 07, 1998

Coming home, with a twist(er)

A not-so-funny thing happened to the Hagerstown Suns while they were sitting through another mobile night at the movies.

They almost became co-stars in the 1998 version of "Gone With The Wind."

There weren't any Clark Gable impersonations, just some white knuckles Tuesday night while the Suns' charter bus rolled through Frostburg, Md., during the severe thunderstorm that produced the tornado which struck the area.

"It was a different experience," said Suns catcher Josh Phelps in an obvious understatement.

"It felt like we were going to get lifted off the road," said Suns pitching coach Hector Berrios.

The final game of Hagerstown's four-game series in Charleston, W.Va., was rained out, giving the Suns the opportunity to get home early. But while they were waiting to leave, a tornado warning was brewing in Charleston.

"I'm not very brave when it comes to things like this," Berrios said. "When I saw the funnel clouds developing, I was concerned. I saw what they did in Kissimmee, Fla. I was ready to pack and head for the basement."

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The storm blew through Charleston before the Suns departed. Some of the team watched the storm develop on the Weather Channel in their hotel rooms.

But while on the road, the Suns caught the storm in the mountains of western Maryland.

"I usually sit close to the front of the bus," Phelps said. "I was seeing first hand how the wind and rain was picking up. You could see the lightning with the storm four or five minutes before we got there."

Some of the Suns players were sleeping and others were watching a movie to pass the time on the five-hour trip. Soon, the storm caught everyone's attention.

"We were watching a movie and some of the kids asked to shut it off so they could would watch the storm. It showed me that they were concerned."

Berrios said debris was blowing around, but the Suns continued their trip home. Not even a tornado was going to stop them. Phelps said he had the feeling that the bus had just missed the tornado by a couple of minutes.

"There were trees laying across the highway," Phelps said. "I figured the bus driver would slow down, but he kept right on going. I had no idea where the tornado was, but I thought we were just behind it. I saw it just as we got to Frostburg."

Just an experience that had to be considered one of the hazards of being on the road.

"It was just one of those things that you can call home and tell everyone all about," Phelps said. "I was joking when we were going through it, yelling, 'We are all going to die,' to all the guys who were sleeping, but I didn't take too seriously.

"But if you think about it, it could have been a tragedy. You can never get ready for something like that. I've never seen a funnel cloud touch down and I hope I never to have to live through it."

But the experience was enough to make some stop and think how dangerous the situation actually could have been.

"When you look around and see the devastation that El Nino has caused, I'm not surprised by anything," Berrios said. "But it just proves you can be here today and gone tomorrow just if you get in the wrong place."

Like Dorothy says ... There's no place like home.

Heavily armed

To hear Berrios talk, you wouldn't think he was teaching the Suns pitchers to pitch.

His approach sounds more like something you tell a chess team. His reason is to make sure that these pupils don't miss out on an opportunity that passed by Berrios.

"I feel that through my career as a pitcher, a lot of my coaches didn't show me the mental part of the game," he said. "They say that 80-90 percent of pitching is mental, then why not stress it?"

For the Suns, pitching has become lobes over lobs.

"I'm blessed with a staff of pitchers who can throw 90, 92 mph. They have the arms, so I want to teach them what to do. I want them to go out there and put hitters away. I don't want them to just do it, I want them to remember how to do it."

It's been the mind that matters for Hagerstown if the statistics prove anything. The Suns have climbed out of the middle of the pack to become the top-rated pitching staff in the South Atlantic League.

The Suns overtook Cape Fear as the No. 1 staff in the league by dropping their team ERA to 3.13, an improvement of nearly a run since midway through the first half of the season. The Crocs, who had been under 3.00 for much of the half, have ballooned to 3.30.

The key for the Suns have been two things - more concentration and less walks.

"There is a direct correlation between walks and earned run average," Berrios said. "We were struggling when we went to Delmarva. We hit the bottom and it was time to shut down and start over again. At that time, (roving pitching coach Bruce Walton) came in and found some things for us to work on. It was my job to keep them on it."

Berrios attacked the walks and concentration problems by placing the pitchers in drills that constantly simulated game situations.

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