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Suns begin Giant season

April 13, 2001

Suns begin Giant season



By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

The color scheme on the face of Hagerstown Suns fan Roger Wright was black and orange Thursday night.

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The paint matched the new uniforms of the Hagerstown Suns, for whom he hooted and whooped at Thursday night's home opener.

Wright's emblazoned face was part of the pageantry as the Suns launched their 21st home season in front of 2,505 fans at Municipal Stadium. The Suns hosted the Greensboro Bats, a New York Yankees farm team, in a South Atlantic League game. The home team won 4-1.

During the pre-game introductions, the Suns' new mascot, Woolie B., a walking woolly bear caterpillar, emerged from a break in the right field fence after the old mascot, Jay Jay, was symbolically captured and tugged from the field.

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The new colors, uniforms and mascot are tied to a change in the team's Major League affiliation.

The Suns, a Single-A team, ended an eight-year relationship with the Toronto Blue Jays and became affiliated with the San Francisco Giants in December.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said at the game that city residents unhappy with the previous connection to a Canadian team are excited about the Suns being a Giants' farm team. And the team colors match those of the Baltimore Orioles.

Bruchey threw one of five ceremonial pitches before the game.

Outgoing team owner Winston Blenckstone threw a pitch, too.

Blenckstone is turning the team over to Andy Rayburn, a Cleveland resident who owns a minor league team in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Resting his elbows on a rail behind home plate, Blenckstone stared toward the field as he contemplated yet another opening day.

"It's our New Year's," he said as Suns right-hander Jeff Clark hurled his first pitch toward home plate. "It takes us six months during the winter months to prepare. Then, the staff can sit back."

Blenckstone will remain with the team as chief operating officer and consultant as he and Rayburn await league approval of the sale. "I will try to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my 15 years in the business. I will try to relax," he said.

Rayburn flew in from Cleveland, staying only long enough to watch the game. He talked shop with Blenckstone and greeted fans by playfully knocking fists with them.

"I think it's great to be affiliated with the Giants," said Rayburn, who spent time with the Major League team during spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.

For other fans, the only thing that mattered was that the Hagerstown Suns were on the field again.

"It's just a good feeling to watch these guys," said Gary DeWeerd of Hagerstown, president of the team's fan club, which has about 300 members.

As far as DeWeerd can recall, the last home game he missed was in 1991, when then-President George Bush was at the stadium. DeWeerd was in Michigan.

Fan club officers stood during the game, leaning on blankets spread across a cement platform to the right of home plate.

Judy Baker of Waynesboro, Pa., the club's secretary, hasn't missed many home games in the last 15 years. "My daughter used to be a bat girl," she said. "I didn't miss any then."

"It's a sign of spring and great entertainment," Hagerstown City Council member William Breichner said, carrying a seat cushion and walking toward the bleachers.

Breichner said he saw his first Hagerstown game about 60 years ago, when the team was the Owls. His father, a railroad telegrapher, would transmit play-by-play action to the cities of the Owls' foes.

Craig Hochstein of Townsend, Del., sat in the front row in Section B, on the first base side. His son, Brent, 6, was to his left, along with nephew Matthew Bittner, 8, and niece Elizabeth Bittner, 5, from Pennsylvania.

They were guests of Zach Lynn, 14, of Hagerstown, who supplied three of them with mitts.

Zach said it was fun to be at the game despite not being able to play himself. A catcher and pitcher in the local Junior League, Zach broke his knee and is about to have surgery.

Few fans matched Wright's exuberance.

He keeps a Suns schedule in every room at home and one at work. When the Suns are on the road, he watches Frederick or Delmarva play.

"It doesn't matter what team. It's a ballgame ...," he said. "It's going to be a long season, but it's always gone too soon."

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