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Blenckstone does his job, gets into SAL Hall

Former Suns owner to be inducted tonight

Former Suns owner to be inducted tonight

June 18, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

When Winston Blenckstone looks back at his professional baseball career, there are no runs, hits or saves on some database for him to brag about.

To show his greatest asset, Blenckstone can point to the watch on his wrist.

The weeks, months and years have become the testament to the 15-year former owner-operator of the Hagerstown Suns, and earned Blenckstone a place in the 2002 induction class for the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame.

Blenckstone will be inducted today during the All-Star and Hall of Fame Awards Luncheon in Lakewood, N.J., along with Philadelphia manager Larry Bowa, former major league general manager Dan O'Brien, umpire Joe West and broadcaster Bill Blackwell.

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"I didn't get elected for any more than longevity," Blenckstone said. "I guess in my tenure I served the league well. I guess (SAL President John Henry Moss) appreciated all I did. He saw that I cared for what happened because I was an owner-operator of the team. This was my only business."

In reality, Blenckstone received his nomination because he made good use of his time in the league. Maybe more than he knew or admits.

He could be considered a pioneer and innovator in a time of size, complexion and location changes for the league. Blenckstone's decision to move his team from Myrtle Beach, S.C. to Hagerstown in 1992 changed the SAL's southern barbeque into a full-fledged East Coast block party.

"I did it for more personal reasons," Blenckstone said. "I wanted to get back to Maryland. But with us moving to Maryland in 1992, it opened the doors to all the other markets that the league would get to. It made Hagerstown a strategic area in the league."

At the time, Blenckstone became the "man who saved baseball in Hagerstown," after the Baltimore Orioles vacated Municipal Stadium and moved their Double-A franchise to Bowie, Md. Blenckstone gladly moved his team in, bringing the South Atlantic League and the Toronto organization to town for eight years. San Francisco took the affiliation last season and he sold the franchise to Andrew Rayburn in June 2001.

Following Blenckstone's relocation, teams popped up in Salisbury, Md., Charleston, W.Va., Lexington, Ky., and Lakewood. There is a possibility of Columbus, Ga. moving to Eastlake, Ohio next season.

"We think Winston made an outstanding contribution to the South Atlantic League in its developing years as a club owner and vice president of the league," Moss said. "He was always a willing worker in the effort of a progressive league. We're delighted to have him coming into the Hall of Fame and he is a worthy inductee."

Blenckstone purchased the Florence (S.C.) Blue Jays in 1986 and moved them to Myrtle Beach in 1987. In the years before the sale, Blenckstone became one of the league's vice presidents and was asked to deal with some the SAL's thorny issues.

"My job was to interview all the prospective new ownership groups, and I was on the negotiating committee for a number of issues and expansion. The league doubled in size in 10 years and a number of new facilities have also came during that time."

The struggle for a new facility in Hagerstown finally took its toll on Blenckstone and forced him to sell the team, fulfilling his own promise that he would rather sell the team than move it again.

"I enjoyed my 15 years in baseball," said Blenckstone, who now lives in Baltimore. "There were some frustrations while I was in it. I wish I could have had a team in a super facility to show what we could do, but I have no regrets."

But Blenckstone said some of the thoughts he will have when he's inducted will go back to the people he met during his 15 years of time.

"I guess I'll think about all the people - the fans, the baseball people and the players," Blenckstone said. "When I talk to the players we had, it's nice to see them and they remember us. Their experience in the minors have a huge impact on them. I'm glad to have been part of it."

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