Baseball is a better place because of Hagerstown

August 24, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

Hagerstown filled a prescription for short-sightedness recently.

After squinting for the last 54 years, everything came into focus two weeks ago when Willie Mays returned to the town where he began his professional baseball career. In 1950, as a minor leaguer with the Trenton Giants, let's just say, "Hey, Willie Mays didn't receive the warmest of welcomes" upon his arrival.

Things might have transpired differently if someone back then could have predicted the future. They might have seen how one day Mays would become one of baseball's all-time greatest players. In turn, they may have spared Mays the experiences that left a bad taste in his mouth for a half-century.

Hagerstown didn't have the luxury of the vision back then. In those days, Mays was just a "Negro" youth from out of town coming into this segregated area. He was yet to become one of the greatest athletes of our time.


Fortunately, Hagerstown sees things differently now, and settled the old score when Mays paid his visit.

The town showed remorse.

Mays displayed understanding.

And suddenly, it's all history.

History is still a sore subject for Hagerstown, though.

For many years, Hagerstown has been a self-proclaimed "baseball town." It loves its Baltimore Orioles. It embraces its youth programs. And it has selective memory when it comes to its contributions to the game.

Hagerstown has had an impact on professional baseball in its own way. In the 1980s, it was the pride of being the home for an Orioles' farm team. It waned, though, when the Orioles elected to leave town and Toronto and San Francisco franchises elected to call this town home.

The truth is Hagerstown is too stubborn to realize what baseball means to it and it to baseball. The rich contributions it has made over the years have been ignored because its minor-league team isn't a Baltimore affiliate anymore.

Like in 1950, Hagerstown still isn't a prime destination when it comes to baseball careers ... but it is a launching pad.

In varying degrees, Hagerstown has had an impact on the 2004 baseball season. Most aren't dynamic instances, like Mays, and they may just be considered future trivia answers or quirks.

They still have a special niche in baseball's lore.

  • Greg Maddux recently defeated the Giants to notch his 300th pitching victory, which possibly punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

    A historic sidebar of the milestone was authored because Maddux accomplished his goal while his pitching opponent was making his major-league debut. He was Brad Hennessey, who pitched for the Suns in 2003.

  • Texas traded Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees before the season in a blockbuster deal. Finances and politics aside, the Rangers decided they could make the move because they knew they had an adequate replacement at the position.

    He was Michael Young, who proved the Rangers right by becoming an All-Star. Young was a Sun in 1998.

  • Pittsburgh fans believe the Pirates have an outside chance for a Wild Card berth (right!), partially because of the breakout season of a long-haired, jack-of-many-trades named Craig Wilson. Wilson, who has 24 home runs and 74 RBI, was a catcher for the Suns in 1996.

    By the way, Pittsburgh's closer is Jose Mesa, a 1990 alum of the Double-A Suns.

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers made a deadline trade with Arizona to add outfield help for a drive to win the National League West title.

    The Dodgers made a deal for Steve Finley, a 1988 member of the Suns, who has helped keep Los Angeles' quest alive.

    By the way, Los Angeles' starting shortstop is Cesar Izturis, who played for the Suns in 1998.

  • And even closer to home, the Philadelphia Phillies' catching instructor and bullpen coach is Funkstown native Mick Billmeyer. Billmeyer caught for the Suns in 1988.

    There is even a larger list of star players who played at Municipal Stadium on their way to the majors.

Baseball is a better place because of Hagerstown and Hagerstown is a better place because of baseball.

It took 54 years, but Willie Mays can now see it.

Too bad Hagerstown won't take a 20/20 look and embrace its own heritage.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at

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