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30 years of Suns - To the majors through Hagerstown

Players root here, then branch out

August 15, 2010|By BOB PARASILITI

Since the beginning of time, the sun has risen in the east and set in the west.

In Hagerstown, it's a little different. The Suns have risen in the South (Atlantic, Eastern or Carolina Leagues) and have set in the West, along with the East and Central.

For 30 years, the Hagerstown Suns have been included in professional baseball's geography. The team has gone through a number of changes -- owners, affiliations and even the team colors -- but it has remained a firmly entrenched franchise, lending a helping hand in producing more than its share of major league talent.

Through the years, 897 players have made Hagerstown one of their ports of call during their professional baseball careers. Some used Municipal Stadium as a starting point. Others were older players who were in "The Show" and were sent here after trades and releases to work their way back up the ladder.

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Over time, the Suns have been affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, New York Mets and now the Washington Nationals. They have played in the Single-A Carolina and South Atlantic leagues and the Double-A Eastern League. The Suns have helped produce 161 players who played throughout the American and National Leagues and their East, West and Central divisions.

Hagerstown isn't the biggest city, nor does it have the newest stadium, but the numbers prove this Western Maryland town has its fingerprints on the major leagues.

"A lot of players from the draft make it to this level," said Mark Scialabba, the Washington Nationals director of minor league operations. "The process of making it to the major leagues is complete competition. A lot make it because of performance and coaching. Our job in player development is to get the best out of them."

For fans, Hagerstown has been the backdrop in baseball's long-running saga of the chase for fame and fortune.

There are 34 former Suns who are playing or have played in the majors in 2010, with another 11 who are back in the minors working to earn another shot. Another 116 former Suns have spent time in the majors and have either retired or been released during the franchise's three decades.

"At this level you get a lot of raw, young, talented players with a lot of tools, but none of them know how to use them," Scialabba said. "It is hard to project that they will get to the majors when they are playing here. They might be working on something they need to improve on and it may not kick in until they move to the next level."

Hagerstown has also been the starting point for 12 men (including two players) who left here to become a manager, coach or work in the front office of a major league team. There have also been 24 major league players who have been sent to Hagerstown for rehabilitation assignments.

In all, 17.6 percent of the players who have played here spent time in the majors. Those results put Hagerstown and the Suns ahead of the curve.

Older studies indicated that six percent of drafted players and three percent of all minor league players get the chance to wear a major league uniform.

The true numbers and percentages of success stories are vague, according to Major League Baseball researcher Raquel Ramos.

"We don't cite exact percentage. Our research has shown that less than 10 percent of the players who get drafted go on to major league careers (at least one game)," Ramos said in an e-mail. "To add some context, since the inception of the draft in 1965, there have been 8,077 players who have appeared in a major-league game. In that same time, there have been 58,898 draft choices made.

"And the draft does not account for non-draft eligible players born outside the U.S. (On Opening Day 2010, 27.7 percent of the players were born outside the U.S., and the vast majority of those are players who are not draft-eligible.)"

The Suns have sent 18.1 percent of the drafted players (120 of 661) to the majors. The fact that some of the players who have been Suns had major league experience before coming here skews the percentages a bit.

Some players haven't excelled here, but player development officials may see something and advance them.

Two prime examples were Toronto prospects Cesar Izturis and Josh Phelps, who had rather ordinary experiences in Hagerstown.

Others have given immediate impressions that they will make it to the majors, like pitchers Arthur Rhodes, who is the oldest former Sun still playing in the majors, Mike Mussina, Matt Cain and Jonathon Niese.

Hagerstown isn't the reason these players make it to the majors. It's just the place that helped make it happen.

"All the players advancing says something about the market," Scialabba said. "It shows that it is viable and the fans around here support the team. It is big in any major league city to have that support. It is a relationship between the fans, the people who work here and the club. It's about business."

When a Sun rises and a new day dawns for him as a major league player, it is something to notice.

"This level is far away from the major-league level," said Scialabba. "There is a lot of individual attrition of players from those who get injured, don't develop or don't have the talent. When a player makes it to the majors from this level, it is a major story."

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