The year was 2004.
I was in my first season of covering professional baseball. My beat was the Oneonta Tigers, the short-season Single-A team of the Detroit Tigers. I, of course, was in heaven as I was being paid (somewhat) to cover baseball. It had been one of my professional goals. No matter the level, I wanted to cover professional baseball.
And in 2004, it came true.
Besides covering the Tigers, however, I got to see all the other teams. The prospects, the players. I got to see some talent.
One of those talents was Hunter Pence.
Pence was part of a Tri-City ValleyCats team that went 50-25 that season, winning the Stedler Division by 14.5 game over Vermont and 16.5 games over Oneonta.
Even back then, however, I knew Pence was a talent. I probably saw him play 4-5 times that season and he was unorthodox. But he could run. He could hit. He could field. He had the arm. And he had the look. He’s one of those ones that even after he moved onward and upward, I always paid attention to him to see how he did. He became a favorite of mine that season.
I kept tabs on him all through the minors and into the majors. I’ve tried to get Pence for my fantasy baseball team, to no avail. And despite playing for another NL team, he’s remained one of my favorites.
That Tri-City team was something special, too. Three others on that Tri-City team have reached the majors, whether on a full-time basis or on a callup. Pitcher Chad Reineke, infielder Drew Sutton and second baseman Ben Zobrist.
Though they were likely the best team I saw that year, a championship wasn’t to be had for Pence and the ValleyCats that season as they fell to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the championship, falling 2-0 in the best-of-three series.
So why bring all this up now?
Because Hunter Pence is on the Phillies, of course!
Last week, the Phillies traded for the right fielder in a good move a couple of days before the trade deadline. It’s not a one-year thing, either, as Pence is team-controlled for the next couple of years. I couldn’t be happier about that. It gives the Phillies a right-handed bat, which was needed, and a great overall player. Not to mention that since Pence came aboard, the Phils haven’t lost (4-0) since acquiring Pence.
Oh, as for the title of this blog?
Pence scored the winning run in a 6-5 victory over Pittsburgh this past weekend. He had doubled and scored when Raul Ibanez doubled. After, Pence was interviewed by Gary “Sarge” Matthews, who asked Pence what was going through his head when he rounded third.
“Good game, let’s go eat!”
As for some of the other players in Oneonta I got the fortune to cover over the years, some time, I’ll sit down and see about some of them and see where they are now. (One other that I know of is also in the Phillies organization. Jeff Larish is playing at Triple-A Lehigh Valley). Some are in the majors and doing well. It’ll be fun to see where they are going and for me to go down “memory lane.”
For the record, covering that 2004 Oneonta team was a blast. It gave me the chance to learn a lot of things. And it wasn’t as if there weren’t some future major leaguers on the team, including current Atlanta Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens. Also on that team was pitcher Christhian Martinez, who is currently pitching for the Braves and pitched several strong innings in that recent 19-inning game where umpire Jerry Meals did his best impression of being blindfolded when umpiring a game. (But that’s a story that I won’t need to deal with…)
It’s fun watching them move up the chain and know I got to see most of them in their first professional season. Baseball is great, isn’t it?
Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com.