Have You Seen Me Lately? (Players Edition)

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Old friend Drew Ward stays in the Northeast Double-A League with the Erie SeaWolves

Wondering where some of your favorite former Senators will be playing in 2021? Here’s a comprehensive list as the minor league season begins…

MLB

Matt Adams – Colorado Rockies
Richard Bleier – Miami Marlins
Brad Boxberger – Milwaukee Brewers
Jimmy Cordero – Chicago White Sox
Wil Crowe – Pittsburgh Pirates
Ian Desmond – Colorado Rockies (opted-out)
Ross Detwiler – Miami Marlins
Wilmer Difo – Pittsburgh Pirates
Adam Eaton – Chicago White Sox
Paolo Espino – Washington Nationals
Erick Fedde – Washington Nationals
Lucas Giolito – Chicago White Sox
Brian Goodwin – Chicago White Sox
Bryce Harper – Philadelphia Phillies
Yadiel Hernandez – Washington Nationals
Greg Holland – Kansas City Royals
Sandy Leon – Miami Marlins
Jose Marmolejos – Seattle Mariners
Tommy Milone – Toronto Blue Jays
Oliver Perez – Cleveland Indians (DFA’d on 4/28)
Nick Pivetta – Boston Red Sox
Wilson Ramos – Detroit Tigers
Robbie Ray – Toronto Blue Jays
Anthony Rendon – Los Angeles Angels
Tanner Roark – Toronto Blue Jays (DFA’d on 5/1)
Victor Robles – Washington Nationals
Trevor Rosenthal – Oakland A’s
Joe Ross – Washington Nationals
Pedro Severino – Baltimore Orioles
Juan Soto – Washington Nationals
Craig Stammen – San Diego Padres
Andrew Stevenson – Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg – Washington Nationals
Wander Suero – Washington Nationals
Michael Taylor – Kansas City Royals
Blake Treinen – Los Angeles Dodgers
Trea Turner – Washington Nationals
Phillips Valdez – Boston Red Sox
Austin Voth – Washington Nationals
Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals
Jordan Zimmermann – Milwaukee Brewers

AAA

Dakota Bacus – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Joan Baez – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Kyle Barraclough – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (NYY)
Tres Barrera – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Rafael Bautista – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Austin Bibens-Dirkx – Oklahoma City Dodgers (LAD)
Bryan Bonnell – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Ben Braymer – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
AJ Cole – Buffalo Bisons (TOR)
Aaron Fletcher – Tacoma Rainiers (SEA)
Steven Fuentes – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Luis Garcia – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Taylor Gushue – Iowa Cubs (CHC)
Kelvin Gutierrez – Omaha Storm Chasers (KCR)
Daniel Johnson – Columbus Clippers (CLE)
Alec Keller – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Carter Kieboom – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Ian Krol – Toledo Mud Hens (DET)
Reynaldo Lopez – Charlotte Knights (CWS)
Kyle McGowin – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Justin Miller – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Jake Noll – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Ronald Pena – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Raudy Read – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Jefry Rodriguez – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Adrian Sanchez – Rochester Red Wings (WAS)
Steven Souza – Oklahoma City Dodgers (LAD)
Jacob Wilson – Las Vegas Aviators (OAK)

AA

James Bourque – Tennessee Smokies (CHC)
Taylor Guilbeau – Amarillo Sod Poodles (ARZ)
David Masters – Arkansas Travelers (SEA)
Drew Ward – Erie SeaWolves (DET)

Unassigned

Osvaldo Abreu – Arizona Diamondbacks
Aaron Barrett – Washington Nationals
Ryan Brinley – Washington Nationals
Andrew Istler – Washington Nationals
Jackson Tetreault – Washington Nationals
Austen Williams – Washington Nationals

Independent

Zach Collier – Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (Atlantic League)
Steve Lombardozzi – Long Island Ducks (Atlantic League)
Michael Martinez – High Point Rockers (Atlantic League)
Kevin McGowan – Lexington Legends (Atlantic League)
Eury Perez – Sioux City Explorers (American Association)
T.J. Rivera – Long Island Ducks (Atlantic League)
Darian Sandford – York Revolution (Atlantic League)
Derek Self – Lexington Legends (Atlantic League)
Chuck Taylor – Sussex County Miners (Frontier League)
Adam Brett Walker – Milwaukee Milkmen (American Association)

Foreign

Danny Espinosa – Acereros de Monclova (Mexican League)
Quincy Latimore – Netunno (Italian Baseball League)
Mitch Lively – CTBC Brothers (Chinese Professional Baseball League)
Rafael Martin – Saraperos de Saltillo (Mexican League)
Logan Ondrusek – Leones de Yucatan (Mexican League)
Carlos Rivero – Algodoneros Union Laguna (Mexican League)
Luis Sardinas – Mariachis de Guadalajara (Mexican League)
Sammy Solis – Acereros de Monclova (Mexican League)
Neftali Soto – Yokohama DeNA BayStars (Japanese Baseball League)
Jesus Valdez – Toros de Tijuana (Mexican League)
Cesar Vargas – Sultanes de Monterrey (Mexican League)

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: No. 1

Welcome to the last in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987). Just a reminder that this is one man’s humble opinion. I’m sure I’ve missed ones you remember more fondly, but this is my list.

The previous one (Nos. 40 through 2) can be found here.

So without further ado…

1. Milton Bradley – A Slam to Remember (September 20, 1999)

For the 3,171 fans in attendance on that fateful Monday night at then RiverSide Stadium and the thousands more listening to the broadcast, no one will forget the way the bottom of the ninth inning unfolded to give the Senators their fourth straight Eastern League championship.

The Norwich Navigators plated two insurance runs in the top half of the inning to push their advantage against Harrisburg out to a seemingly insurmountable 11-7 lead. After reliever Oswaldo Mairena recorded the last out of the previous frame, Norwich manager Lee Mazzilli chose to stay with the southpaw for a match-up against the Senators 4-5-6 hitters, all left-handed. 

But looming in the Norwich bullpen was Joe Lisio, the hard-throwing right-hander who led the Eastern League with 33 saves in 1999, in case the Senators started a rally. 

The rest they say is history.

What follows is an oral history of those memorable six minutes on City Island recreated with the help of Geoff Morrow’s 10th year anniversary stories of The Slam, Andy Linker’s One Patch of Grass, television coverage from ABC27’s Gregg Mace, and interviews with Milton Bradley from the 2000 Senators’ team program and Andy Tracy by the author.

Andy Tracy: It was amazing. I think it was the last night we had to play. We got stuck in a hurricane up in Connecticut. We got back home and it rained all night.

Todd Vander Woude (former Senators’ General Manager): Everyone had enough of the rain delays, and I remember talking to the umpire crew chief before the game. He had a great line, saying, “Unless we see Noah coming on the Ark, we are going to play this game.”

Barry & Margie Fealtman (Senators’ fans): We were sitting in the red seats behind home plate. Next to us were pitchers from the opposing team. We overheard them talking about winning the championship. As the inning grew closer to the end of the game, they decided to go down to the clubhouse and put the champagne on ice so it would be ready.

Milton Bradley: I had struck out three times already. My last at-bat was a strikeout. My last at-bat in Harrisburg was a strikeout. I didn’t want Norwich celebrating on our field. I went into the clubhouse and listened to the game on the radio. It was the best way for me to stay calm.

Andy Tracy: Milton went into the clubhouse during the ninth and was already out of his clothes and only in his boxers…He had his head down. He was very disappointed. It had been a rough year for him, and he gets really emotional about some things.

Steve Phillips (Senators’ hitting coach): He said he couldn’t watch right now. I said, “Well, we’re going to get some baserunners and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Barry & Margie Fealtman: We were standing by the Norwich bullpen when a good-natured Senators fan was leaving the game. He looked over at the visiting pitchers and congratulated them on winning the championship. A pitcher looked up and said, “Thanks, but the game’s not over yet.” How right he was.

Todd Vander Woude: As usual with my duties at a home game, I was not able to see much of the game. But I found myself standing at the first-base gate in the bottom of the ninth. I remember talking with Mayor Reed and Gregg Mace, joking that all we needed was a grand slam to tie the game.

Mark Mattern (former Senators’ broadcaster and Assistant GM): When the ninth inning started, I told my radio partner, Brad Sparesus, that if we get the tying run on base, I will go down the field for possible post-game interviews, all the time thinking, ‘Right, like that has a chance of happening.’ Anyway, the inning unfolds, I head down to the gate at the first-base dugout and finally realize how heavy the rain is.

Andy Tracy: I was just trying to get on base. I wasn’t thinking about a comeback.

Todd Vander Woude: We ended up getting a hit and a couple walks to load the bases, and (Jason) Camilli hit a ground ball to third, the third baseman got hurt and one run scored.

Milton Bradley: I think that was to my advantage. He was in a groove, throwing good. He was getting batters out. He was making good pitches. He had his rhythm going. Then the injury breaks it. Now (Lisio) has to stand out there, holding the ball with the rain coming down on him.

Todd Vander Woude: The lengthy delay due to the Norwich player getting injured seemed to really get the crowd going and the stadium rocking. Fans were pounding on the aluminum seats to make even more noise.

Milton Bradley: I heard one voice coming from the crowd saying “You can do it. We believe in you. Four-in-a-row. We are still here.” It was weird, that was all I heard. I said to myself, “I need to hit the ball hard.”

Brad Sparesus (Senators’ broadcaster): “It comes down to this. This incredible season. Three balls and two strikes. Two outs, bottom of the ninth. There’s a shot toward right field. Back is Glass at the wall. GONNNNNNNE!!! Grand slam!!! Grand slam!!! The Senators are Eastern League champions again!!!”

Joe Lisio (Norwich closer): When I let go of the pitch, I knew it was a mistake. I just missed my spot.

Milton Bradley: I just wanted to hit it. It was fastball middle-in. I hit it. When you make good contact, you don’t feel it. I was just watching it. It was on a line.

Doug Sisson: When Milton hit the ball, I knew we were going to tie the game because I knew Camilli could score on it. I saw (Norwich outfielder) Chip Glass going back…I thought it was going to be a double because the trajectory was too low. It was so foggy and the rain was coming, and you can never tell with those lights out there.

Andy Tracy: It wasn’t a towering home run. I thought it was off the wall, and Camilli could run so I thought he’d score [from first]. It was so rainy and damp, but he got it. It barely cleared the wall.

Wayne Rosenthal (Senators’ pitching coach): I was just yelling get up, get up, get up. When I saw Glass give up and that ball went over, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. I couldn’t help myself. I just went nuts.

Wally Ream (Senators’ fan): My wife, Kathy, our friend, Krysten Repman, and I were sitting just under the press box in Section 106. We remember seeing Milton Bradley’s hit go deep into the rain and fog, and at first we weren’t sure it cleared the fence. When we realized it did, everyone erupted in cheers and hugs.

Mark Mattern: Bang, that special sound when a ball hits the bat just so. It was hard for us to see, but it was gone. General manager Todd Vander Woude and I push through the gate, and maybe I pushed a little too hard. Woude ended up on the ground, but I had no time to worry about him then.

Todd Vander Woude: When Milton hit the ball, by the sound of the ball hitting the bat, I knew it was absolutely hit on a rope. It hit the second-tier billboard in right, and basically I could not walk. I was numb. To this day, I still think Mattern pushed me to the ground and stepped on me to get on the field.

Jeremy Salyers (Senators’ reliever): Somehow that ball got over the fence. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.

Milton Bradley: I didn’t know if it was going to stay up. I was going up the baseline and I was numb. I remember watching the ball fly and watching Glass. His shoulders slumped, I knew that was it. It was like the Twilight Zone. I ran around the bases. I didn’t realize we had won. I didn’t realize it until I rounded third and saw everyone crowded around home. I realized I didn’t come to Harrisburg in vain.

Joe Lisio: My heart went down to my stomach because I knew we had lost the game…To this day I still think about it. It was the worst experience I ever had in baseball, in life, by far.

Mark Mattern: I look to my left, and I swear the entire team was out of the dugout and about four feet off the ground.

Todd Vander Woude: The team was just going nuts on the field, and the crowd was the loudest I can ever remember.

Christian Parker (Senators’ winning pitcher): I put my head between my legs and started crying. This is an unbelievable thing.

Mark Mattern: I finally get to Milton and he starts to cry as he is talking to me, and, of course, I start to cry. I don’t think I ever cried on a broadcast before or since. Kind of ironic for me as a broadcaster, the greatest moment in my sports life, and there I am, with the hero of the moment, too choked up to speak. It was great.

Milton Bradley: I just wanted to do something. It was kind of my way of saying thanks to the fans of Harrisburg, my teammates. That was for them, I was secondary right there.

Jamey Carroll: This is unbelievable. I couldn’t be any happier for Milton Bradley. The guy has been through the roughest times, and he has come through for us time and time this year. Our team has been through the most amazing stuff all year long. Nobody believed in us except for ourselves. We persevered. People were saying we were the worst team ever to come through here. Maybe we proved them wrong tonight.

Steve Reed (Harrisburg Mayor): We’re a swing away from extinction and he hits a grand slam. This is the most historical hit in Central Pennsylvania baseball history. No question about it. One for the storybooks. 

Doug Sisson: With apologies to my daughter, this could be the greatest day of my life.

Andy Tracy: We pretty much partied all night, and the fans stayed with us on the field.

Todd Vander Woude: I was at the stadium until about 5:30 a.m., couldn’t sleep and ended up doing many local radio shows at 7 a.m.

Andy Tracy: That was one of my favorite years. I learned a lot about myself that season, I learned a lot about the game. And there was that inning that nobody will ever forget.

Milton Bradley: I always dreamed of something like this and I never thought it would happen.

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: Nos. 5 to 2

Welcome to the eighth in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987). Just a reminder that this is one man’s humble opinion. I’m sure I’ve missed ones you remember more fondly, but this is my list.

The previous one (Nos. 40 through 6) can be found here.

So without further ado…

5. Carlos Adolfo – Evening the Series (Sept 17, 1999)

After losing the opening game to Norwich, the last thing Harrisburg wanted to do was sit around waiting for two days and nights of rain. So when they eventually took the field at Dodd Stadium after back-to-back postponements, it was imperative to get out to a fast start in Game 2 if the Senators hoped to win their fourth straight Eastern League championship.

Carlos Adolfo provided that spark for Harrisburg. The outfielder unleashed a long drive into the trees beyond the left-field wall in the fourth inning to give the Senators a 1-0 lead. 

“You can’t be nervous out there,” Adolfo told The Patriot-News’ Andy Linker. “Now, you’re seeing more intensity. You have to concentrate a little bit more now.”

The Senators kept their foot on the pedal as they streaked to a 5-0 advantage. It was one they would use all of as the Navigators rallied for four runs in the eighth inning off reliever Rodney Stevenson. But that was as close as Norwich would come as Harrisburg evened the best-of-5 EL finals at one game apiece.

4. Bob Natal – Punching Their Ticket (September 7, 1991)

Canton-Akron’s starting pitcher Grady Hall had stifled the high-flying Senators’ offense for five innings. The southpaw worked on a four-hitter while his Indians’ teammates had given him a 2-1 lead.

Nothing seemed amiss as Hall began the sixth inning by inducing league MVP Matt Stairs to ground out to second base. Archi Cianfrocco managed to reach base, though, as he followed with an infield single handcuffing shortstop Sam Ferretti. 

That brought Harrisburg’s hottest bat, Bob Natal, to the plate. The Senators’ catcher was locked in for the whole series, and this game was no different as he was already 2-for-2. 

Hall tried to mix things up, opting to go with a split-finger fastball, but the pitch stayed up, and Natal made him pay for the mistake with a 365-foot bomb past the flag poles. 

“It was something in the zone,” Natal told The Patriot-News’ Skip Hutter. “He hadn’t made too many mistakes to that point. I’m just hot right now. It’s playoff time.”

The homer gave the Senators a 3-2 lead they would maintain to send them to their third Eastern League championship series in the first five years of their return to City Island. 

3. Josh Johnson – A Little Help from Dad (June 11, 2013)

Johnson crosses home plate after the home run

The loss of a parent is a situation many of us have struggled through or are dreading the day it comes.

For Senators’ infielder Josh Johnson, that day came on May 26 when his father, former Major Leaguer Larry Johnson, passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. JJ returned home to Florida and spent two-plus weeks on the temporary inactive list attending to family issues. 

Since he’d been away from baseball that entire time, the original plan was to ease him back and not even think about playing him when he first returned. Instead, Johnson responded positively after a workout and batting practice. Manager Matt LeCroy felt comfortable to call on the infielder to pinch-hit in the sixth inning of a scoreless duel.

The skipper mentioned to Brian Goodwin that it would be pretty amazing if Johnson mustered a home run in that spot.

Hitting from the right side of the plate against Richmond’s Jack Snodgrass, the switch-hitting Johnson turned on a 2-2 pitch launching the offering over the left-field wall for the game’s lone run.

“Sure enough, he ended up doing it,” LeCroy told The Patriot-News’ Tim Leone. “I got emotional. I was excited. All the guys in the dugout were going crazy. For him, I can’t imagine what that meant. A special moment.”

“Once I hit it, I knew I got it,” Johnson said. “The only thing I could think of was my dad. I got really emotional…That was the best moment of my life. That was the best feeling I had ever had. You combine anxiousness, nervousness, sad, happy. You can’t explain it.”

2. Tom Prince – The Stuff of Dreams (September 10, 1987)

Reading reliever Todd Frohwirth stood on the RiverSide Stadium mound needing just one more out to send the Phillies to the championship series. That Frohwirth, who had logged time with the Major League Phillies that season, even found himself on the playoff roster was a point of contention that did not make Harrisburg manager Dave Trembley happy in the least.

All that stood between Frohwirth, the R-Phils, and a berth in the finals was Harrisburg’s Tom Prince. The Senators down to their final out and trailing 3-2 needed a miracle.

The catcher, who had clubbed only six home runs in 430 plate appearances during the regular season, stunned everyone on City Island when he lined the first pitch he saw from Frohwirth over the left-field wall to tie the game up and grant the Senators a stay of execution. 

In the 13th inning, Lance Belen sliced a bases-loaded single to lift Harrisburg to the dramatic 4-3 comeback triumph in the do-or-die Game 5. Three days later, the Senators swept a day-night doubleheader to best the Vermont Reds and win the Eastern League championship in their first season of existence.

“I didn’t want the people of Harrisburg to remember me as making the last out,” Prince told The Patriot-News’ Nick Horvath. “They’ve been too fantastic. It’s my biggest thrill in baseball.”

Horvath summed it up brilliantly:

So it was left to Prince, who etched his name in Harrisburg sports folklore and created an unforgettable, electric RiverSide moment with his home run, to add the exclamation point of thanks for the players. Later, Prince said the home run was for the city. He’ll forever remain, even in the big leagues someday, one of Harrisburg’s adopted sons.

Some 20 years from now, when the home run of Thursday night tale is retold, Game 5 vs. Reading in 1987 will have been seen by 30,000 fans. If there is anything like a balance sheet between players and city, consider the bottom line even.

Without a doubt, Prince’s home run was the biggest hit in Harrisburg for at least the previous 35 years. In team history to this day, it would only be surpassed in 1999 by our entry at #1.

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: Nos. 10 to 6

Welcome to the seventh in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987). Just a reminder that this is one man’s humble opinion. I’m sure I’ve missed ones you remember more fondly, but this is my list.

The previous one (Nos. 40 through 11) can be found here.

So without further ado…

10. Bryce Harper – Ready for Primetime (August 12, 2011)

Photo courtesy Will Bentzel / Harrisburg Senators

If this countdown were for most viewed Harrisburg Senators’ home runs, Bryce Harper’s walk-off bomb against the Trenton Thunder would be tops on the list without a doubt.

First of all, you have an announced attendance of 7,177 for a fireworks Friday night game against the Double-A affiliate of the both loved and hated New York Yankees. Over the years, I’m sure the number of people who claim they were there has also at least doubled.

Throw in that it comes off the bat of the overall No. 1 2010 draft pick and top prospect Harper, and the highlight repeated on SportsCenter all night and next day. The Senators’ official video has 71,564 views. Some fan along the third-base line has a video on YouTube with over 11,000 views. Mine (yes, you heard that right) has 8,583. 

Harrisburg was down 2-1 entering the bottom half of the ninth inning when Leonard Davis singled with one out bringing the wunderkind up to bat.

After falling behind 0-2, Harper worked the count to full before he crushed a hanging curveball from Ryan Pope over everything in dead center. For Harper, it was his first and only home run he’d hit in the friendly confines of then Metro Bank Park.

2011 was the first season I covered the team day in and day out from the press box, and I took precisely one video from my phone all season. At that moment, you just felt like the 18-year-old kid was going to do something special.

“It’s always nice to win a ballgame. It’s always fun to walk a team off and go enjoy it with your team,” Harper told The Patriot-News’ Andy Shay. “Leonard Davis was on fire tonight. Having him in front of me, I think that was huge. He had three hits tonight. If he’s not on base, I don’t know if it’s the same kind of situation.”

9. Wes Chamberlain – One Man Wrecking Machine (September 3, 1989)

I’ve written before about Game Threes and the contest’s inherent pivotal nature in a five-game series. Go up 2-1, and you’re only one win away from clinching. Go down 2-1, and now you have to win or go home for two straight games. It’s a mental burden that weighs heavily on a team’s collective mind.

Now add in getting down 2-0 early in that game, and you can see how the pressure to respond with runs becomes its own living thing with each inning that goes by without scoring.

In times like that, you need the guy that isn’t fazed by the moment to step up. It also doesn’t hurt if he was the Eastern League Most Valuable Player either.

A one-out single by Tony Longmire in the fourth inning set the stage for Wes Chamberlain, who crushed a Greg McMichael slider nearly 400 feet over the left-centerfield fence to erase the two-run lead Canton had built. It brought the Senators back to even and let everyone in the Harrisburg dugout breathe a sigh of relief.

“That was a big point,” Harrisburg starting pitcher Keith Richardson said to The Patriot-News’ Skip Hutter. “McMichael was throwing really great with great location. It made a big difference for us.”

Two frames later, Chamberlain delivered an RBI single that gave the Senators a 3-2 lead and opened up the floodgates. Harrisburg would go on to the 14-4 victory over the Indians, giving them the upper hand in the series.

“When you’re staying within yourself, you are going to have success,” Chamberlain said. “I try not to get cheated on my swings, but I’m not chasing the pitchers’ pitches as much. I think the whole team is playing within itself.”

8. Vladimir Guerrero – Slam Ball (Sept 8, 1996) 

Banged up and in a slump.

That would best describe Vladimir Guerrero as the Senators began their 1996 Championship Series against the Portland Sea Dogs. 

Despite an MVP season where the outfielder batted .360 and slugged .612, the 21-year-old Dominican hurt his right shoulder late in Game 2 of the Southern Division playoffs and sat out Game 3 of that series with the injury. When he did play, Guerrero struggled, going 1-for-12 against Trenton.

So, when he ripped a double in the first inning of Game 1 off Portland starter Tony Saunders, all indicators signaled Guerrero was back and healthy. Three innings later, he removed any remaining doubt with a grand slam that highlighted a nine-run fourth inning giving the Senators a 10-3 lead on their way to a 15-3 rout.

“Sometimes during the season, we let Vladdy do all the work,” Senators manager Pat Kelly told the Patriot-News’ Andy Linker. “But right now, we’re a better team than we were in the regular season, and that’s catching people by surprise.”

“We were waiting for that,” Jose Vidro said of Guerrero. “We need that guy. When he’s hot, we’re going to win.”

7. Talmadge Nunnari – Comeback Complete (September 8, 1999) 

For seven innings, the Erie SeaWolves held the Harrisburg Senators’ bats at bay as they built up a 6-2 lead in Game 1 of the Southern Finals. It shouldn’t have been surprising, though, as the SeaWolves won 81 games while locked in first place since May 28, and beat the Senators in 10 of 16 head-to-head games during the regular season.

But then the Senators, beginning their quest for their fourth straight Eastern League championship, started the comeback. Home runs by Andy Tracy and Brad Wilkerson (see #26 on our countdown) cut the SeaWolves’ lead down to 6-5 with only three outs left against Erie closer Mike Bovee.

Milton Bradley reached first as he led off the ninth inning with a hard grounder to shortstop Chuck Abbott ruled an error. The mercurial outfielder advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Jamey Carroll, bringing up Talmadge Nunnari.

A base hit probably scores the tying run, but Nunnari had other ideas.

The first baseman lined Bovee’s first pitch of the at-bat over the wall in left-center, giving the Senators a 7-6 lead they’d hold on to despite some nervous moments in the bottom half of the frame to secure the win.

“It’s crucial to win any game in a short series,” manager Doug Sisson told Linker. “But if we had lost, I would have said this one doesn’t matter.”

6. Scott Hodges – Holding Out for a Hero (September 4, 2000)

The Harrisburg Senators and Akron Aeros entered the last day of the regular season tied with 74-67 records and one playoff spot still up for grabs.

Win and the worst that can happen is a one-game playoff. Lose, though, and you leave your fate to the other team and the baseball gods.

So after spotting Bowie four runs in the early going of the must-win game, the Senators finally found their groove against Baysox starter Juan Figueroa in the sixth inning. Henry Mateo and Josh Reding singled before Noah Hall walked to load the bases. Jeremy Ware dumped a change-up into left-field, cutting the lead in half and chasing Figueroa from the game.

Southpaw reliever Scott Eibey was summoned to face Scott Hodges, setting up a lefty-on-lefty matchup. The Harrisburg third baseman weakly fouled off Eibey’s first offering, a slider.

Eibey went back to the well for another slider, but this time the result was drastically different as Hodges crushed the ball over the center-field wall for his first Class AA homer and a 5-4 lead.

“He came back at me with the same slider,” Hodges told Linker. “I picked it up and had good extension on it.”

Harrisburg would tack on another two runs before recording the final out, but for all intents and purposes, Hodges homered his team into the one-game playoff which the Senators would win 8-1.

“With what this game meant, that’s probably the biggest swing for us since the last game of last year,” said manager Doug Sisson.

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: Nos. 15 to 11

Welcome to the sixth in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987). Just a reminder that this is one man’s humble opinion. I’m sure I’ve missed ones you remember more fondly, but this is my list.

The previous one (Nos. 40 through 16) can be found here.

So without further ado…

15. Tyrone Horne – Keeps the Dream Alive (September 9, 1994)

A stellar regular season doesn’t mean much if the carriage turns into a pumpkin once the clock hits twelve in the postseason. After winning an Eastern League-best 88 victories, the 1994 Harrisburg Senators looked in danger of getting swept out of the playoffs after dropping the first two games in their semifinal matchup with the Bowie Baysox.

Harrisburg staved off elimination in Game 3 with a 2-1 victory and would need a repeat performance to force a fifth and deciding game back home on City Island. Tyrone Horne made sure the Senators returned home to play, and not just pack up their belongings and say their long goodbyes.

The left-fielder drove in a season-high four runs on three hits, including a two-run home run to give the Senators a 7-3 lead in the 7th inning they wouldn’t relinquish.

“We were down,” Horne said to The Patriot-News’ Andy Linker. “But we had faith in ourselves.”

Facing future MLB closer Armando Benitez, Horne turned a tense 5-3 game into a comfortable four-run lead for the Senators demolishing a fastball over the 50-foot scoreboard in right-center.

14. Geoff Blum – The Natural Cycle in Style (August 6, 1998)

When Geoff Blum stepped into the RiverSide Stadium’s batter’s box in the eighth inning, he already had generated a productive day at the plate.

In the first inning, the infielder singled off the right-field wall, coerced a broken-bat double to right in the third, and tripled down the right-field line in the sixth. That left Blum a home run away from becoming only the third Senator to hit for the cycle, joining Matt Stairs in 1991 and Jose Vidro in 1996, since baseball returned to City Island in 1987. However, his feat would be even rarer as Blum was poised to hit for the cycle in order.

So, when Blum’s spot in the order came up against New Haven reliever Heath Bost was he trying to make history with a long ball? “To be honest with you, yeah, I was,” Blum told Linker.

The then 25-year-old worked the count from Bost to 2-1. Blum sat on a fastball, thinking the right-hander didn’t want to fall behind 3-1 in the at-bat and rocketed the offering over the right-center wall.

“I got lucky and guessed right,” Blum said.

Besides the individual feat, the long ball put the Senators ahead over the Ravens on their way to the 3-2 win with Blum driving in all three runs. The victory was also Harrisburg’s 11th in the last 15 games as it chased Trenton and Akron during the remaining month for a playoff spot.

13. Geoff Blum – The Difference Maker (Sept 16, 1998)

In a short five-game playoff set, Game 3 is typically the one that changes the course of the series. Go up 2-1, and you’re only one win away from clinching. Go down 2-1, and now you have to win or go home for two straight games. It’s a mental burden that weighs on a team’s collective mind.

During the 1998 Eastern League Championships, Harrisburg and New Britain were deadlocked at a game apiece, setting up the critical Game 3.

The Senators came out of the gate strong, scoring two in the top half of the first inning to knock the Rock Cats on their heels. But not everyone in the Harrisburg dugout was pleased with only two runs as they had the opportunity to blow it open early.

“They shut the door on us pretty quick,” manager Rick Sweet said. “I wasn’t happy we only got two in the first inning. I wanted more. I didn’t think two would be enough.”

The skipper was right. Two runs weren’t going to be enough to win this night, but three would do the trick.

That came courtesy of Geoff Blum as he led off the sixth inning with a solo shot off a fastball from New Britain starter Jason Bell. In the end, the long ball made the difference for the Senators as they hung on for the 3-2 victory and putting them one win away from claiming their third straight championship.

“It turned out to be a bigger run than we anticipated,” Blum said.

12. Hiram Bocachica – Hello Ball! (September 4, 1997)

There’s nothing quite as draining as surrendering runs in the top half of the first inning and putting your team in a hole before they even get a chance to bat.

In 1997, Hiram Bocachica was a master of ruining the opposing pitcher’s mood and his team’s chances. The middle infielder homered to lead off the game four times during that regular season, with three of them coming on the game’s first pitch.

The fourth time he did it that year, in Game 3 of the Eastern League Southern finals, was undoubtedly the most important.

Harrisburg never trailed in the pivotal contest after Bocachica deposited Bowie starter Chris Curtis’ initial offering off the third tier billboards in left-center. The Senators would go on to win 5-3 to take control of the series.

“You’re up 1-0 before you even throw a pitch,” Harrisburg starting pitcher Trey Moore said. “That sets the tone of the game.”

11. DaRond Stovall – Holding Out for a Hero (August 29, 1996)

It had been six days since the Senators won their last game. For a team trying to secure the second and final spot in the Eastern League Southern Division playoffs, it was not an ideal time to ride the skids of a five-game losing streak. Fortunately for Harrisburg, Canton didn’t seem motivated to take advantage as they also slumped into the season’s final days, leaving the Senators with a magic number of three games.

Individually, DaRond Stovall wasn’t doing much better during that same stretch. The outfielder was mired in a 2-for-21 slump and subsequently benched after striking out three times the previous game.

But as the Thursday night contest against the last place Bowie Baysox went into extra innings tied at 1-1, Stovall was used as a pinch-runner. Two frames later, his spot came up in the batting order with the bases empty and two outs in the 12th inning.

Stovall deposited the 1-1 pitch from Bowie reliever Matt Grott over the left-center wall to give Harrisburg the 2-1 walk-off victory and a tighter hold on the remaining playoff spot.

“I thought he was a little tired,” manager Pat Kelly told Linker. “And [outfielder Jesus] Campos has played well this year; this was a chance to get him into the lineup. As it turned out, this gave us a fresh at-bat in the 12th inning.”

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Former Harrisburg Senators on the 60-Man Summer Camp Rosters

Luis Garcia (Photo courtesy Sam Getty / Harrisburg Senators)

Based on Sunday’s deadline for teams to submit their pre-season player pools (which can be up to 60 players), the following are where you can find former Harrisburg Senators.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Matt Grace
Robbie Ray

Baltimore Orioles
Richard Bleier
Tommy Milone
Pedro Severino

Boston Red Sox
Phillips Valdez

Chicago Cubs
Steven Souza Jr.

Chicago White Sox
Jimmy Cordero
Lucas Giolito
Reynaldo Lopez
Ross Detwiler

Cincinnati Reds
David Carpenter

Cleveland Indians
Daniel Johnson
Sandy Leon
Oliver Perez
Jefry Rodriguez

Colorado Rockies
Tim Collins
Ian Desmond
Daniel Murphy

Detroit Tigers
Jordan Zimmermann

Houston Astros
Brad Peacock

Kansas City Royals
Kelvin Gutierrez
Greg Holland
Trevor Rosenthal

Los Angeles Angels
Brian Goodwin
Anthony Rendon

Los Angeles Dodgers
Blake Treinen

Miami Marlins
Brad Boxberger
Sterling Sharp

New York Mets
Matt Adams
Wilson Ramos

Philadelphia Phillies
Bryce Harper
Nick Pivetta

St. Louis Cardinals
Matt Wieters

San Diego Padres
Craig Stammen

Seattle Mariners
Aaron Fletcher
Taylor Guilbeau
Jose Marmolejos

Toronto Blue Jays
A.J. Cole
Justin Miller
Tanner Roark

Washington Nationals
Dakota Bacus
Tres Barrera
Aaron Barrett
James Bourque
Ben Braymer
Wil Crowe
Wilmer Difo
Adam Eaton
Paolo Espino
Erick Fedde
Steven Fuentes
Luis Garcia
Yadiel Hernandez
Carter Kieboom
Kyle McGowin
Jake Noll
Raudy Read
Jakson Reetz
Victor Robles
Joe Ross
Juan Soto
Stephen Strasburg
Andrew Stevenson
Wander Suero
Michael Taylor
Trea Turner
Austin Voth
Austen Williams
Ryan Zimmerman

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Catching Up with…Adrian Alaniz

Without baseball on the horizon, I’m using this time to connect with former Senators (all of them can be found here).

We will relive some of their fondest memories and find out what they’re up to now. This week we’re giving the ball to pitcher Adrian Alaniz.

The Nationals selected Alaniz in the 2007 8th round out of the University of Texas. The right-hander made 39 appearances (including 25 starts) over parts or all of the 2009, 2009, and 2010 seasons with Harrisburg pitching to a 4.13 ERA while striking out 107 batters in 141 2/3 innings.

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / The Patriot-News

Mayflies: What are you currently doing?

Adrian Alaniz: I am currently the Head Baseball coach for my hometown in Sinton, Texas. I’ve been coaching/teaching at Sinton High School for nine years now. I also coach football and serve as our quarterbacks’ coach for all levels. 

My wife Nicole and I live here in Sinton with our two girls, Brylee (6 yrs old) and Brooklyn (3). My wife and I graduated from Sinton HS, so coming back home after playing professional ball and living in our hometown where both of our families still reside has been a blessing. 

MF: What is your fondest memory of playing in Harrisburg?

AA: There were many great memories as a Harrisburg Senator, but one memory that stood out was clinching the postseason spot in 2010. Many players came and went over that year, but we had a load of talent in guys like Chris Marrero, Tommy Milone, and Danny Espinosa. It was extra special to have that moment with the guys in my 2007 draft class (Bill Rhinehart, Jeff Mandel, Ross Detwiler, and Sean Rooney). Most of us had been a part of a Carolina League Championship in High-A the year before. 

My fondest memories in Harrisburg was the ballpark remodel, living with our host families, going to Hersheypark, hanging out at Zembie’s after ballgames.  I feel like the ballpark in Harrisburg is like no other because it sits on the island.

MF: What was your greatest or favorite day in baseball?

AA: My favorite personal memory in baseball was throwing a no-hitter versus Oklahoma during my freshman year at the University of Texas in 2005. I was one batter away from a perfect game (walked a batter in the 4th inning) and just threw 92 pitches in that effort.

My favorite team memory was winning a state championship in high school during my junior year and winning a National Championship with the Texas Longhorns in 2005. I guess you can say I have a lot of rings in the collection!

MF: What factors went into your decision to stop playing?

AA: The decision to stop playing baseball was one of the toughest moments of my life. Growing up, that’s all I ever wanted to do. But realizing that there are certain things you can’t do like you used to and play at the level you were known for, it was time to go to my second chapter. I wanted to start a family, and financially the income in the minor leagues was a struggle. With that all considered, I knew it was time for me to hang up the cleats. 

The memories and relationships built over my career will go on forever, and that’s something I will never let go. 

Thanks to Adrian for taking the time out of his schedule to answer our questions.

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Catching Up with…Andrew Robinson

Without baseball on the horizon, I’m using this time to connect with former Senators (all of them can be found here).

We will relive some of their fondest memories and find out what they’re up to now. This week we’re headed out once again to the bullpen for Andrew Robinson.

Robinson was signed by the Nationals as a minor-league free agent after the 2015 season. The reliever made 73 appearances with the Senators over the 2016 and 2017 seasons pitching to a 2.68 ERA and pocketing 22 saves.

Photo courtesy Sam Getty / Harrisburg Senators

Mayflies: What are you currently doing?

Andrew Robinson: I’m married to my wife Cassie, and we live in Newnan, GA (about 45 minutes south of Atlanta). We got married in November 2017 after my last season with the Nationals. I’m working for Home Depot at the Store Support Center (Corporate Office). I’m in merchandising in Outdoor Garden, and my categories are Hardscapes (Pavers, Bagged Rock, Etc.) and Lawn Accessories (Landscape Fabric, Edging, Etc.). Basically, we manage these categories for all ~2000 US stores. I have been with Home Depot since September of 2018. As far as hobbies go, I’ve picked up cooking on my Big Green Egg. Although, you may already be aware of this if you follow me on Instagram. 

MF: What is your fondest memory of playing in Harrisburg?

AR: My fondest memory playing in Harrisburg was getting to know and hanging out with my teammates. There are quite a few that I still talk to on a regular basis, and we have become great friends. Also, Harrisburg was always a great atmosphere to play in. I’ve played in many stadiums (and by many, I mean all active AA stadiums along with many A and AAA stadiums) over my eight seasons in professional baseball. Harrisburg is up there in terms of atmosphere. It was always a fun place to play, and that mostly has to do with the people in the stands. There is nothing better than playing in front of a full stadium. As far as the city, I VERY much miss Little Amps coffee. I love coffee, and to have a great local roaster right there was something that I quickly got used to.

MF: Going back to the beginning…why baseball?

AR: I’ve always loved baseball. For as long as I can remember, I always told people that I wanted to play professional baseball. Obviously, that is a dream for many kids, but I was actually lucky enough to live it. I can’t pinpoint the exact reason I fell in love with the game at a young age, but my best guess is that it has to do with the Braves. I was a HUGE Braves fan as a kid. I had the pleasure of growing up watching three Hall of Fame pitchers on a daily basis, and I think that started it all. 

MF: What was your greatest or favorite day in baseball?

AR: This is a tough one for me. I’d like to say the day I was drafted, but honestly, I was on the golf course that day. Not because I didn’t care, but very much the opposite. It was my senior year at Georgia Tech and my last chance to be drafted. It was either get drafted and go play professional baseball or get a “real job.” This was the third time I was sitting through the draft where I was eligible, and I just couldn’t watch again. I found out that I was drafted when one of my teammates and best friends (Deck McGuire) called me to say congrats. I had no idea. 

When thinking about my actual playing career, the championships that I was a part of stand out for sure. I was lucky enough to win three championships over those eight seasons. The first was my very first season after getting drafted. We won the New York Penn League in 2010. Second, we won the California League in 2012. My last was the Eastern League in 2015 with Bowie (Sorry!). 

MF: What factors went into your decision to stop playing?

AR: Well, I got old. Obviously, I’m not that old when it comes to life, but I was older for where I was in baseball. After the 2017 season with Harrisburg, I signed with the Dodgers. It was a tough offseason, and I signed pretty late even after coming off two good seasons. Unfortunately, there were not many teams looking to sign a 30-year-old reliever maxing out in the low 90’s. Baseball is getting younger, and pitchers (especially relievers) are throwing harder. Anyway, I went to spring training with the Dodgers and did not pitch well at all. I got released during spring training. At this point, teams are cutting players, so it is even more difficult to sign with an affiliated team. My only option was independent ball. I did not want to go that route because I was 30, married, and had a degree from Georgia Tech. I chose to move on. 

Thanks to Andrew for taking the time out of his schedule to answer our questions.

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The greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history: Nos. 20 to 16

Welcome to the fifth in a series of posts ranking the greatest home runs in Harrisburg Senators modern history (otherwise known as when baseball returned to City Island in 1987).

The first half of the countdown (Nos. 40 through 21) can be found here.

So without further ado…

20. Brad Fullmer –  For the Win (Sept 11, 1996)

The road to a championship is as much about getting hot at the right time of the year. The 1996 Harrisburg Senators are proof of that.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a talented squad that earned everything they accomplished, but the Senators were an afterthought coming into the postseason. They won four of five from Bowie to end the regular season, yet still finished with the lowest win total among the four playoff teams.

“Everybody was saying we backed into the playoffs,” Brad Fullmer told The Patriot-News’ Andy Linker. “But when we finished the year well against Bowie, I was thinking, ‘Hey, maybe we can take some people by surprise.'”

First up for Harrisburg was the Trenton Thunder, then a Boston affiliate, who had surged to an 86-56 record, twelve games ahead of the Senators in the South Division. It didn’t matter much as the Senators dispatched the Thunder in four games.

Next up was the Portland Sea Dogs, who also won more than 80 games that season. Once again, that didn’t seem to matter. Harrisburg seized control of the series by taking the first two games in Harrisburg before heading to Maine, looking for their third Eastern League title in 10 seasons.

Up 2-1 in the series, the Senators went on the offensive early in Game 4. Nursing a 1-0 lead in the third inning, Harrisburg’s advantage swelled to three as Fullmer, with Jose Vidro on second with two outs, drilled a long ball off Portland starter Will Cunnane. For Fullmer, it was his third homer in the four games against the Sea Dogs.

That was all the runs the Senators needed as they clinched the title with a 6-1 victory over the Sea Dogs. The win completed a worst-to-first finish that hadn’t been accomplished in the Eastern League since 1987.

19. Glenn Murray –  Backs Against the Wall (September 14, 1993)

It wasn’t often the 1993 Senators had their backs against the wall. After all, this was a team that went an astounding 94-44, finishing 19 games ahead of the second-place Canton-Akron Indians. But that was the situation the Senators found themselves in after Canton topped Harrisburg in the opening two games of their best-of-five championship series at RiverSide Stadium.

Win or go home.

After beating the Indians 5-2 in Game 3, Harrisburg needed to keep the pressure on in Game 4 to have any hope of claiming the title.

After the first two batters of the game were retired, Glenn Murray stepped to the plate to face Canton starter Mike Dyer. The power hitter worked the count to 2-2 before teeing off on a Dyer offering over the left-field wall to give Harrisburg the critical 1-0 lead before Canton even batted. The home run was the first allowed by the Canton staff in its nine postseason games.

But it wouldn’t be the last, as Tyrone Horne added a round-tripper for Harrisburg on the way to a 10-2 victory that tied the series and forced a deciding fifth game.

“The advantage they had, they lost,” Harrisburg manager Jim Tracy told Linker. “We have momentum, but there are nine innings left for the championship.”

18. Trovin Valdez – Unlikeliest of Heroes (Sept 7, 1997)

Hiram Bocachica, left, and Trovin Valdez holding the EL trophy

What was the bigger surprise in Game 1 of the 1997 Eastern League championship series? Light-hitting Trovin Valdez delivering the big blow to Portland’s chances or that Valdez was even penciled into the lineup each night?

Valdez had been finishing the season at Class A West Palm Beach when Harrisburg’s Ed Bady went down with a strained right hamstring in the next-to-last game of the regular season. Instead of going home to New York City, Valdez was a necessary component for the playoff-bound Senators.

But in the Southern finals against Bowie, the then 23-year-old Dominican struggled, batting .056 on only one hit in 18 at-bats. Yet, Harrisburg manager Rick Sofield kept sending Valdez out there every night.

In the opening game of the best-of-5 series against Portland, the outfielder substantiated his skipper’s faith.

Valdez turned a tight 3-1 Harrisburg lead in the sixth inning into an insurmountable 6-1 advantage when he turned on a pitch sending it over the short wall in left field.

This is a batter that, at that point in his career, had hit only eight home runs in 1,614 plate appearances. I’ll save you from doing the math – that’s one every 201.75 times he stepped to the plate. And none came in his previous 13 regular-season games with Harrisburg that year. Heck, Valdez only had two extra-base hits, both doubles, in his 47 plate appearances with the Senators.

But there he was on a team he wasn’t supposed to be on, in a lineup he wasn’t supposed to be in, hitting a three-run home run on a hit-and-run, no less, to seal the deal in the crucial first game of the championship series.

17. Steven Souza, Jr. – The Natural (September 4, 2013)

Photo courtesy Kyle Mace

The Harrisburg Senators and Erie SeaWolves were two evenly matched teams during the 2013 season. The squads battled down to the final day of the regular season to see who would finish as the top seed in the Western Division as they finished only a game apart in the 142-game schedule.

So it was no shock to see the teams deadlocked 4-4 headed to the ninth inning in the opener of their best-of-five Eastern League semifinal series.

Erie had moved ahead in the seventh when Brandon Douglas beat a throw home on a fielder’s choice grounder and survived a massive collision with Senators catcher Brian Jeroloman. But Harrisburg scratched across the equalizer in their next at-bats on a Billy Burns’ sacrifice fly to set up the dramatic final frame.

The SeaWolves turned to their closer Melvin Mercedes, who had 23 saves that season, to get three outs. In four previous appearances against the Senators, Mercedes hadn’t allowed a hit, let alone a run.

Steven Souza, Jr. changed that quickly with one swing of the bat on an 0-2 count as he led off the frame with a solo home run to power the 5-4 win and gave the Senators a 1-0 series advantage.

16. Glenn Davis – Double Dip (Sept 6, 2002) 

It was little more than a foregone conclusion that Akron, which led all of the minor leagues with 88 regular-season wins, would easily handle the upstart Senators in their first-round playoff series.

Victories by the Aeros in the first two games of the series only added to that belief.

But Glenn Davis single-handedly jumpstarted the Harrisburg offense in Game 3 and brought the Senators back from the dead. Davis, who was a late-season acquisition from the Yankees organization, became the first Senator in the modern era to homer twice in a playoff game.

First, he tied the game at 1-1 with a long solo home run off Akron starter Jamie Brown’s first pitch of the second inning. Davis drove Brown’s final pitch even farther over the right-field wall for a two-run homer in the fifth inning to cap a four-run rally that gave the Senators a 6-1 lead in front of a raucous 5,158 at RiverSide Stadium.

“That first one, it was a fastball that I got on top of,” Davis told Linker. “The second one was a slider. I hit that one pretty good.”

The performance and victory would keep the Senators’ hope alive for another day (see #22) and yet another (see #21).

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Catching Up with…Brian Jeroloman

Without baseball on the horizon, I’m using this time to connect with former Senators (all of them can be found here).

We will relive some of their fondest memories and find out what they’re up to now. This week we’re gearing up behind the plate for Brian Jeroloman.

Jeroloman was acquired by the Nationals in a 2013 trade from the Pirates organization. The catcher played in 166 games with the Senators over parts or all of the 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 seasons with Harrisburg slashing .210/.322/.285 and throwing out 32% of would be base stealers.

Photo courtesy Will Bentzel / Harrisburg Senators

Mayflies: What are you currently doing?

Brian Jeroloman: I work for the New York Yankees. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida, so I’m back where I grew up, which is really nice. I love it. I’m a scout in South Florida, and it’s a lot of fun.

Last year, I coached at the University of South Florida. It’s a mid-major Division I baseball school, and I got to coach there with my older brother. He then got an opportunity to go to my alma mater at the University of Florida, so I left USF and joined the Yankees.

MF: What is your fondest memory of playing in Harrisburg?

BJ: I would probably have to say I really enjoyed Matt LeCroy. There are few coaches like him. It’s hard to find a coach that’s a good motivator and a good communicator. It isn’t easy, and that’s something that he was the ace of spades in. He made it really easy coming to the ballpark with all the different personalities that every team has. He knew how to communicate with each person.

2013 was a great memory. That was a challenging year for me as I got traded a couple of times that year. As a catcher, it’s not fun to be traded. I had been with Toronto for seven years; then, I went to Cleveland. That was Terry Francona’s first year. I was there in Spring Training. As a catcher, it takes like a month and a half to really get to know your pitchers and communicate with them. At the end of Spring Training, they traded me to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I’m in Triple-A. We have a great team with guys like Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and Jose Contreras was on that team. Overall, it was a phenomenal team, and we were winning a lot in a great city. I was there about a month and a half, and then I got traded to the Nationals. So I go to Triple-A Syracuse with guys like Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Young, Tanner Roark. Mentally, it was a tough year because of the consistent changing of pitchers.

I’m in Syracuse for about a month, and then Wilson Ramos came back from an injury. (Washington Assistant GM) Doug Harris called me in and asked me if I’d be willing to go to Double-A. I wasn’t fond of that. Because I had been there in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and had been an All-Star those years. So it was just like ‘What else do I have to prove at that level?’ Doug was as first-class as they come, talked to me for a while. He really changed my mindset completely. It was the right move to make, and that’s where I got to see LeCroy.

The team was winning. We had Steven Souza, Brian Goodwin, Nathan Karns, Blake Treinen, and Robbie Ray. It was a great group of guys that really enjoyed playing the game, and we had a lot of fun.

When I look back, I really love 2013. It was a great staff with Paul Menhart and LeCroy. It was a great group of kids that were hungry to play the game. And we were winning, which made it so much easier.

MF: Going back to the beginning…why baseball?

BJ: Mine is a unique story. The easiest answer is my brother played it. I started playing baseball illegally when I was two years old. My brother was four or five, and I was playing on his T-ball team. It was against every rule, but I could catch so they put me at first base.

My brother was the person I always looked up to, but it wasn’t just that. Baseball is so intriguing because every day you step on the field, even when I was 32, I was still learning something every day. There could be a play that you have never seen before. It’s all these puzzle pieces, and you’re trying to put it together, but it’s a never-ending puzzle.

I remember my dad grew up with Walt Weiss (former AL Rookie of the Year, 14-year MLB veteran, and Colorado Rockies manager) and knew him growing up in Suffern, New York. So my dad took us to a game in Miami at then Joe Robbie Stadium, and I got to see Walt play a game in front of all those people. It was just one of those feelings that I’m going to play here one day.

It’s a unique road. I was a second baseman until I was 15 years old. I had a really great high school coach who transitioned me to a catcher. That’s when things really started clicking. Once you get confidence in the game, the game becomes fun, and that’s where your talent really starts to kick in.

MF: What was your greatest or favorite day in baseball?

BJ: I’ll give you three that stick out. Getting the opportunity to play on Team USA in 2005 was a special moment. I knew the significance of that. The players on that team were unbelievable. There was Max Scherzer, David Price, Sean Doolittle, Mark Melancon, and John Jay. Top to bottom, it was such a good team. It was an opportunity to represent your county, and that was a special moment. It lets you know you’re doing stuff right.

Another one was getting to play against my brother in college, the person I looked up to the most. It’s not very often your brother is coming up to bat, and you’re catching. We swept them all three games we played because I still talk smack with him about that.

Everyone can say getting the call to the big leagues. It was unfortunate for me the night before I got called up, I broke my wrist sliding into third base. That’s a great moment, but when you find out you’re hurt, you really can’t do much, so that’s not up there. I would say my third is playing in the National Championship series. We had to beat Florida State, our biggest rival, at our home to go to Omaha. That was a special feeling.

MF: What factors went into your decision to stop playing?

BJ: There was a lot. I’m not going to say I accomplished as much as I wanted to, but I did everything I guess I could have. I was in the major leagues – it was a great feeling. I got the opportunity to represent my country. I played for 11 seasons and 12 years.

When you’re a catcher, and you’re hitting 30, people would ask me about my body. I’d be like my body feels great, but then you think I’ve had surgeries to both my knees, on a hip, and of course, I had the collision. I’m like, what am I doing? When I have kids one day, I want to be able to walk with them.

I always told Doug (Harris) that if I got hurt again, I’d be done. That Spring Training, I hurt my oblique, so I missed three weeks. It just came to a point where it was time to move on. I don’t have any regrets. The one thing I can always say, and I don’t want to make this sound cheesy, is the one thing that was important to me was when I put my jersey on, whether it be in the minor leagues, majors, or college, I never took that for granted. That’s why I’ve stayed in the game of baseball. It’s the one thing in life that I truly, truly love.

Thanks to Brian for taking the time out of his schedule to answer our questions.

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