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)
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.