Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Baseball Place No. 32: Growden Memorial Park; and Alternative Place No. 32A: Michael Jordan in Fort Lauderdale

One of the coolest caps in my collection is from the Alaska Goldpanners, who count one George Thomas Seaver among their alumni.

It was pretty obscure, snagged before the days of the Internet. I read about the team, tracked down the address, sent a letter and the Goldpanners replied with a mail-order souvenir list and all kinds of neat stuff.

The league attracts college players, and the list of Goldpanners who went on the majors include include Dave Winfield and Barry Bonds.

Josh Pahigian takes us to Growden Memorial Park, where the Goldpanners play, for spot No. 32 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

A college-aged Tom Seaver in his second-coolest uniform.

The team also is famous for its Midnight Sun Game. Fairbanks is just south of the Artic Circle, and on the summer solstice the Goldpanners host a game that starts at 10:30 p.m. and ends after midnight.

And the wildest part? The game is played without lights.

Baseball outdoors at midnight played in broad daylight is pretty unusual. But in 1994 I witnessed something almost as strange. How about the best basketball player ever trying to play baseball?

Alternative place No. 32A: Michael Jordan playing at Fort Lauderdale Stadium

I was disappointed with the photos I took that night. The lighting was rough and the crowd was huge. Jordan didn't exactly play to the fans, either.

Jordan, obviously, was an amazing basketball player. We’ll probably never really know what possessed him to leave the NBA and focus on playing for the Chicago White Sox.

He was invited to spring training in 1994 and naturally attracted crowds wherever he went.

The Sox came across the Florida to play the Yankees in Fort Lauderdale, and Dad and I were able to snag tickets.

It was one of the most unusual spring training games I’ve ever seen. The Yankees, icky as they are, had Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs and Bernie Williams – a future Hall-of-Famer and two stars. Some guy named Jeter was in camp wearing No. 70, according to my program.

But the vast majority of the people in attendance were there to see the guy who had never played in a major league game.

Jordan was cheered as he stretched, as he shagged flies and as he kind of weakly hit balls during batting practice.

To the credit of the Sox and Jordan, the fans got their money's worth. He batted leadoff, and spent seven innings in the field. Nothing spectacular happened at the plate, where he struck out looking once, and hit grounders to second in the other three at-bats.

I was as excited to see Frank Thomas, who had a typical Frank game with two walks, two hits and a strikeout.

The Yankees won 12-7, but people left happy.

Fort Lauderdale Stadium, built in 1962, looked pretty old then. In fact, it looked nicer when we saw the Mets play the Orioles there last month. Must have been the Yankee taint.


Tad Richards said...

Mets who played that day:

Robin Ventura
Darren Jackson
Terry Leach
Roberto Hernandez

and one Met brother - Joey Cora

Also on the roster, but didn't play that day

Lance Johnson
Julio Franco
Dennis Cook
James Baldwin

Did I miss anyone?

The Old Mole

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Good spotting, Mole!

The Yankees roster had some interesting names, too. Bob Ojeda, Daryl Boston and Jeff Reardon.

Former neighbor Scott Kamieniecki and Jim Abbott were there, too, adding a Flint presence.

And Jorge Posada was wearing No. 76.

The Yankees also list a coach with numner 79, a guy named Brian McNamee. Sounds familiar...

Tad Richards said...

It's always the first thing I look for.