Thursday, August 25, 2016

Interview Part 1: Steve Lienhard, Exciting Time

The former Riverview Stadium in Clinton, Iowa, in 2014. Steve Lienhard pitched at Riverview in 1988 for Clinton. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Exciting Time Part 2: Soon

For Steve Lienhard, the 1991 Texas League championship series meant a lot.

He not only returned from injury that year to pitch for his El Paso Diablos and pitch well, he also got to face some of his old teammates and the organization he'd spent four seasons with only to be let go.

Lienhard took the mound in the first game, he recalled, and helped his club to an early series lead. He then returned later in the series, pitched as well as he likely had ever pitched - and lost, 1-0.

"I went the whole way," Lienhard recalled recently of that later championship series game. "It was probably the best game I ever pitched and I lost. But it's one I'll never forget because it was against a bunch of my buddies that I played with for two to three years."

Lienhard pitched for the Brewers organization in El Paso that year in his fifth professional season - his first four played in the Giants system. He got into one more season, but he never made the majors.

Looking back, Lienhard recalled he had what teams needed in filling certain roles on their minor league pitching rosters, but, he recalled, he didn't have that something extra, specifically the velocity, to push him on to the majors.

"I was a perfect minor league fill-in pitcher guy," Lienhard told The Greatest 21 Days by phone from his Kansas home, "because you could use me - I mean I started, I closed, I was a middle guy, I set up - I mean I did anything and everything because I threw strikes.

"But they never thought I could sustain, I don't think, in the big leagues with the velocity that I had."
Steve Lienhard, right, with his son Joe Lienhard in 2015. (Photo Provided)
Lienhard spoke to The Greatest 21 Days about growing up in the sport in Oklahoma, then pitching at Oklahoma State and on to his six seasons in the pros. 

He has since gone on to a career as a high school and youth instructor and coach in his native Kansas. As an instructor, Lienhard came across one particularly special young pitcher in Mike Pelfrey and helped him on to a long major league career.

Lienhard's own long career with baseball began in McAlester, Okla., with the help of his older brother, Paul. Paul Lienhard, an all-state basketball player, also played baseball. Lienhard tagged along to practice and even served as a bat boy.

Lienhard liked basketball, too, like his older brother. But he also hoped to play professionally and he didn't think he could go far in that sport. He soon focused on baseball, pitching especially.

"I liked to perform," Lienhard said. "When I started pitching, I realized that, 'Hey, everybody was watching me and I could show them what I liked to do what I felt like I was good at."

"If you do well when you're out there it's a very positive reinforcement," Lienhard added a little later. "It's a very good feeling to be a success when there's a lot of people watching when you do your craft or do your job, whatever it might be."

Lienhard pitched for his high school team in McAlester, but he seemed to save his best performances for the summer and American Legion ball. Lienhard credited some of his summer success to his later coaches.

The coach, Lienhard said, first introduced the young pitcher to the importance of mechanics, bullpen sessions, pitching inside and changing speeds.
Steve Lienhard, top row third from right, with his 1982 McAlester American Legion team. (Photo Provided)
Lienhard also got some attention from a local scout who even asked if Lienhard would sign out of high school, if drafted. Lienhard, though, knew the importance of his education.

In the end, both his Legion coach and the scout spoke to the coaches at Oklahoma State. Lienhard tried out and made the 1982 Cowboys as a walk-on.

"That was probably the transition of starting to figure out, 'Hey, alright, now you're going to be a baseball player, you need to start thinking a little bit different and working a little bit harder at it,'" Lienhard said.

Red-shirted his first year, Lienhard steadily pitched more and more until he got drafted as a fifth-year senior.

That first year, though, he also quit as a strong Oklahoma State pitching staff and other obligations of a freshman pulled him away from the team. A return to Legion ball the next summer got him back on track.

Lienhard's McAlester team made the state tournament - held at Oklahoma State - and Lienhard pitched well. After one big win, he recalled Oklahoma State pitching coach Tom Holliday inviting Lienhard back.

After struggling with playing time, Lienhard started to get on the mound and have success. As his team made the College World Series in 1986 and 1987, Lienhard recalled pitching in relief in five or six games.

In one, a 1986 game against Florida State, he recalled striking out future major league Paul Sorrento with the bases loaded and a one-run lead.
Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010. Steve Lienhard plated at Rosenblatt with Oklahoma State in the College World Series. (Greatest 21 Days)
"That's one of the times I still tell kids about," Lienhard said, "how nervous I was at the time and how I had to collect myself and my thoughts. It's just things like that that really help you grow in sports."

Lienhard quickly added that he gave up a single the next inning, which led to the game-tying run in a game Florida State would go on to win.

"It's one of those you kind of remember, that sticks in your head," Lienhard said, adding with a laugh, "It seems like I remember the losses more than I do the wins. But, no, I have a lot to be thankful for."

Going into the 1987 draft, Lienhard had an idea he'd be drafted. But it ended up being a long wait. His team still in Omaha, the first day went by with no word. The second day, too.

He even asked coach Holliday. Holliday could only say he thought the Rangers would get him.

Then, finally, Lienhard's mother got word at the family's house via telegram: The Giants selected Lienhard in the 29th round.

"That was really an exciting time," Lienhard said, "because you hear so many guys that don't ever get drafted that are probably as good or better. You just never know what it's going to take from a guy like me."

Lienhard soon signed and he found himself on his way to Pocatello, Idaho, and rookie ball. (Part 2 Soon)

Watch for Part 2 Soon


Part 1: Exciting Time Part 2: Soon

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bernie Jenkins, Set In - 1359

As the spring wound down in 1995, Bernie Jenkins knew reality could set in, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

A judge's ruling put the start of the season in doubt for players like Jenkins, the replacement players.

"It will disappoint you, but we knew it when we got here," Jenkins, an outfielder for the replacement Giants, told The Chronicle.

Jenkins played with the Giants that spring after a six-season career that saw him make AA, but not the bigs. He extended his playing time that year, but did so briefly. He got into six regular-season games back at AA, ending his career.

Jenkins' career began in 1988, taken by the Astros in the seventh round of the draft out of St. Francis College in Brooklyn.

Jenkins started with the Astros at short-season Auburn. He hit .244 over 58 games. He got hit by a pitch and scored in an August game.

He moved to single-A Osceola for 1989, improving his average to .292 on the year. He singled and scored in a May game, going 3 for 4 in the game. Jenkins then played 1990 at AA Columbus and 1991 at AA Jackson. He hit .228 and .260.

Jenkins switched to the Reds system for 1992, playing between single-A Cedar Rapids and AA Chattanooga. He hit .291 on the year. He played his final full season in 1993 at Chattanooga. He singled in a run in an August game, and hit .252 overall.

After not playing in 1994, he returned for spring 1995 and then got into five final games at AA Shreveport, ending his career.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,404
Made the Majors: 985-41.0%
Never Made Majors:1,419-59.0%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 411
10+ Seasons in the Minors:247

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bert Hunter, Biggest Adjustment - 1358

Taken by the Astros in the second round in 1985 out of high school, Bert Hunter had trouble adjusting to the pros, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

By 1988, his fourth season, Hunter was still in single-A, at Osceola. He hadn't hit higher than .262.

"Wooden bats are the biggest adjustment I've had to make," Hunter told The Sentinel that June. ''But it's starting to come around. For a while, it was a rude awakening. So was pitching.''

For Hunter, his bat never really came around. He hit .233 that year. He later made AA and then AAA, briefly. But he never hit well and he never made the majors.

He has since gone on to a career as a coach in college, serving in 2016 as an assistant coach at Willamette University in Oregon.

Hunter's career began in 1985, taken by the Astros out of Norte Vista High school in California.

Hunter started with the Astros in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He hit .210 in 56 games. He then moved to short-season Auburn and single-A Asheville for 1986, hitting .226 between them. In one May 1986 game at Asheville, Hunter knocked in two on a single and later scored.

Hunter returned to Asheville for 1987, scoring on a double in a July game. He  then made single-A Osceola for 1988 and most of 1989. He knocked in three on a triple in a July 1988 win.

Hunter first made AA in 1989 at Columbus, returning there for all of 1990. He moved to the Mets system for 1992, getting a single-game look at AAA Tidewater.

He then played 23 games back at AAA for the Mets in 1993, playing the rest of the year at AA Binghamton. That season marked his final year as a pro.

Hunter then went on to his career as a coach, first in the minors and then in college. He served as hitting coach at short-season Salem-Keizer from 1998 to 2000, then single-A Hagerstown. He managed from 2002 to 2007 in the Arizona League for the Giants.

He has since joined Willimette University in Salem, Ore., as hitting coach. In March 2015, Hunter's daughter Deven Hunter played for Oregon State and the father spoke to The Salem Statesman-Journal about his daughter's toughness.

"She gets it from me, her mom, playing against her cousins when she was smaller," the father told The Statesman-Journal. "They were older than her and they used to pick on her and make her be tough. They were twins, so she had to go up against them in basketball, and they wouldn't let her score unless she was tough enough."
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,403
Made the Majors: 985-41.0%
Never Made Majors:1,418-59.0%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 411
10+ Seasons in the Minors:247

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Edinson Renteria, Another Job - 1355

Edinson Renteria's first job in his native Columbia consisted of being a street vendor with some of his brothers, according to ESPN.com.

He then got another job, as a baseball player in the United States. He also continued to help his family by sending what he made back home, ESPN.com wrote.

"I always was in awe of him," Renteria's younger brother by eight years, Edgar Renteria, told ESPN.com, "and of what he did for us."

Edinson Renteria also ended up leading his brother Edgar to the United States and professional baseball. Edinson Renteria played nearly a decade, but never made the majors. His brother Edgar Renteria, though, went on to make the majors and stay there for 16 seasons.

Edinson Renteria's career began in 1985, signed by the Astros as an amateur free agent out of Columbia. Renteria is also credited as Ed Renteria.

Renteria started in the rookie Gulf Coast League, playing there in 1985 and 1986. He hit .297 his second season there.

He moved to short-season Auburn for 1987, where he hit .302, and then single-A Asheville for 1988. That June, Renteria gave his team the led with a late-single, his fourth game-winner on the year.

Renteria made AA Columbus in 1990, also AAA Tucson. He hit .270 on the year. He then played one more season with the Astros, at AA Jackson and single-A Osceola.

He returned for 1993 with the Marlins, splitting time between high-A High Desert and AAA Edmonton, then AA Portland briefly for 1994. He then played in Mexico the rest of 1994 and most of 1995, ending his playing career.

Renteria continued on in baseball, serving as a coach over several seasons. He served with the Braves as hitting coach in the Gulf Coast League from 1997 to 1999. He also served as a coach at Jamestown, Macon and Myrtle Beach.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,402
Made the Majors: 985-41.0%
Never Made Majors:1,417-59.0%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 411
10+ Seasons in the Minors:247

Friday, August 19, 2016

Tony Eusebio, Hit Anything - 1350

Tony Eusebio looked hit all the way in this June 1998 game, according to The Associated Press.

The result, according to The AP: A late two-run single that helped his Astros to a 4-3 win.

"In that situation, you hit anything that's around the plate," Eusebio told The AP. "You have an advantage. He might try to throw the fastball early. You don't let one get by and said, 'Hey, that's the one that I wanted.'"

Eusebio ended up hitting in nine major league seasons. In 2000, it seemed he didn't stop hitting. The catcher amassed a 24-game hitting streak over 51 days, then a franchise record.

Eusebio's career began in 1985, signed by the Astros as an amateur free agent out of his native Dominican Republic.

Eusebio played briefly for the Astros' Gulf Coast League team in 1985, then returned for 1987. He made single-A Osceola in 1988, AA Columbus in 1989 and then AAA Tucson in 1991.

He also first made Houston in 1991, getting into 10 games. He picked up two hits in 19 at bats.

Eusebio then spent 1992 and 1993 back in the minors. He returned to the bigs in 1994 and began to get regular playing time. He got into 55 games that year and hit .296.

He hit two home runs in a June 1994 game, helping his team to a win againstt he Giants. He then picked up four hits and four RBI in a July 1994 game against the Cardinals.

Eusebio then got into an overall career-high 113 games in 1995. He hit .299. He continued with the Astros for 1996 to 1998, getting lesser playing time, including 66 games in 1998.

In April 1998, though, he played and hit the game-winning double in the ninth on an outside pitch, according to The AP.

"It was a good pitch for me, I like it out there," Eusebio told The AP afterward.

Eusebio got into 103 games in 1999, then 74 in 2000. His 2000 campaign also saw that hitting streak. He picked up his 23rd-consecutive game with a hit in late-August, hitting a double in Montreal to tie the club record.

''I didn't know the record streak for the Astros was 23 games,'' Eusebio told The AP afterward. ''When you play the game, you don't pay too much mind to it."

Eusebio returned for one more season, 2001. He got into 59 games, hitting .253, ending his career.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,401
Made the Majors: 985-41.0%-X
Never Made Majors:1,416-59.0%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 411-X
10+ Seasons in the Minors:247

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Steve Swail, Signed As - 9

Originally published Jan. 21, 2014
Mike Joyce went undrafted, but he still got offers from three teams in 2002, including the Yankees and scout Steve Swail.

Joyce chose to sign with Swail and the Yankees, according to The New London Day.

"People have been telling me they have a contract with adidas and they treat their people real well," Joyce told The Day.

Swail signed Joyce as a scout for the Yankees. Years earlier, it was Swail who was the one signed as an undrafted free agent. Swail played six seasons as a pro. He never made the majors.

Swail's playing career began in 1989, signed by the Braves out of North Adams State in Massachusetts.

At North Adams, now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Swail played three seasons. He hit a two-run home run and knocked a single in an April 1988 contest.

He helped his team to two conference championships, one in 1987 and the other in 1989. In his final season, the captain Swail helped lead his team to a 19-9-1 record. He made the school's Hall of Fame in 2009.

With the Braves, Swail played his first season at rookie Pulaski. He hit .218 with 6 RBI over 31 games. For 1990, the catcher moved to single-A Burlington, hitting just .147.

He moved to high-A Durham in 1991, then played 1992 between single-A Macon, Durham and AA Greenville. His 1992 season, though, ended up being just 19 games between those three levels.

In 1993, Swail got the most games in a season of his career, 48. He hit .263, getting the only home run of his professional career. Swail finished his career in 1994, with 38 games back with Greenville.

Swail soon turned to a new career, scouting. In July 1995, Swail was named as a scout for the Diamondbacks. He continued with Arizona through 1999, then moved to the Yankees.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wally Trice, New Pitch - 1349

Wally Trice tried to find a new pitch and he found one - a variation on the screwball, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

He looked for that pitch, he told The Sentinel, after coming to a realization about his playing future after college if he didn't find one.

''I knew in college if I was going to stay in baseball I needed a new pitch,'' Trice told The Sentinel. ''I wasn't going to blow 82-mph fastballs by anybody.''

Trice used his new pitch to turn pro, but he could never take it to the majors. He made AA over three seasons, but he never made it higher.

Trice's career began in 1988, taken by the Astros in the 15th round of the draft out of Alliant International University in California.

Just before the 1988 draft, Trice talked to The Los Angeles Times about the lengths he went to in high school to learn another pitch, the split-finger fastball.

"I used to tape tennis balls between my fingers before I went to sleep," Trice told The Times. "Then baseballs, then softballs. It was pretty painful for a couple hours, then I'd get to sleep."

Trice started with the Astros at short-season Auburn. He turned in a 1.90 ERA over 14 outings. He then played 1989 at single-A Osceola, Trice gained some attention, according to The Sentinel, with antics like ensuring he pitched with an ALF T-shirt under his jersey.

Overall, Trice proved himself 16-4, with a 2.57 ERA. He threw a seven-inning complete game for a June win.

Trice moved up to AA Columbus for 1990, going 6-7 over 33 outings, 22 starts. He then split 1991 between single-A Burlington and AA Jackson and turned reliever. In 55 relief outings, he saved 19 games and had an ERA of 2.08.

He jumped to the Indians system and AA Canton-Akron for 1992, returning there in 1993. He also spent time in 1993 in Taiwan, playing for the Mercuries Tigers.

After not being recorded as playing in 1994 and 1995, Trice's final pro time came in 1996 with independent Amarillo. He got into eight games, starting five, at Amarillo, ending his career.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,400
Made the Majors: 984-41.0%
Never Made Majors:1,416-59.0%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 410
10+ Seasons in the Minors:247
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