Thursday, October 18, 2018

Mike Mitchener, Uncharted Waters - 11

Originally published April 4, 2017
Mike Mitchener played baseball because he loved it, he wrote years later. He also used it as a way to pay for college.

So, when he turned pro in 1988, he made sure that the remainder of his college tuition would be paid for.

"I wanted to use baseball as a way to pay for my college," Mitchener wrote. "I had promised my parents that, and I delivered. Now I was in uncharted waters."

Mitchener went on to a pro career that lasted three seasons, then to a long career in management with Sam's Club.

But, if Mitchener was in uncharted waters when turning pro, he certainly was again on Sept. 11, 2014 and it almost cost him his life.

Mitchener suffered a massive heart attack. His heart stopped. Paramedics got it going again. His stopped a second time after arriving at the hospital.

"They got my heart firing again and brought me up to the cardiac unit where they determined that I'd had a 'widowmaker' heart attack, which normally has a 98 percent death rate," Mitchener said in an article on the hospital's site. "They knew they were battling time."

Mitchener survived and went on to write a book, a faith-based look at his experience and survival called "Bring the Rain."

Mitchener's pro playing career began in 1988, taken in the third round of the draft by the White Sox out of Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga. Mitchener is also credited as Mike Mitchner.

 At Armstrong, Mitchener hit a home run in a Division II World Series game. He also made the school's All-Decade team for the 1980s and made the school's Hall of Fame in 1996.

Mitchener started with the White Sox at short-season Utica and in the rookie Gulf Coast League. The hurler got into nine games in relief, giving up one earned in nine innings of work.

He moved to single-A South Bend for 1989, getting into 33 games, starting eight. He went 6-4, with a 4.15 ERA. Mitchener then returned to South Bend for 1990, getting into another 34 games, going 6-6, with a 4.40 ERA, ending his career.

Mitchener joined Sam's Club then eventually settled in Daytona Beach, Fl. In 2016, his Sam's Club was named regional Market Club of the Year. "I'm very proud to bring (the award) back to Daytona," Mitchener told The Daytona Beach News-Journal of the award.

He published his book in December 2016. The News-Journal published a story on Mitchener and his book Christmas Eve, including the prayer he expected to offer for that Christmas morning and each since his heart attack.

"Thanks for one more day," Mitchener's prayer goes, according to The News-Journal. "I'm just grateful every day for the things that I have."

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Adam Brown, Felt Invincible - 7

Originally published Oct. 15, 2011
Adam Brown was entering his 10th season as a pro in 1995, speaking the The Dayton Daily News about his career.

It was a career spent entirely in the minor leagues. Talking to The Daily News about what went wrong, Brown pointed directly at himself.

"Nobody got in Adam Brown's way but Adam Brown," Brown told The Daily News. "When I first signed, I was young and felt invincible. I played hurt all of 1986 and had to have Tommy John surgery. I sat out all of 1987."

Brown returned to hit AA San Antonio in 1988 and get his first brief look at AAA Albuquerque in 1990. But Brown never got his look at the majors, his career ending that year in 1995 playing at AA.

Brown's career began in 1986, taken by the Dodgers in the fourth round out of Georgia Perimeter College. At Georgia Perimeter that year, Brown had won National Junior College All-American honors.

With the Dodgers, Brown started at rookie Great Falls. The catcher hit .301, with eight home runs in 64 games. Then he lost all of 1987.

Returning to the field in 1988, Brown played much of the year at single-A Bakersfield. In 92 games, he hit a smoking .352. He also earned a 30-game promotion to AA San Antonio and he continued his hitting, hitting .296.

He returned to San Antonio for 1989, but got into just 42 games on the year. In 1990, he got five games at AAA Albuquerque, but again played just 48 games on the season. He played the rest back at San Antonio.

In 1991, Brown played much of the year back at high-A Vero Beach. There, Brown hit .284 in 58 games. He also made the All-Star team. He also played 15 more games at San Antonio.

Brown returned to the Dodgers organization for one more season, in 1992. He played 37 games between AA and AAA. For 1993, Brown moved to the Cubs system and 38 more games. Thirty-six of those were back in the Florida State League at Daytona.

Brown returned for one last look at AAA in 1994, 60 games at Iowa. He also started with 11 games at AA Orlando, helping tie one April game with a double.

Then came 1995. The occasion for Brown's interview with The Daily News was the strike. Brown signed a minor league contract with the Reds. And he refused to be a replacement player.

Instead, he returned to the minors, at AA Chattanooga. He played 77 games there, hitting .266, ending his career without making the majors.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,998
Made the Majors:1,098-36.6%
Never Made Majors:1,900-63.4%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 456
10+ Seasons in the Minors:275

Scott Johnson, Award Winning - 8

Originally published April 20, 2017
Scott Johnson added another award to his resume in summer 2015 - best trainer in the International League, according to

For the longtime Charlotte Knights trainer it was his third such award in 13 seasons with the club, wrote.

"I'm honored to receive this award," Johnson said, according to the site. "I would like to thank the other trainers in the International League for voting for me this season. It truly means a lot knowing that this award has come from my peers."

Johnson's career as a trainer has now lasted nearly three decades. He started his professional career in 1989 with the White Sox at single-A South Bend and continues with the organization's AAA team in Charlotte for 2017.

Johnson graduated from North Dakota State in 1988, serving three summers as a trainer for the Goldpanners of the Alaska Baseball League.

Johnson spent three seasons in South Bend, then moved to high-A Sarasota. He earned spots as a league all-star trainer in 1989 and 1992.

He then went on to serve as trainer at AA Birmingham from 1995 to 1997. He first arrived at Charlotte in 1999, after first hitting AAA at Calgary in 1998. He served as for Venezuela in the 2000 Caribbean World Series.

Johnson won the International League Trainer of the Year award with Charlotte in 2000 and 2001, as well as 2015.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shannon Strong, Loved It - 30

Shannon Strong called turning pro in 1990 the best thing he'd ever done, according to The Eugene Register-Guard.

He expected long days, long nights and long road trips. He loved it, he told The Register-Guard.

"I know the odds are against us making it (to the major leagues) but I've never thought about not making it," Strong told The Register-Guard late that June. "This is it. I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing."

Strong's career began with the Royals' short-season team in Eugene that year. It also ended with Eugene. Strong played just that single season as a pro.

Strong signed on with the Royals that June as a 41st round pick out of Treasure Valley Community College in California.

At Treasure Valley, Strong played two seasons and hit .368, with 15 triples in 1990. He also hit four home runs in one game that spring, according to The Register-Guard.

With the Royals in June, Strong helped his team to an early-season win by simply standing at the plate as two balk calls sent two runners home, The Register-Guard wrote.

"Runs are runs," Strong told The Register-Guard afterward. "I was just trying to concentrate, trying to get a hit, and it screwed me up. But, hey. those two runs got us back in the game."

Strong went 1 for 2, with a run scored in that game. Overall, he hit .117 in 38 games. He had no home runs and two RBI. That season marked his only season as a pro.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,998
Made the Majors:1,098-36.6%-X
Never Made Majors:1,900-63.4%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 456-X
10+ Seasons in the Minors:275

John Hairston, First Game - 5

Originally published April 22, 2017
Speaking in 2015, John Hairston recalled his oldest daughter Alex getting her start in sports, according to Grant Magazine.

The father wanted Alex to play baseball, softball or basketball, not really soccer, he told Grant Magazine, the school magazine of Grant High School in Portland, Ore. But his daughter soon took to it, and Hairston did, too.

"After the first game, I brought her back to the house and I said, 'OK, this is what you need to do. It's all about scoring goals,'" Hairston told Grant Magazine. "So I set up a little net and all I did was teach her how to get the ball and kick it in the net."

If Hairston was partial to baseball and softball, that could be understood. Baseball, pro baseball especially, has been a part of his family for decades, from his grandfather to his cousins.

Hairston, while he played, never followed his other family members to the bigs. Hairston played four seasons, all in the minors.

Hairston's career began in 1989, signing with the White Sox as a free agent out of college. He graduated from Portland, Ore.'s Grant High School himself in 1985.

Hairston started with the White Sox in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He hit .213 over 22 games, stealing seven bases.

He moved to single-A South Bend for 1990. He hit .238 in 98 games that season. He went 0 for 1 in an August pinch-hitting appearance. He returned to South Bend and played at high-A Sarasota for 1991. He hit .201 over 75 games between them, ending his White Sox career.

Hairston then is recorded as returning five years later, in 1996, with the Yankees at single-A Greensboro. He hit .216 over 59 games, ending his playing career.

Hairston then soon returned to Oregon and raised four daughters with his wife Paige. Another soccer-playing daughter, Mady Hairston, has gone on to play at the University of Tennessee, where she continues in 2017.

The Hairston baseball family: Hairston's father, John Hairston, Sr., grandfather Sam Hairston (who coached at AA Birmingham in 1990), uncle Jerry Hairston, two cousins, Jerry Hairston, Jr., and Scott Hairston. All made the majors. Hairston's brother Jason Hairston also played, but never made the bigs.

Monday, October 15, 2018

John Zaksek, Perfect Day - 22

Originally published April 7, 2017
The Cincinnati Enquirer described John Zaksek's day in April 1988 as perfect.

Zakzek, the University of Cincinnati center fielder, picked up four hits on the day, worked a walk and knocked in two on a double, The Enquirer wrote.

Zakzek signed two months later as a pro with the White Sox. He played three seasons for four teams. He never made it above high-A.

Zakzek's career began that June, taken by the White Sox in the 14th round of the draft out of Cincinnati. He went to college out of Poland Seminary High in Poland, Ohio.

Zakzek hit .521, with 15 home runs at Seminary in 1985. He then hit .327 for Cincinnati in 1988 for Cincinnati, while hitting eight home runs, with 33 RBI.

He started with the White Sox in the rookie Gulf Coast League and at short-season Utica. He hit .287 between them, with one home run and 12 stolen bases. He went 3 for 3, with two RBI in a June game at Utica.

Zakzek moved to single-A South Bend and returned to Utica for 1989. He also got a game at high-A Sarasota. He hit .240 over 85 games on the year.

He then played 1990 completely at South Bend. He went 0 for 1 as a pinch-hitter in an August game. Overall, he hit .286 over 93 games, ending his career.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Johnny Ruffin, Another Year - 15

Johnny Ruffin didn't feel he was ready for the majors in spring 1992. He still had much to learn, he told The Chicago Tribune that March.

"I'll stay another year, another two years in the minor leagues and develop that," Ruffin told The Tribune. "I don't want to get up and stay a year. I want to stay 10, 15 years."

Ruffin did stay another year, debuting in the majors in August 1993. He went on to a career that saw time in six major league seasons.

But, while he had success on the field, Ruffin ran into problems off it. He was twice arrested during his career, once on a sex offense.

Ruffin's career began in 1988, taken by the White Sox in the fourth round of the draft out of Choctaw County High School in Alabama.

Ruffin started with the White Sox in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He went 4-2, with a 2.30 ERA. He then moved to short-season Utica in 1989 and then single-A South Bend in 1990.

He played 1991 at high-A Sarasota, where he went 11-4, with a 3.23 ERA. Still 19, he also threw a no-hitter.

Ruffin played 1992 between Sarasota and AA Birmingham, and then made AAA Nashville in 1993. He went to the Reds in a 1993 deadline deal and played at AAA Indianapolis before making his major league debut.

"What does he have to do to get to the big leagues?" asked Indianapolis pitching coach Mike Griffin asked The Indianapolis Star. "Exactly what he is doing now. Actually, I would love to see him establish a little better changeup. But he doesn't really need too much. He's not far away."

Ruffin got into 21 games down the stretch for the Reds. He went 2-1, with a 3.58 ERA and saved two games.

Then came his first run-in with the law, the sex offense. In January 1994, a woman in Sarasota told police Ruffin sexually assaulted her in a hotel room. He later pleaded no-contest to attempted sexual battery. He received probation.

"I apologize to (Reds owner) Mrs. (Marge) Schott, the entire Reds organization and to the fans of Cincinnati for the disappointment and embarrassment this regrettable incident has caused," Ruffin said in a statement after his plea.

On the field that year, Ruffin got into 51 games in relief and picked up seven wins to two losses. He also had a 3.09 ERA.

He returned in 1995 for 10 outings and then in 1996 for 49. He was arrested for a second time in April 1996, after not responding to a speeding ticket and not having a license. He later pleaded no contest and received probation.

After 1996, Ruffin played the next three years in the minors. He also got a one-game look in Japan, with Kintetsu.

He returned to the majors for five games with the Diamondbacks in 2000 and three with the Marlins in 2001. He then finished out his career over the following three seasons, playing at AAA, in Korea and independent ball.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,997
Made the Majors:1,098-36.6%-X
Never Made Majors:1,899-63.4%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 456-X
10+ Seasons in the Minors:275


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