Thursday, September 29, 2016

Javy Lopez, Happiest Man - 20

Originally published Jan. 15, 2014
Javy Lopez got that pitch right down the middle of the plate and, when he was done with it, the game was tied.

When Lopez was done with it, it was in Joe Robbie Stadium's upper deck, according to The Associated Press.

"I didn't even feel it. I just walked toward first base and watched it," Lopez told The AP later. "When it bounced in the upper deck, I was the happiest man in the world."

Lopez was in his rookie season that year with the Braves in 1994, having seen brief time in two previous years. By the time he was done with his career, he'd seen time in a total of 15 major league seasons, made three All-Star teams and won a post-season series MVP award.

Also by the time Lopez was done, the catcher had hit 260 total major league home runs.

Lopez' career in baseball began in 1987, signed by the Braves as an amateur free agent, out of his native Puerto Rico. Lopez has also been known by his full name, Javier Lopez.

With the Braves, Lopez started in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He made single-A Burlington in 1990, then AA Greenville in 1992. In September 1992, Lopez debuted in Atlanta.

With the Braves, Lopez got into nine games in 1992 and eight games in 1993. He then got his first regular time in the majors in 1994. In 80 games that year, Lopez hit .245, with 13 home runs.

In 1995, Lopez improved his average to .315, he hit 14 home runs and helped the Braves to the world championship. That October, in Game 2 of the World Series, Lopez helped the Braves to the win with a tie-breaking, two-run home run.

"He's had a remarkable year," Braves manager Bobby Cox told The AP afterward. "He's hit home runs, he's got a great throwing arm. And he's been a clutch guy."

Lopez hit 23 home runs in both 1996 and 1997. In 1996, Lopez earned NLCS MVP honors. In 1997, Lopez made his first All-Star team. In 1998, Lopez made his second All-Star team, he also hit 34 home runs.

In 1998, Lopez credited the influence of teammate Andres Galarraga with helping him have the year he had.

"He made me believe that Turner Field is not a pitcher's ball park," Lopez told The AP in spring training 1999. "He proved that it's not impossible to hit at least 40 home runs there."

Lopez eventually did hit 40 home runs there. After two seasons under 20, Lopez hit a career-high 43 home runs for the Braves in 2003.

For 2004, Lopez left the Braves and moved to the Orioles. He then stayed there in 2006, before ending his career with the Red Sox.

In spring 2008, Lopez finally announced his retirement, after taking one last shot at the Braves. After his announcement, Lopez drew praise from longtime teammate Chipper Jones.

"He was a fan favorite in Atlanta," Jones told "Everybody loved Javy. His teammates loved him. He was a great guy."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jeff Clark, Legged Out - 16

Originally published Jan. 22, 2014
The only player standing in the way of the Gulf Coast League Mets and a no-hitter this day in June 1988 was Jeff Clark.

In the top of the fifth, with two outs, Clark legged out an infield single. It was the only GCL Braves hit on the night, according to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

That was one of 18 hits Clark picked up in the GCL over 27 games in his first year as a pro. He went on to play four seasons. He never made AA.

Clark's pro career began that season in 1988, signed by the Braves as an undrafted free agent out of Walton High School in Marietta, Ga.

With the Braves, Clark played his first season between the GCL and single-A Burlington. Clark got 11 games at Burlington, hitting .257.

For 1989, Clark played at rookie Pulaski and returned to Burlington. He hit .263 on the year, with one home run and 20 stolen bases. He also knocked in 23.

Clark played 1990 at Burlington full-time. His average came in at .257. He got 27 RBI and stole nine bases. Clark's final season then came in 1991. At high-A Durham that year, he got into just 18 games. He hit .116, ending his career.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dickey Marze, Pegged As - 15

Originally published Jan. 16, 2014
The Gulf Coast League Braves ran off to a 6-0 win in this August 1989 game and their top hitter on the day was pegged as Dickey Marze.

Marze went 3 for 5 in the contest, according to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, on his way to a season average of .276.

That was Marze's first year as a pro. He would only get one other season. His son, though, has gotten more.

Marze's pro career began that year in 1989, taken by the Braves in the 17th round of the draft, out of Northwestern State University in Louisiana. Marze's name has also been spelled Dickie Marze.

At Northwestern State, Marze won first-team all-conference honors in 1988. He also hit 28 career home runs from 1986 to 1989, still third all-time at the school, according to the school's media guide. His 56 stolen bases is still tied for fifth all-time.

With the Braves, Marze started in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He hit four home runs in 52 games, knocking in 22. He knocked in two of those runs on a single in another August game.

Marze moved to single-A Burlington for 1990. His average, though, dropped to .204. He hit another four home runs and another 22 RBI, but it was his final year as a pro.

Marze has since gone on to a career in the energy industry, now serving as a production foreman for Arena Energy in his home state of Louisiana.

And now Marze's son has followed his father into pro baseball. Marze's son Dayton Marze signed with the Blue Jays as a 14th-round pick in 2010 as a pitcher. Dayton Marze has since played four seasons in the Toronto system. In 2013, Dayton Marze even got seven games at AA New Hampshire.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bub Maietta, Door Opened - 3158

Bub Maietta's Dubois Senior World Series team stayed alive in the 1986 tournament and Maietta pointed to a walk and an error that got his team going, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

"I thought that opened the door for us," Maietta told The Sentinel afterward. ''It gave us all the momentum we needed.''

Maietta did his part for his Dubois 13-15 team earlier in the game to get his team going: He hit a solo home run. He went on to do his part in high school, enough to get notice as one of the top high school prospects and turn pro.

In the pros, though, Maietta never really gained traction. He played three seasons. He never made AA.

Maietta's pro career began in 1989, taken by the Tigers in the 11th round of the draft out of Dubois Area High School in Pennsylvania. Maietta is also credited by his given name, Ron Maietta.

At Dubois, Maietta also played football. He remains third on the school's passing record list.

On the Dubois baseball field, Maietta won Scholastic baseball player of the year honors for Pennsylvania in 1989. He also made a high school prospects baseball card set.

He went 9-1 his senior year at Dubois, with a 1.29 ERA. He made the U.S. Junior National Team in 1988 and the U.S. Olympic Festival in 1989.

In the pros, the pitcher started with the Tigers at rookie Bristol. He got into nine games, started three, with an ERA of 3.71. He returned there for 1990, getting just six starts in a brief campaign. Maietta and a young Tony Clark roomed together for a time.

Maietta moved to the Red Sox for 1991, what turned out to be his final season. He played between the rookie Gulf Coast League and high-A Winter Haven. He went 2-5 between them, with a 6.21 ERA, ending his career.

Maietta made one more bid at sports, years later, back in football. Attending Youngstown State in 1996, The Indiana Gazette in Pennsylvania reported he expected to make a bid for the schools gridiron team that fall.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,419
Made the Majors: 990-40.9%
Never Made Majors:1,429-59.1%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 413
10+ Seasons in the Minors:248

Jose Lima, His Time - 3156

The Associated Press noted Jose Lima's "on-mound exuberance" in reporting his return to the Astros with a new contract in 2000. Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker noted that exuberance played a part in Lima's success.

"I think what makes Jose unique is not his skill as a pitcher but his willingness to express himself when he's not only out on the mound, but whenever he's in public," Hunsicker told The AP. "He's not afraid of what people think. I really believe that has played a part in his success."

Lima earned that new contract - three years, $18.75 million - after seasons where he posted 16 and 21 wins. He also made the All-Star game in 1999, marking the height of "Lima Time."

Lima played seven more major league seasons, never matching his success those two years. But he did have one big playoff moment with the Dodgers in 2004. He continued playing in the bigs until 2006 and then in independent ball through 2009. In May 2010, Lima passed away at the age of 37.

Lima's career began in 1989, signed by the Tigers as a free agent out of his native Dominican Republic, where he attended Laschargas High School.

Lima started for the Tigers at rookie Bristol. The 17-year-old went 3-8, with a 5.02 ERA over 14 outings, 12 starts. Lima made AA London in 1993, then AAA Toledo and Detroit in 1994.

Lima got into three games for the Tigers in 1994, giving up 10 earned in 6.2 innings of work. That May, longtime Tiger Lou Whitaker praised the youngster upon his first call up.

"I can't remember the last time a kid came along with that kind of confidence," Whitaker told The AP. "He handles himself like he has been around for years. And I think he probably will be around here for a lot of years."

Lima returned for 15 more starts in 1995 and 39 outings mostly in relief in 1996. His best ERA came in at 5.70 in 1996. He arrived with the Astros for 1997 in a trade. After pitching that season in relief, Lima returned to starting in 1998 and he took off.

Lima went 16-8 for the Astros that year, with a 3.70 ERA. In 1999, his All-Star season, Lima did even better. He went 21-10, with a 3.58 ERA.

Lima took the starting rotation job in 1998 after injuries. After early success, he worked with his pitching coach to add a sinker and slider, according to The Houston Chronicle.

"Everybody says we made the decision (to put him in the starting rotation)," Astros manager Larry Dierker told The Chronicle. "That decision made itself."

After returning to the Astros for 2000, Lima's record regressed to 7-16, with a 6.65 ERA. He returned to Detroit in 2001. He continued playing in the majors into 2006, getting time with the Royals, Dodgers and Mets.

His last big season came in 2004 with the Dodgers, going 13-5, with a 4.07 ERA. He helped he Dodgers to the playoffs, and avoid elimination against the Cardinals for a night with a complete-game, five hitter.

The AP described his reaction to the win as including pumping his fist, shouting and pointing at teammates. Before the game, he drew the initials of family members on the mound.

"He's always been like that," the Cardinals Reggie Sanders told The AP afterward. "One thing, on our part, you can't get too hyped up or too caught up on that. Lima has always been Lima. He tries to get you caught up in his world. He did tonight."

After spending time in Mexico, Korea, his native Dominican Republic and independent ball, Lima threw his final professional pitch in 2009. Then, in May 2010, he passed away at the age of 37.

"He had a great flair and such enthusiasm for life," Tal Smith, Astros president of baseball operations told The AP after Lima's passing. "'Lima Time' was a special time. 'Lima Time' was whenever he was pitching, or at any event or club function or civic function that he was at. He'd get up and sing and dance, and he was very, very good. He was a real entertainer."
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,418
Made the Majors: 990-40.9%-X
Never Made Majors:1,428-59.1%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 413-X
10+ Seasons in the Minors:248

Walter Roy, Rookie Roommate - 14

Read the March 2015 interview: Walter Roy, Gung-Ho

Originally published Jan. 17, 2014
The first couple roommates for Javier Lopez didn't work out. Then he moved in with Walter Roy, and another teammate. The group was rounded out by Roy's wife.

The two were at rookie Pulaski that year and the move for Lopez forced the Puerto Rican-native out of his comfort zone, Lopez wrote years later in his book "Behind the Plate."

"I had to learn English living with them," Lopez wrote. "Walter's wife was there, too. She was a very sweet lady, and she talked to me all the time, taught me a lot."

Lopez went on from there to a major league career that spanned 15 seasons. Roy's career ended the next year at single-A Burlington.

Roy's career began in 1989, signed by the Braves as an undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State University and Mott Community College.

At Pulaski, the pitcher Roy got into 14 games, starting two. He went 2-1, with a 2.12 ERA. He also struck out 23 in 29.2 innings and walked six.

For 1990, Roy moved to single-A Burlington. In 34 relief outings, he picked up seven wins to no losses. He also saved 4 games and put up an ERA of 2.60. Despite the numbers, though, it was Roy's final season as a pro.

Read the March 2015 interview: Walter Roy, Gung-Ho
  • Behind the Plate: A Catcher's View of the Braves Dynasty: Chapter 3

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Tim Gillis, Got Two - 13

Originally published Jan. 25, 2014
Tim Gillis hit a home run to tie this May 1994 contest for the Greenville Braves. Later, he hit the go-ahead double that won it, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

That double came with two men on in the eighth inning. Gillis told The Sentinel afterward that a double wasn't what he was looking for.

"I was just looking to get a pitch out over the plate and drive it up the middle," Gillis told The Sentinel. "I wanted to drive in at least one. Then the ball rolled to the wall and we got two."

Gillis was in his fifth season as a pro that year with the AA Braves. He wouldn't get another. He never made AAA.

Gillis' career began in 1990, signed by the Braves as an undrafted free agent, out of Livingston University, now the University of West Alabama.

At Livingston, Gillis set school records by hitting 14 home runs, and 44 career doubles. In spring 1989, he also hit .383, according to The Tuscaloosa News.

It wasn't until that October, though, that Gillis got a professional contract. "I'm overwhelmed right now," Gillis told The News after signing.

Gillis played his first year in 1990 at single-A Burlington. He hit 12 home runs, had 61 RBI and finished with a .256 average. Gillis started the year strong, hitting a walk-off home run in his fifth professional game.

He moved to high-A Durham in 1991, returning there in 1992. He hit .246 his first year there and .239 his second. He also hit 21 home runs that second year at Durham.

Gillis made AA Greenville in 1993, hitting .251 on the year, with 14 home runs. He hit one of those home runs in an early August game, a game where he knocked in the 11th-inning, game-winner on a single.

He returned to Greenville for his final season in 1994. He hit nine home runs, ending with a .241 average.

Gillis made one more attempt at the majors in spring 1995 during replacement ball. He hit well early, still batting .500 by March 7. At the end of the strike spring, Gillis got to play in a major league stadium, if only an exhibition game with the replacements. "The excitement everybody felt last night when we got here ... it was a thrill," Gillis told The Rome News-Tribune.
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