Monday, November 9, 2015

Interview Part 1: Jim Ferguson, Better Way

Jim Ferguson played three seasons in the Cardinals system, including spending time in the Florida State League.  Photo is of Florida State League Cardinals in 2011 at West Palm Beach. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Better Way | Part 2: All About
Part 3: Great Thrill | Part 4: Passion For

Jim Ferguson traveled to Salt Lake City hoping for a shot at making the independent Salt Lake Trappers. He got that shot and at first it seemed like it wouldn't work out, Ferguson recalled recently.

Then the Trappers hitting coach Barry Moss took him aside. Moss had some good news, Ferguson recalled Moss telling him, Ferguson was a Trapper.

"That was a shock to me," Ferguson recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently. "I couldn't believe it. I was in there signing a professional contract. That's all I ever wanted in my life. It was unbelievable."

Ferguson signed with the Trappers after going undrafted after having success at the University of New Haven. He also signed after spending time in Miami, hoping to catch on with an independent team there.

"That's what I wanted to do," Ferguson said, "and it was amazing that it happened and it couldn't have happened in a better way than out in Salt Lake City."

Ferguson made the Trappers in time for the team's magical 1987 run through the Pioneer League and he was a big part of it. The team won national attention as it won 29 games in a row, a professional baseball record.

Ferguson ended up hitting .327 for Salt Lake that summer. He even appeared with a teammate on national television as ABC's Wide World of Sports took notice of the team's unprecedented success.
Jim Ferguson playing his current sport, golf. (Photo Provided)
He went on from Salt Lake to play four seasons as a pro, three of them in the Cardinals organization. He played in Australia and in Europe. He never made it to AA.

He has since gone on to a post-playing career in another sport: Golf. He's served as an assistant PGA pro for more than a decade at Wallingford Country Club in Connecticut.

Ferguson spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from Connecticut. He spoke of growing up and getting his start in the game there, then his pursuit of the pros and his experiences once he got there.

Ferguson grew up in Fair Haven, a neighborhood in New Haven, Conn. He recalled starting to playing baseball at a young age. He also played hockey.

At Notre Dame High School in New Haven, Ferguson made the varsity team as a sophomore, but he didn't start until his junior year. His coach there, Tom Marucci, Ferguson recalled as a great coach and motivator.

"I've had the good fortunate to have tremendous motivator of men as coaches in my career," Ferguson said.

Ferguson won a baseball scholarship to play for coach Frank Vieira at the nearby University of New Haven. The schools were actually side-by-side, Ferguson said, and Vieira got to see a lot of the Notre Dame players.
Jim Ferguson grew up playing baseball in New Haven, Conn. Photo is of baseball down the road in Bridgeport in 2011. (Greatest 21 Days)
"That was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made," Ferguson said of playing for Vieira. "He was a huge influence on my life, not only my career."

Ferguson's team went to the Division II World Series three of his four years there. They lost to Quinnipiac short of the series his freshman year, but the team made it the other three.

He recalled his teammates motivating themselves and each other, even when his team had fewer pitchers than its fellow Division II teams. He likened the team to a fraternity.

The scouts came around, but Ferguson recalled being tagged as a player with average talent, but a player whose heart and guts showed through.

"That's what I had going for me, my motivation and my love and passion for the game," Ferguson said. "I grew up idolizing Pete Rose, the way he played the game. That's the way I knew how to play and that's the only way I knew how to play the game."

Ferguson heard rumblings the Blue Jays or Padres were interested in him. When draft day came, though, he wasn't selected. He recalled Vieira working to get him signed. He also went to a bunch of tryouts.

His path soon took him to Miami. One of his roommates at New Haven, Scott Khoury, had gone on to play in the Orioles system and with another player, Dan Norman. Norman managed 1987 at independent single-A Miami.
Jim Ferguson tried out for the old minor-league Miami Marlins in 1987. Photo is of major league Florida Marlin Hanley Ramirez in 2011. (Greatest 21 Days)
Ferguson tried out for Norman. He recalled Norman liking him, but they didn't have space for him. He worked out with the team in case something opened up.

In the meantime, he met Salt Lake manager Jim Gilligan. Gilligan invited Ferguson out to Utah. They had a shortstop, but, he recalled Gilligan telling him, you never know.

Another college friend, Frank Colston, played there in 1986 and returned for 1987. Ferguson flew off to Salt Lake to try out for them.

Also encouraging him in Florida, Ferguson recalled, was his sister.

"She's the one that said, 'Hey, you have to follow your dream and she's the one that supported me and got me a flight out to Salt Lake City," Ferguson said.

Ferguson tried out for that team and made the club. He also helped with history.

"I always believed in my talents," Ferguson said at another point, "and my family has always believed in my talents. I knew inside that I could and I did." (Go to Part 2)

Part 1: Better Way | Part 2: All About
Part 3: Great Thrill | Part 4: Passion For

Go to Part 2: Jim Ferguson, All About

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