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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Interview Part 2: Jim Ferguson, All About

Jim Ferguson played at Cobb Field for the visiting Salt Lake Trappers in 1987. (Wikipedia)
Part 1: Better Way | Part 2: All About
Part 3: Great Thrill | Part 4: Passion For

Jim Ferguson remembered his Salt Lake Trappers first focusing on the league record winning streak. By the time they were done, they had the all-time record winning streak.

"That was the record we really wanted to accomplish," Ferguson recalled of the team's goals as their winning streak inched toward the Pioneer League mark of 19. "So we did that and (manager Jim) Gilligan said, 'hey, take one game at a time - the old cliche - and see how far you can go."

It turned out the 1987 Salt Lake Trappers stretched that winning streak all the way to 29. Along the way, the club gained attention far beyond Utah and Ferguson even appeared even appeared on national television with a teammate to talk about the streak.

Ferguson credited the group of players the Trappers assembled with getting them there. The team, he said, worked together toward a common goal, winning.

"That's what it's all about," Ferguson said. "When you have a team that can accomplish something like that - I look back on it, we won 29 games in a row. I don't care what you're playing, we just went out, we wanted to win for each other... and to show everybody that we can play and we did."

Ferguson helped his Trappers to the winning streak record - and to the league championship - by becoming a regular in the Trappers lineup, hitting .327 and knocking in 40 runs.

He nearly didn't make the team.
New Britain Stadium in Jim Ferguson's native Connecticut in 2015. Ferguson works in 2015 as an assistant PGA pro at a golf course south of New Britain. (Greatest 21 Days)
Ferguson spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from Connecticut, covering his time in Utah, later time in the Cardinals system and his post-playing time in a different game: Golf.

His professional career began with the Trappers. After going undrafted out of the University of New Haven, Ferguson found himself in Salt Lake City, trying out for the independent Pioneer League Trappers.

As the tryout closed, Ferguson recalled hitting coach Barry Moss talking up Ferguson. Moss liked what he saw in the young infielder.

"I didn't have a great arm," Ferguson said, noting the speed wasn't all there either. "I just did the little things and I had a great instinct for the game."

Ferguson had always wanted to play as a professional and there he was, playing as a professional. He didn't start right away. He recalled his first hit as a big one a run-scoring triple against Pocatello.

About that first hit: "It's almost like you never ran the bases before," Ferguson said. "You're running around, it was like a dream."

Soon after, Ferguson got his first start. He recalled it came against the Butte Copper Kings in Butte, Mont. He recalled going 2 for 4 with a couple RBIs. He also recalled going out with his teammates afterward and doing some celebrating.
Jim Ferguson got his first professional start for Salt Lake at Butte, Mont., in 1987. (Greatest 21 Days)
He also stayed in the lineup. 

The streak itself began around that time. As it started to gain notice, the team noticed, as well, Ferguson recalled. Routines became not-so-routines anymore. They became a must.

"It's kind of crazy," Ferguson said. "When you went that amount of games, you do the same thing every day. We sang the same song before we went out on the field - it was really cool. It was really cool."

As the team approached the all-time record, Ferguson recalled the attention poured in. Shortly before the Trappers took the record, both Ferguson and teammate Frank "Shady" Colston earned Athlete of the Week honors on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

"The morning of the game, we were doing 'Wide World of Sports,'" Ferguson recalled. "Me and Shady were looking at each other going, 'Man, this is wild. This is awesome.'"

"It was an awesome time and we went out and did what we usually did for 29 games in a row," Ferguson added later. "That's not being cocky or anything. We just went out and got it done. It was a lot of fun."

After taking the winning streak record, the club focused on a more usual goal: Winning the league championship. That was the main goal.
Jim Ferguson celebrating the Trappers' streak with his team on a local news report. Watch the full report on YouTube.
The team ended up doing that, beating Helena in the championship series.

"The ultimate goal always was from Game 1 was to win the Pioneer League championship, which we were fortunate enough to get," Ferguson said. "That was awesome."

There was also another goal that rivaled the streak and championship. Salt Lake was an unaffiliated team made up of players who went unsigned by other organizations.

The Trappers players wanted to get into those other organizations.

"It was great to play every day," Ferguson said. "Obviously we all gave our all because we all wanted to get signed. There were a bunch of players on that team who got signed."

Ferguson was one of them. Ferguson earned an invitation to Cardinals camp the next spring. He also earned his way to the Cardinals club at single-A Savannah. (Go to Part 3)

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

Go to Part 3: Jim Ferguson, Great Thrill

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