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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning

"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

The Park By the Airport, II

The Park by the Airport, part 2 of 3: [note: This is part 2 of a three part series about Heritage park and the Albany-Colonie Yankees, a staple of SmAlbany culture for the better part of a dozen years. Part 1 discusses the actual ballpark - Heritage Park in Colonie. Part 2 discusses the team. Part 3 discusses baseball in Albany since the A-C Yankees left town.]

In order to prepare for my writing of this column, I dusted off my old AC-yankees autographed baseball cards to see what players I had. Most of them were run of the mill unkonwns, but i did have: Jim Leyritz, Scott Kamiecki, Bernie Williams, and Hensly "Bam Bam" Muelens. Not a bad collection. I wonder what i could get for it on ebay.

The thing i always like about the AC-Yanks when i was a kid is that they were pretty darn good team. While the big-league club was stuck in the lower reaches of the AL East in my prime childhood years (1987-1991), the AC-Yanks were simply a great team. You could follow the standings in the TU with the strong hope of making the playoffs, something that wasn't availabe with the Bronx team. They made the playoffs every year from 1988 to 1993, won the regular season title in 1989 and 1990, and won the playoff title in 1989. Plus, you could often see guys get called up that you knew locally only a few years beforehand. The 1989 team was just fun to watch: it had 11 future major leaguers on it for at least part of the year (Williams, Sanders, Asocar, Muelens, Chapin, Christopher, Howard, Kamineiki, Leyritz, Rodrigeuz,and Stankiewicz) and just beat the stuffing out the rest of the league that year.

The four players I remember best from the AC-yanks are two guys who went on to be major leaguers, Deion Sanders and Bernie Williams, one guy who came down from the major for one game -Ron Guidry - plus one guy who never did make it to the show, Brien Taylor.

Deion Sanders played just 33 games for the A-C yankees, but made quite an impact from day one, and it wasn't on the field. Long before he was making an NFL comeback, dumping water on Tim McCarver, or finding Jesus, Deion was doing his thing down Colonie way. I can remember watching the press conference after the yankees drafted him. He was covered in gold chains and wearing enormous aviator sunglasses. He remined the press to call him "neon" Deion. Then he proceded to come to Albany in his first full year in pro ball and bat about .140 for the first three weeks, earning him the moniker "freon" Deion. But damn was that cat fast. Along with Oscar Azocar and Bernie Williams, the 1989 AC-Yanks probably had the fast outfield in the history of minor league baseball. I'm serious.

Bernine Williams, not Derek Jeter, is easily the most memorable player in AC-Yankees history for me, as I suspect he is for most people. Many people forget that Jeter played only 34 games for the AC-Yanks (although it's worth noting he batted .377 in that span). Bernie was there for almost two full seasons. The thing was, he wasn't a great hitter for average at AC. It was the stolen bases that were amazing. Every time he got on base, he would try to steal. And he was the kind of guy you just knew was going to be in the majors shortly. He was only 20 years old, but he already looked like a star. Kids would line up near the dugout waiting for his autograph. He'd get the loudest cheer at the plate. And he was simply the most electric on the bases.

Ron Guidry, of course, is a legend at Heritage Park, because he showed up to pitch a 3 inning rehab stint, and 15,000 people showed up to watch him do it. Heritage park only held about half that number, so people were camped out everywhere. Eventually, they were allowed to come in without paying admission and stand on the warning track of the outfield to watch the game. Only in Albany would that many people show up to see Guidry, and only in Albany would they be allowed to stand on the warning track. My Dad and I actually stood on "the hill" by the third base bleachers. I remember not having a very good view of him actually pitching, and I came away from it more in awe of the crowd than the game. Every pitch was greeted with a roar, and he struck out two guys in a row in the second inning, leading to absolute pandemonium in the crowd. It really was a moment in SmAlbany cultural history.

One thing that is certainly a cultural piece of SmAlbany is the interest people have in turning out for the spectacles that only come by once in a great while. This is particularly true in the sporting world. Ron Guidry Night was first, but less than a decade later came both the 1994 Siena NIT games against Georgia Tech, Tulane, and Bradley. Those games broke attendance records for first and second round NIT games, and the Bradley game would have broken the third-round record, except it had to be held in Glens Falls as the Knick was booked already. A year later the 1995 NCAA tournament first round did the same thing. That was the first time the NCAA ever sold out its first round games.

But beyond that, Ron Guidry Night was the instanteous making of a legend - although only 15,000 people were there, I bet there are 50,000 people from around SmAlbany who claim they were there. It's a piece of history people want to be part of, even almost 20 years later. Although he wasn't the only big-leaguer to have a rehab stint in Albany, he certainly was the biggest, and he certainly was the only one who went 25-3 in 1978. Somehow "Matt Nokes night" or "Jesse Barfield night" wouldn't have had the same ring to it anyway.

Brien Taylor was the Yankees #1 draft pick in the 1991 draft. He was a high school phenom with a 98 mph fastball. He had a Topps baseball card, a then-record $1.66 million dollar signing bonus, and he was coming to Albany. I was 13 and a huge yankee fan, so naturally I was super excited about all this. Then, before the season even starts, he gets into some ridiculous barroom brawl, breaks his arm, and never recovers. He did pitch for the AC-yanks, but never sucessfully. And he never made the majors.

Tomorrow, this series will continue with a look at minor league baseball in Albany since the AC-Yanks left. See you then.
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At 4:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

Great summary and memories, but as far as Brien Taylor goes, I saw him pitch a few times in 1993 with the Albany-Colonie Yankees and that was before he got hurt, actually that was the last great year he had in baseball. I still remember sitting behind homeplate one time during one of his starts, you wouldn't believe how many scouts were there with radar guns. I still have a AC Yanks program from that year which has Brien Taylor on it and has him throwing a lefthanded flaming fastball with the words "Heritage Heat" on the front cover. It's a shame what happened to him the next year though, instead of going to the Arizona Fall League which the Yankees had suggested he do, he goes off and gets in a barfight and ruins his arm and career. Anyhow here's his AC Yanks stats from '93: (W-L)13-6 (ERA)3.48 (G)27 (IP)163 (H)127 (BB)102 (K)150.    

At 11:06 AM , Blogger Matt said:

Good call on Taylor - i couldn't remember if he pitched an AC season prior to the brawl or not, i thought he did not - the foggy memory of a 14 year-old. Thanks for the info.    

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