I’ve traveled to more than 50 stadiums for The Ballpark Guide, and have managed to pick up some pretty cool souvenirs along the way. These include:
– A Jeremy Nowak (Frederick Keys) home run ball;
– A Tony Caldwell (Greensboro Grasshoppers) home run ball;
– A Randy Ruiz game-used bat;
– A New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used jacket;
– A Ryan Skube (former Padres prospect) game-used bat;
– A Curtis Thigpen clubhouse nameplate — OK, not “game-used,” but you know what I mean.
Well, as promised, I added a couple really neat items to my collection during my travels last year.
Here’s the first one:
This is a game-used bat that belonged to Justin O’Conner, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ first-round draft pick in 2010. I bought it in May when I visited Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. (You can read about this visit here.) It’s exciting to have a bat from a first rounder. I actually saw O’Conner play back in 2012 at the Futures at Fenway game at Fenway Park, and managed to get his autograph on a ball. Last year, when I saw his bat in the team shop at Bowling Green Ballpark, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.
As you can see here, it’s got his name written on the knob:
Lots of signs of use on the handle:
And a ton of wear on the barrel, which shows that he used this bat an awful lot before it broke. Here are some ball marks:
And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:
O’Conner hit .223 for the Hot Rods in 2013 but showed some solid pop with 14 home runs in 102 games. I’ll be excited to see where he starts the 2014 season and look forward to following his career.
The next item I added to my collection has a little mystery to it. It’s a Lexington Legends game-used batting practice jersey, and here’s a picture of it:
When I visited Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, in May, I was excited to see a TON of game-used jerseys for sale at decent prices. Often, you see Minor League Baseball game-used jerseys for around $100, which seems like a little much. Anyway, the BP jerseys were just $25, which was impossible to resist. I browsed through the available jerseys, worn during the 2012 season, while checking out the team’s 2012 roster on The Baseball Cube. My goal was to find a jersey of a player with promise, and when I came across the #8 jersey, I saw it apparently belonged to first baseman Zach Johnson. While with Lexington in 2012, Johnson hit 15 home runs and added 108 RBIs. I was sold, and grabbed the jersey off the rack.
When I took it to the counter, the staff member said, “Nice — Delino DeShields, Jr.” Huh? I told him I was pretty sure this was Johnson’s jersey, pointing to the data on my iPod.
He replied that he thought DeShields might have worn the #8 on a promotional jersey night when his usual #4 wasn’t available in his size. If that was the case, what number did Johnson wear on that night? Or did Johnson play? As I said, it’s a mystery.
I have to admit I’m intrigued about DeShields, though. While with the Legends in 2012, he stole 83 bases in 111 games. Yep, you read that right. He added 18 more steals in 24 games with High-A Lancaster to finish the year with 101 stolen bases. This total would be enough to be the best in the entire minor leagues virtually any year, if not for a guy named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, set the all-time record by swiping 155 bases. (I was lucky enough to see him play at Louisville Slugger Field last year, too.)
So, did I have the jersey of Johnson, a slugger who was released last year, or of DeShields, Jr., a first-round draft pick who might be on the fast track to the majors? (He played in High-A last season and stole 51 bases while batting .317 while just 20 years of age.)
Let’s look at some more pictures of the jersey before we wade even deeper into this mystery. Here’s a shot of the #8 in question:
The back of the entire jersey:
And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:
Now, back to the mystery. I’ve found proof that Johnson wore my jersey in 2012. The next four pictures I found online, and were taken by Clinton Riddle.
And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:
The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:
And here’s the front of his jersey:
As you can tell from these photos, they’re taken during BP, not during a game.
So, based on what The Baseball Cube says, and with the photographic proof I can find online, I’m sure the jersey is Johnson’s. But I’m curious about the suggestion of the team shop employee, and I’m determined to find out the truth. I’m going to contact the Legends, as well as DeShields, Jr., himself, to get to the bottom of this mystery.
And when I have an answer, I’ll share it here!
** UPDATE **
Well, that didn’t take long. Immediately after publishing this blog post, I sent messages on Twitter to DeShields, Jr. and the Legends. DeShields was the first to respond, and he straightened things up:
Now, I’m not up on the nicknames of former Legends players, but it looks like “Ziggy” is Zach Johnson, which means my initial understanding about the jersey’s rightful owner was correct. An hour later, the Legends confirmed things:
I suppose there’s still a chance DeShields wore the jersey once, but that’s probably difficult to confirm. In any case, the theory about the rightful owner of the BP jersey sure made for a fun mystery while it lasted.
As always, thanks for reading. Please visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive fan guides to MLB and MiLB parks and remember, each of your visits help support my road trips!
One of the big perks to my August road trip was getting media passes at most of the ballparks I visited. Nearly all the teams I dealt with were extremely accommodating when I told them about my visit and my website, The Ballpark Guide.
The lone downside (and it’s a small one) to getting a media pass is that you can’t get autographs. When I went to Fenway Park for the Futures at Fenway doubleheader, however, I didn’t have a pass. This meant, of course, that I was free to get some autographs.
I was lucky to get three members of the Hudson Valley Renegades to sign a baseball for me before they squared off against the Lowell Spinners.
Here’s the ball:
From top to bottom, the ball features the signatures of pitcher Jeff Ames, catcher Justin O’Conner and catcher Luke Maile.
Ames, who was recently ranked as the number 19 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, was arguably Hudson Valley’s best pitcher in 2012. He posted a 6-1 record with a 1.96 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 64.1 innings pitched.
O’Conner joines Ames on the Rays’ top prospect list, placing 18th. He hit .223 and finished fifth on the team in hits (53) and fourth in RBIs (29). He also hit the longest Renegades home run at Dutchess Stadium in 2012.
Maile finished third on the team with a .278 batting average, while leading the club in RBIs (41) and triples (3). When’s the last time you saw a catcher lead his team in three-baggers?
I’m glad to add this ball to my autograph collection, and it’ll be exciting to follow the careers of these three guys, who all look to be off to a great start.