Some of our readers who may follow me on Twitter may have known about my father’s passing at the end of May. He was diagnosed in March with Stage 4 urothelial cancer (cancer of the urinary tract), a diagnosis that was a surprise to everyone who knew him. We knew there was no cure, but there’s always some hope that at least you can do something to push the cancer away to prolong life. That’s the hope with Stage 4 cancer, anyways.
My family and I were given the honor of being guests of honor of sorts this past Wednesday’s Tampa Tarpons game since he was cared for by so much of the staff. Two of his older and younger brothers joined my mother, my brother and I to Tuesday’s series opener against the Palm Beach Cardinals. Unfortunately wet grounds led to unplayable conditions which resulted in a doubleheader to be played the next day (Wednesday).
Their flight left shortly after the first game was scheduled to start, which means I was to throw out the first pitch, and the Tarpons were also kind enough to sit us next to the Tarpons dugout. They also put “You’ll be missed Bill” on the Jumbotron in the later innings of the two games against Palm Beach. We didn’t realize how much the Tarpons all cared for my father until we waited out the rain on Tuesday.
The Tarpons split a doubleheader, where in the first game, Tyrone Yulie had an exceptional 4.1 IP, 2 ER outing, but it’s really the offense that came out with the fireworks on Wednesday. The Tarpons scored almost as many runs in the one game (13) as they did all last week against Fort Myers (17).
The Tarpons were blanked in the 2nd game as a result of a 6-hit shutout by the Palm Beach pitching. Tink Hence struck out 8 in 3 innings, and it’s wild to think that after a 13-3 win that the highlight in the latter game was a 3rd inning double by the 9th batter, Roberto Chirinos.
My father is who really got me into baseball, and specifically Yankees and minor league baseball. We’ve met so many Yankee “old-timers” over the years: Mickey Mantle, Don Larsen, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Tom Tresh, Joe Pepitone, and so many more that I can’t remember. He had binders of 8×10 autographs that he meant to frame but never did. I don’t know if they made the move or where they are if they did.
Instilling the love for minor league baseball early, starting with the Ravens’ inaugural season of 1994 (I would have been 6), would later prove to be important in regards to the baseball reporter that I am currently with Pinstriped Prospects. In fact, taking me to the airport before going to those baseball card shows would be where I’d get my start with a camera. I shot film then, of course.
It’s interesting how small the baseball world can be at times. Thinking back of that inaugural Ravens season, we had a player on that team by the name of Quinton McCracken. He went on to have a decent Major League career and set a number of firsts with the Tampa Bay franchise such as first stolen base, first run scored, etc. McCracken ended up playing 999 games in the bigs, but that’s not the significant part as far as we’re related to this story. No, not at all.
“Q”, as he was called then, went on to become Director of Player Development for the Houston Astros from 2012-2018. Do you know who else was a part of the Houston Astros during that time? Rachel Balkovec, the current manager of the Tampa Tarpons, who was hired on to be their strength and conditioning coordinator in the DR and later their strength and conditioning coach in their AA affiliate in the minors.
Whenever I’d visit my dad in the hospital, he’d ask how the Tarpons did the previous night. He used to look himself, but after a while he lost the desire to really do things he enjoyed. Baseball always remained though. Even in my dad’s last weeks and days, we watched and listened to Tarpons and Yankees games together. I record Tarpons games with the cameras I stick around the stadium so I’d edit one of the cameras together quickly so he could watch a game. I stopped going some time in April to care for him, so I’d have to follow the games via Gameday and read out the box score to him.
We used to walk up to the statue of George Steinbrenner in front of GMS Field together before I started covering the Tarpons and say “Hi, George” before every game, and “Good night, George” as we were on the way out. So many people at the stadium care for him, between the team employees and some of the Tarpons players themselves, which means more to me than they know.
Minor League teams, once you frequent them, get to be like family in a sense. When I passed out last year, the GM, Jeremy, ran to find my dad because he knew we were always together since we had been going to Tarpons and Tampa Yankees games before the re-branding since 2011. A number of the guys on the Tarpons came over to give my mother and I a hug which means more to us than they know.
I’m glad my actual family got to meet my family away from home, and we were all together for the first time. Just spending time with everyone makes my heart happy, and I think that’s what my father would have wanted.