In baseball, you never really know who you're going to run into, and where you run into them.
Take Les Lancaster, for example. Some of you might remember him as being part of a pitching rotation of the best minor league team to play in Pittsfield in the last 40 years.
Lancaster pitched for the 1986 Pittsfield Cubs, a team that had Lancaster, Jamie Moyer and Greg Maddux as part of the rotation. Thirteen players, including Rafael Palmeiro and Gary Varsho, made it to the show.
Lancaster pitched seven major league seasons, and is now the pitching coach for the Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League, a Philadelphia farm club. He remembers the thrill of being called up to Pittsfield.
"I remember I met the team on the road," Lancaster said. "We were in Vermont, so that's where I made my first start."
Lancaster actually started the year at Class A Winston-Salem, compiling an 8-3 record which earned him the promotion to play for Tom Spencer's Cubs.
It took Lancaster only about 45 seconds to remember the Wahconah Park sun delays.
"That's what I hear," said Lancaster, when I reminded him that sun delays still exist.
That 1986 Cubs team was an Eastern League powerhouse. Palmeiro, Varsho and utilityman extrordinaire Rich Amaral had lengthy big league careers. Moyer just finished his career two years ago and Maddux is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Infielder Bruce Crabbe is now the manager of the Red Sox farm club in Lowell and outfielder Darrin Jackson is a broadcaster with the Chicago White Sox.
Ellis Burks and Demarlo Hale were Red Sox prospects along with Sam Horn at New Britain. The "Nasty Boys," pitchers Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble, were in Vermont that year with a Reds farm club while current Red Sox manager John Farrell pitched for the Waterbury Indians.
"That was a big adjustment for me coming from high A ball to the Eastern League," said Lancaster. "The talent that you would play against -- there were a lot of big leaguers I played against there in ‘86. It was a tough league."
While Lancaster made it through to the big leagues, Harry Marino is still trying.
Marino, a left-handed pitcher who played at Williams College, is gradually working his way up in the Baltimore Orioles organization.
Marino, who started the season with Aberdeen in the New York-Penn League, was recently called up to Delmarva of the Class A South Atlantic League. The Orioles are his second organization, as Marino signed with Arizona last year but was released in the offseason.
Marino laughed about the fact that an Amherst guy, Orioles VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette, helped a Williams guy's baseball career.
"It was unbelievable," Marino said. "Luckily enough, Dan Duquette and I came into contact when I signed a contract to play in the NECBL in Pittsfield before the team moved and I never got to play there. I knew him through that. ... It's funny, the connections you make."
A reliever, Marino has pitched three times so far for Delmarva.
"I've learned a lot in the last two years, from Arizona and here," he said. "It's a whole new level to play the best of the best. It's all about consistency."
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