It was the spring of 1981 and new Hagerstown Suns manager Grady Little walked into The Herald-Mail sports department to introduce himself to the local media.
Little, who would go on to manage in the major leagues, was then a brash, young Texas native who had a cowboy-like drawl. He had seen some of the players in spring training who would be coming to Hagerstown and felt he had a good team on his hands.
“Dees boies ken play,” Little would say on more than one occasion.
The Class A team would go on to play in the Carolina League in what would become a season to remember as professional baseball returned to the Hub City after a long hiatus.
The Suns were a co-op team, which meant the club would be comprised of players from more than one major league team. As I recall, there were Orioles and Indians and Pirates, oh my.
Going from memory, the opening day lineup had Kurt Fabrizio on first, Mike Frierson at second, Ron Wotus at short and I Don’t Know at third. Actually, it might have been Matt Tyner at third, but my memory is a little fuzzy, and I always wanted to try a line from that famous Abbott and Costello routine, “Who’s on First?”
The outfielders were Paul Croft in left, Grant Headford in center and Dave “Bull” Rivera in right. The designated hitter that day was William “Billy” Butler.
Tyner, who hit 31 home runs that season, swung out of his shoes on most trips to the plate.
The catcher was John Stefero, who played his high school ball at Mount St. Joe’s in Baltimore, and would go on to play for the Orioles.
The starting pitcher was Dane Anthony, a tall right-hander who hailed from the nearby Chambersburg, Pa., area.
In addition to Little, there were other colorful individuals associated with the Suns that year.
The bench coach was Paul “Ears” McNeal, who played for the Hagerstown Packets in another era of minor league ball in Hagerstown and was a well-known basketball official in the area.
The public address announcer was Bob Miller, who in later years became the Suns’ general manager.
The team owner was Lou Eliopulos, who brought the name “Suns” to Hagerstown from Florida.
The team mascot, Scuffy Duck, was actually Jere Woolcock, a young man from the area who had a knack for being a quack.
Throw in the occasional visit from field comedian Max Patkin, known as the Clown Prince of Baseball, and Municipal Stadium took on a carnival-like atmosphere on most nights.
That summer would prove to be the Perfect Storm for minor league baseball in Hagerstown. There was a strike in the majors, and the only professional baseball played in the region was in Hagerstown. Baseball fans from all over came to get their baseball fix. I can remember one metro writer publishing something to the effect that you drive up to Municipal Stadium, turn off your car where you like and walk into the front gate.
The team proved to be resilient, too, surviving a bus crash on a southern swing through the Carolina League and a number of player swaps as teammates moved up and down through the minor league system.
To cap it all off, the upstart Suns surprisingly won the Carolina League championship in a memorable end-of-summer playoff series.
It was like Hagerstown was living out a scene from the movie “Bull Durham.”
It was truly a season to remember.