“These are good, hard-working people who deserve to host something like this.” — Red Barons manager Mike Quade
The date: July 12, 1995
The place: Lackawanna County Stadium
The situation: Lackawanna County Stadium was new. The Astroturf still a sparkling emerald. The natural backdrop a sight not often seen around minor league baseball. The enthusiasm for the team and the big-game atmosphere not dampened by six years worth of mostly losing baseball.
The ballpark, and professional baseball in the area, was about to get its first taste of the national stage. And did it ever happen to draw a moment to remember.
The lead-in: The summer of 1995 wasn’t a great one for baseball.
Attendance around the majors slumped, the paying customer still frustrated with how the 1994 season ended. Or, more accurately, how it didn’t. The World Series wasn’t played for the first time in generations, a players’ union strike forcing its cancellation.
But business was booming, relatively speaking, for the Red Barons, and excitement might have been at an all-time high at Lackawanna County Stadium. In 1993, the team learned it had been selected to host the 1995 Triple-A All-Star Game, which even then was the crown jewel of minor-league sporting events.
They were considered an obvious choice to host. The Red Barons drew more than 3.1 million fans to Lackawanna County Stadium in their first six seasons, and the strike didn’t do much to slow that down in 1995. The Red Barons were averaging 6,337 fans per game. They were ahead of their pace, from an attendance perspective from 1994, and All-Star Game fever likely had plenty to do with that.
After all, some of the biggest prospects in minor-league baseball were going to be descending on the mountain to give fans to whom MILB.TV or ready access to YouTube videos or Baseball America scouting reports might as well have been figments of the Jetsons’ world a first look at the game’s future.
Sure, Red Barons fans were happy to see a player like Kevin Jordan, the only Red Barons player voted into the game, and outfielder David Tokehim (who was later added as a fill-in) representing the home team. But the men they came to see were the biggest prospects representing the two teams in the biggest baseball market in the country.
One of them would give the local fans exactly what they wanted. A look at the future. And a brilliant future, indeed.
The moment: A night earlier, in front of an overflow crowd, Albuquerque slugger Ron Coomer went on to win the Home Run Derby, even though Rochester clean-up man Mark Smith stole the show. One of the best power prospects in baseball at the time, Smith hit 12 home runs in the first round of the tournament and hit more homers than any other player in the event, even if Coomer outlasted him in the final round, somewhat controversially. Smith, years later, still argued one ball he hit down the left field line that day was called foul, even though he thought otherwise.
“I think I ended up hitting the most homers, but for some reason, they gave it to Ron Coomer,” Smith said with a smile, nine years later, when he suited up for the Red Barons for one season. “I don’t know why. I didn’t understand the rules, anyway. … But it’s kind of funny: I got some recognition over all of that.”
About an hour before the Derby began, fans started to swarm to the railing separating the stands from the field, hoping to get a signature from one of the two big New York prospects in the game. The first was Jason Isringhausen, the Tidewater Tides right-hander who’d start for the National League team the next night, but who few figured would start another Triple-A game after that. He was the next Tom Seaver, as far as the New York Mets were concerned. This was going to be his last night in the minors, but they figured it wouldn’t be his last All-Star Game.
The other: Some shortstop for the Columbus Clippers, a tall, lanky kid wearing a number 13 on the back of his uniform that, in hindsight, looked strangely out of place where the No. 2 should be.
His name, of course, is Derek Jeter.
When the game started, and before the overflow crowd of 10,965 settled into their seats, they got the matchup they wanted.
Isringhausen on the mound for the National League stars. Jeter, of course, hitting second for the American League.
The National League defense didn’t help Isringhausen. Neither did Jeter who, of course, ripped a double to the gap in right-center to get the American League rolling. Jeter would score the game’s first run, coming home on an RBI hit from Buffalo’s Luis Lopez to start a three-run inning for the A.L. in which the N.L. defense made three errors behind Isringhausen.
The game wasn’t particularly close.
The American League won, 9-0. Riccardo Ingram of Salt Lake City knocked in a run in the third. Buffalo’s Jeromy Burnitz hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth, and in the fifth the A.L. scored again, with former Red Barons catcher John Marzano hitting a key double.
By the time Lopez launched a three-run home run in the eighth against Louisville’s Cory Bailey, the result was no longer in doubt. The American League would cruise, 9-0. Jeter went 2 for 3 with a run scored, and Isringhausen knew after the game what had become obvious: He’d be making his next start for the Mets.
Game officials handed out three Player of the Game awards, one for each league represented in the midsummer affair. Lopez, of course, won one for the American Association after going 3 for 5 with three runs scored, four RBIs and two extra-base hits. Syracuse’ Howard Battle, who batted ninth for the American League, won the International League’s MVP honor, going 3 for 5 with two runs. Ingram’s RBI hit got him the Pacific Coast League’s accolade.
HISTORY BEHIND THE MOMENT
One of the most interesting aspects of the Triple-A All-Star Game in 1995 was that the man who’d help turn the Red Barons into one of the most successful on-field franchises in the International League at the turn of the millennium was in the ballpark, rather anonymously.
Marc Bombard, then the manager of the American Association’s Indianapolis Indians, served as an assistant coach on the National League squad. The manager of that team: Richmond’s Grady Little, who’d go on to become a rather key figure in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry at its nastiest during the early 2000s. Little was the Red Sox manager who watched Pedro Martinez and the Boston bullpen squander a Game 7 lead in the American League Championship Series. Aaron Boone famously won the game with an 11th inning, walk-off home run against Tim Wakefield.
Bombard spent the 1996 season as the Reds’ third-base coach before signing on to become Red Barons manager in 1997. He’d go on to an International League Hall of Fame career skippering the Red Barons, helping a team that made one postseason appearance in its first eight seasons to four during his eight-year tenure.
The local assistant coach of interest in that game was hardly Bombard. It was Eynon’s Gary Ruby, the Vancouver Canadians pitching coach who worked on manager Chris Bando’s staff for the American League team. In 1998, Ruby would come back home to serve as Bombard’s pitching coach with the Red Barons.
ESPN2 broadcast the game to a national audience, making it the second nationally televised game from Lackawanna County Stadium. Few remember the first: A rain-filled Sunday night game on Aug. 28, 1994, when ESPN sent play-by-play man John Miller and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and the Sunday Night Baseball crew to the ballpark to broadcast an 8-2 Red Barons loss to Pawtucket in lieu of any major league action.
The ESPN2 broadcast team did not exactly consist of lightweights. Of course, former Dodgers and Padres slugger Steve Garvey, the color commentator that night, got most of the attention. But the play-by-play man, Matt Vasgersian, went on to a long career in baseball, calling games for the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres, working as a studio host and play-by-play man with the MLB Network and, ultimately, getting the job as ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play man in January of 2018.
The most interesting member of the announce team, however, might have been the dugout reporter.
A former professional football player from Philadelphia named Mike Mayock got the assignment, one of the rare ones he did outside of football. Then, he was cutting his teeth in the industry doing analyst work for CBS, mostly covering college football and the Canadian Football League. Of course, he’d go on to greater heights, becoming a trusted source of information for the NFL Network covering the NFL Draft. In December, the Oakland Raiders hired him as their general manager.
Four players who played in the 1995 Triple-A All-Star Game went on to play in a major league All-Star Game. Isringhausen and New Orleans infielder Mark Loretta played in two. Burnitz played in one.
Jeter, of course, trumped them all.
He played in 14 major league All-Star Games, more than every other 1995 Triple-A All-Star combined.
His 3,465 career major league hits are far and away the most ever for a player who played in a Triple-A All-Star Game. He is 700 hits, in fact, in the clear in that race. He has more career big league hits than everybody else who played for the American League team that night in 1995, combined. And more hits than the entire National League team, combined.