I’ve always loved October. October is a great month for watching football. It’s a great month for being outdoors and enjoying nature’s changing colors and the crispness of a fall chill after a long, hot summer (at least in the parts of the country where I’ve lived). It’s a great month if you like certain types of food (can I interest you in a Honeycrisp apple?). It’s a great month for golfing (of which I, unfortunately, have not taken advantage this year). But for me, October mainly is great because of post-season baseball. And the longer I work in baseball, the more fun the playoffs become because it seems like more and more players, coaches and/or executives that I’ve covered at one point end up playing a significant role for a World Series contender. For example, it’s not like I’m necessarily a Washington Nationals fan in the same way a season-ticket holder in D.C. is, but if the Nats win it all, I’ll be thrilled for one of their great relievers, Tyler Clippard. My first season announcing minor league games was 2004 with the now-defunct Battle Creek (Mich.) Yankees. One of the prospects on that club was a right-handed, teenage starting pitcher named Tyler Clippard. He was very intense on the mound (I’m not surprised he’s become successful at handling and seemingly enjoying late-game pressure out of the bullpen) and a very polite, hard-working kid off the mound. I’ll never forget playing him in ping pong at the visiting team hotel in South Bend, Indiana. He was really good, though I honestly don’t remember who won. If the upstart Oakland A’s end up with a World Series crown, I’ll be happy for some of the guys on their team and in their organization that I covered in the minors with the Kane County Cougars, such as players Sean Doolittle, Dan Straily, Cliff Pennington and Jemile Weeks and farm director Keith Lieppman. They all were friendly and accommodating in addition to talented and have remained easy to root for.
I’m not trying to name drop here. My point is this: I tend to end up rooting more for certain people than for teams. It’s just different than it is for fans who don’t work in the game, and I’m presuming others who work in the minor leagues would agree. The exception, of course, is if your team’s parent club is in the dance. Then you’re rooting for both the team and specific people (Unfortunately, the Sounds’ parent-club Milwaukee Brewers officially were eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday). This season has been my first with the Sounds, and it’s been a lot of fun over the past several months to get to know the history of the franchise and learn more about the long, impressive list of Nashville Sounds that became or have become established major leaguers. Many of them are in the big leagues now, and several will be involved in the playoffs that begin Friday. Chances are you’ve followed the Sounds longer than I have, so chances are you saw many of these guys at Greer Stadium.
Here are the 21 former Nashville Sounds to watch for this MLB post-season…
New York Yankees
There are no former Sounds currently playing for the Yankees, but their pitching coach is Larry Rothschild, who pitched in five games for the inaugural 1978 Sounds (Double-A Southern League, Reds). Rothschild had an 11-year playing career (’75-’85) in the Reds and Tigers organizations.
Like the Yankees, the Orioles have a former Sounds player on their coaching staff. Manager Buck Showalter is one of the more notable former Nashville Sounds. The Yankees’ 5th-round pick in ’77, he spent all or parts of four seasons with the Sounds from ’80-’83 (Double-A Southern League, Yankees). He led the Southern League in hits in ’80 with 178 (still a league record) and played for the Sounds alongside the likes of Don Mattingly, Willie McGee and Steve Balboni. Showalter ranks second in Sounds history in hits (493) and third in games played (453) and at-bats (1,671). He is in his 19th year as a major league manager and third with the O’s, who are in the playoffs for the first time since ’97. His bullpen coach is Bill Castro, who oversees one of the best relief corps in baseball and spent the second half of the ’11 season as the Sounds’ pitching coach. Castro is in his first year with the Orioles after spending 37 seasons in various roles for the Brewers. The Orioles’ shortstop these days is J.J. Hardy, who is in his second year with the Orioles. He originally was drafted by the Brewers in the 2nd Round in ’01 and played in 18 games for the Sounds in ’09. (Side note: when Hardy first came up through the Brewers’ system, Indianapolis was the club’s Triple-A affiliate.) Another Oriole with Nashville ties is Ryan Flaherty, who is not a former Sound but is a former Vanderbilt Commodore. Flaherty made his major league debut earlier this year and has played in 74 games for the O’s. He was drafted by the Cubs in the 1st Round in ’08 and picked up by the O’s in the Rule 5 Draft last winter.
Along with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, the Tigers are led by a guy you may have heard of: first baseman Prince Fielder. The four-time all-star slugger has hit .312 with 30 homers and 108 RBIs in 161 games for the Motor City Cats this season, his sixth consecutive 30-homer season. Fielder played for the Sounds in ’05, the first year of the Sounds-Brewers affiliation and the last time the Sounds won a league championship. He .291 with 28 homers and 106 RBIs that year, also the last time he put on a minor league uniform. One of the men observing Fielder is Tigers hitting coach and former Sound Lloyd McClendon. He played in Nashville from ’87-’88 (Triple-A American Association, Reds), totaling 28 games. McClendon is in his sixth year as the Tigers’ hitting coach under Jim Leyland.
The two Sounds alums who play for the Rangers played in Nashville over the same time frame: outfielder Nelson Cruz and reliever Mike Adams. In ’05 Cruz hit .269 with 11 homers and 27 RBIs for the Sounds while Adams posted a 5.75 ERA in 26 games. Then in ’06 Cruz hit .302 with 20 homers and 73 RBIs in 104 games while Adams had a 3.31 ERA in 15 games for the Sounds. Cruz was traded to Texas in July ’06. This season he’s batted .259 with 24 homers and 90 RBIs in a career-high 158 games. Adams was traded to the Mets in May ’06 and has been with Texas since July of last season. Like the Tigers, the Rangers’ hitting coach is a former Sound — Scott Coolbaugh. It’s his second year in that role in Texas. He played for the Sounds in ’92 (Triple-A American Association, Reds) after Cincinnati acquired him via trade. He batted .255 with 23 RBIs in 59 games for the Sounds that season. The fourth Sounds alumnus on Texas is Rangers first base coach Gary Pettis, who was the Sounds’ hitting coach in ’05 and ’06. The ’05 club won the PCL title and had an offense led by current major leaguers like Cruz, Fielder, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. Pettis joined the Rangers for the ’07 campaign and has been with them ever since.
There are two former Sounds currently playing for the A’s, and, like the Orioles, Oakland also is managed by a former Sound. Bob Melvin took the A’s helm last year when Bob Geren was dismissed, and Melvin has led the A’s to a ridiculously-surprising 90-plus wins this season. He and Showalter are two of the six former Sounds currently managing in the major leagues (also: Ron Roenicke, MIL; Dale Sveum,CHC; Robin Ventura,CHW; and Don Mattingly, LAD). Melvin, who also managed Arizona to the post-season in ’07, appeared in 53 games for the Sounds in ’85 (Triple-A American Association, Tigers). He batted .271 with nine homers and 24 RBIs. One of the stalwarts in Melvin’s bullpen this year has been Grant Balfour, who joined the A’s in ’11 after several years with Tampa Bay, including ’08 when the Rays reached the World Series. Balfour pitched for the Sounds in ’07, posting a 1.69 ERA in 24 relief appearances before being traded to the Rays in late July for Seth McClung. The A’s back-up catcher to Derek Norris is Sounds alumnus George Kottaras, who was acquired by the A’s this past July from Milwaukee for reliever Fautino De Los Santos. Kottaras hit .343 in 29 games for the Sounds in ’11.
There is post-season baseball in our nation’s capital for the first time since 1933, and there are four former Sounds involved: relievers Mike Gonzalez and Sean Burnett, bench coach Randy Knorr and first base coach Trent Jewett. Gonzalez, never a starter nor a longtime closer, quietly has had a very good major league career, owning a lifetime ERA of 2.95. The southpaw has notched a 3.12 ERA this year in 46 games for the Nats. He pitched for the Sounds in ’03-’04 as a Pirates prospect, logging a total of 21 games. Fellow ‘pen mate Burnett owns a 2.43 ERA in 69 games for the Nationals. He also pitched for the Sounds in ’04 in the Pirates system, going 1-5 with a 5.36 ERA in 10 starts. This has been his fourth consecutive full season in the majors. Knorr is in his first year as Washington’s bench coach, but it’s the third time he’s been on their major league staff. The former catcher played in 253 games in the majors from ’91-’01, including with the Blue Jays’ championship teams in ’92 and ’93. He played in 13 games for the Sounds in ’00 (Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Pirates) in the twilight of his career. Jewett has won more games as a Sounds manager than anyone in team history. He totaled 320 career victories as the club’s skipper from ’98-’00 and ’03-’04 in the Pirates organization. He left the Sounds midway through the ’00 season to become the Pirates’ third base coach and held that role through ’02 before returning to Nashville. Jewett is in his fourth season in the Nationals organization.
The Braves’ back-up catcher to Brian McCann is former Sound J.C. Boscan, who played in a whopping two games for the Sounds in ’06. He’s been with the Braves since ’08. One other Braves player is not a former Sound but does have Nashville ties, as pitcher Mike Minor is a former Vanderbilt Commodore. He was drafted 7th overall by the Braves in ’09 and has gone 11-10 with a 4.12 ERA in 30 starts, his first full season in the bigs. Resurgent Braves pitcher Ben Sheets also made three starts for the Sounds in ’06 on an official rehab assignment for the Brewers. He went 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings. Sheets recently announced he will retire after the regular season following a 10-year major league pitching career (mostly with the Brewers).
The Reds have two former Sounds on their division-winning club, including veteran pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who pitched in 47 games for the Sounds from ’99-’02 (Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Pirates), including 21 starts in ’02 when he went 8-6 with a 2.96 ERA. The ever-eccentric (see: music, hairstyles, pitching delivery) Arroyo went 12-10 with a 3.74 in 32 starts for the Reds. Cincinnati’s third base coach is former Sound Mark Berry, who hit .233 with 22 RBIs in 75 games for Nashville in ’87 (Triple-A American Association, Reds). Berry is in his 29th year overall with the Reds organization, and his 14th in a row as part of the major league club’s coaching staff.
San Francisco Giants
For the past few years, the Giants have had one of the most dominant pitching staffs in baseball. One of those pitchers and the guy overseeing the pitchers are Sounds alums. After an all-star campaign last year, Ryan Vogelsong has gone 14-9 with a 3.46 ERA in 30 starts this year. He originally was drafted by the Giants and joined the Sounds in ’01 for six appearances when he was acquired in July by the Pirates. He also went 12-8 with a 4.29 ERA in 26 starts for the Sounds in ’03 (Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Pirates). For the last 13 seasons, the Giants’ pitching coach has been former Sound Dave Righetti, widely regarded as one of the best pitching coaches in the game. He enjoyed a 16-year pitching career in the majors and pitched for the Sounds near the end of his career in ’95 (Triple-A American Association, White Sox), going 4-5 with a 3.23 ERA in 16 games (15 starts).
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have no current ties on their roster to the Nashville Sounds, which means you are not allowed to root for them in the playoffs (kidding…sort of).
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