Gilmore Girls and Flying Squirrels

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are here. There’s lots of food, family, and football. For baseball writers this can only mean one thing, the off-season. During baseball season, I’m normally at a game, writing about a game, and/or watching a game which means things like catching up on TV are the furthest from my mind. The off-season for me is a big Netflix binge which is why I was interested when my friends started freaking out when Netflix announced they would put every season of Gilmore Girls online. I never watched that show growing up, a travesty according to my friends, so I decided to give it a shot.

It was while watching Gilmore Girls that I spotted something unusual. Luke Danes was wearing a minor league baseball hat with a logo I didn’t recognize. (Side note: Scott Patterson, the actor that plays Luke Danes, played minor league baseball but that’s a story for another time.)

Luke Danes in mystery MiLB hat. (Photo courtesy of CW)

Luke Danes in mystery MiLB hat. (Photo courtesy of CW)

I’m not claiming to know EVERY single team because there are so many, it would be crazily difficult to remember them all and not leave anyone out. But it sparked an interest to find out what team it was. Thanks to the hat appearing in multiple episodes in Season 7, it was easy to pick out the CD that appears on screen.

Connecticut Defenders hat (Photo courtesy of Google)

Connecticut Defenders hat (Photo courtesy of Google)

The hat belonged to the Connecticut Defenders who were the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees from 1994-2002 and the San Francisco Giants from 2003-2009. The Defenders had some pretty big names come through over the years including Ricky Ledèe, Darryl Strawberry, Alfonso Soriano, Roger Clemens, Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa, the 2014 World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, and Derek Jeter who retired after the 2014 season.

In 2002, the Yankees moved their Double-A affiliate to Trenton and the Defenders became a Giants affiliate. At the end of the 2009 season, the Giants moved to Richmond, Virginia and the team became the Richmond Flying Squirrels. The Associated Press wrote about the move which you can read on the New York Times website here: Norwich Renovates Stadium But Loses Eastern League Team.

Despite the loss of the Defenders, Dodd Stadium wouldn’t sit empty for long. The Oneonta, New York based minor league team moved to Norwich for the 2010 season and became the Connecticut Tigers. The team is the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Detroit Tigers and has remained in Norwich ever since.

Baseball keeps popping up everywhere if you know where to look. And to think I wouldn’t have learned this minor league baseball history lesson if it wasn’t for a man in a hat on a show that hasn’t been on the air since 2007…..

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Lethal Weapon: Dom Dwyer Talks Sporting KC And Returning To Tyler

Former Tyler Junior College Apache and current Sporting KC forward Dom Dwyer looked at home as he returned to the Pat Hartley Soccer Complex for the first time in four years.

“I’ve been trying to find some extra time to come back and it just so happened that I had time. My friend Kyle is an assistant coach here and I wanted to see coach (Steve Clements),” Dwyer said. “Coach has so many championships now, I think he’s run out of fingers for the rings.”

Dwyer in action during the 2010 national tournament. (Jarah Wright)

Dwyer in action during the 2010 national tournament. (Jarah Wright)

Dwyer was part of two national championship teams while with TJC including being named the 2010 MVP of the national tournament. The team went 41-0-1 in the span of two years with Dwyer scoring 37 goals in his sophomore year alone.

Dwyer holds the national championship trophy celebrating with the rest of the 2010 TJC soccer team. (Jarah Wright)

Dwyer holds the national championship trophy celebrating with the rest of the 2010 TJC soccer team. (Jarah Wright)

Dwyer spent the 2011 season playing at the University of South Florida before being drafted by Sporting KC in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, the 16th overall pick. After only appearing in a handful of games in 2012, he looked to get more time on the pitch and was loaned out to Orlando City which he was not happy about.

“I thought I would be playing a lot more in the MLS and wasn’t thrilled about heading to Orlando because I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Dwyer said. “I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the team, the coaches, and the front office. I had underestimated them coming in. I knew I had something to prove and thought if I worked hard and stayed patient, my opportunity would come.”

He made the most of that opportunity helping lead Orlando City to a USL Pro Championship contributing four goals in the title match. Sporting KC took notice and recalled Dwyer for the remainder of its season including its playoff run. Dwyer scored the winning goal against the Houston Dynamo to take the Eastern Conference Final. The squad eventually finished the season winning the 2013 MLS Cup.

“It all happened so quickly. It’s hard at times because there in more pressure on you,” Dwyer said. “But I enjoy it. It has been awesome to play in packed out stadiums full of excited fans especially during playoffs. That was a special moment to celebrate with the guys.”

During the 2014 season, Dwyer continued his hot streak on goal setting a franchise record with 22 goals scored in a single season surpassing Predrag Radosavljjevic who set the record back in 1996. Despite his success, he said he’s still not entirely satisfied with himself.

“I like to set targets for myself to improve as a player. I told myself at the beginning of the season that I wanted to score 24 goals,” Dwyer said. “I wanted to make it but fell just a bit short.”

However, he was excited about being named to the MLS All-Star game this past season.

“It was an incredible experience. I got to play with guys like Clint Dempsey. I played with Thierry Henry who is my favorite player and I loved watching as a kid,” Dwyer said. “It was amazing to be around those caliber players and talk to them and get advice. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

With another successful season behind him, Dwyer said he’s looking to the future which might even include representing the US.

“I’m working on becoming a US citizen. My passport is eligible for another two years so and it’s looking like I will become a citizen in 2017,” Dwyer said. “I would love to represent the US. I have loved it ever since I first came here. I would love to play on the US Men’s National Team unless England calls which I don’t think will happen.”

Watching Dwyer practice and kick the ball around with the 2014 National Champion TJC soccer team, he fit in and it looked like a group of guys just playing soccer. For Dwyer, that’s what it’s all about.

“I just love football. I have some great memories here (at TJC). It’s crazy to think that it all started here four years ago,” Dwyer said. “If you had asked me then if I’d be in the position I am now, I would have said I don’t think so. It’s been an adventure and I’m just loving riding the wave.”

 

Update: Dwyer signed a contract extension with Sporting KC on December 17, 2014. More info on Sporting KC’s website here.

Making The Minor League Move

Baseball has been a mainstay in the East Texas community since the early 1900s with professional teams making stints here and there over the years including the 1950s Tyler Trojans and the 1990s Tyler Wildcatters. It is through another one of these teams, the 2001 Tyler Roughnecks, that East Texas is connected to an unlikely source…..the Atlanta Braves.

The Wildcatters left Tyler, TX for Lafayette, LA at the end of the 1997 season leaving a trail of debt behind them which made the community slightly reluctant to bring in another professional baseball team. However, the idea of bringing a new team in came about in late 2000-early 2001. According to an article by Tyler Morning Telegraph sports editor Phil Hicks, the Tyler team joined the All-American Association in 2001. The league commissioner was former Phillies farmhand Bobby Bragan. Bragan played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers and managed the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, and Atlanta Braves before becoming president of the Texas League and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues en route to leading the All-American Association.

The team held a fan contest to name the team, according to an article by Tyler Morning Telegraph writer Joe Buie. The winning name was the Tyler Roughnecks as an homage to the oil and gas industries that call East Texas home. (Side note: There is also a summer college league team located in Kilgore called the East Texas Pumpjacks.) During the same press conference, it was announced that Steve Maddock would be the team’s manager. At that point in his career, Maddock had been with 14 different minor league teams as either a player or coach. The team’s outfield and bench coach was Sean Collins who had played in Tyler as part of the Wildcatters during the 1997 season and had played in the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers farm systems.

The team had open tryouts in April of 2001 and carried 23 players to face teams like the Albany, GA Alligators, the Montgomery Wings, the Fort Worth Cats, and the Tennessee Tomahawks. The Roughnecks played 72 games over the course of 77 games and had some standout players that season. Ace starter Hector Ramirez pitched 30 games with the Milwaukee Brewers before finding his way to Tyler. Second baseman Tony Jaramillo is the son of former Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and and former Cleveland Indian Nolan Lane was the designated hitter. And Tommy John III rounded out the list of notables getting the first home win for the Roughnecks that season with 5.1 innings of work.

Despite a successful season, the All-American Association folded after the 2001 season and the Roughnecks moved to Jackson, MS and became the Jackson Senators. According to Baseball Reference, the Senators played as part of the Central League until 2005 when the league folded. At the time, the Senators’ ownership group also owned a minor league baseball team based out of Greenville, SC and they weren’t happy with the condition of Greenville Municipal Stadium and couldn’t reach an agreement with the Greenville County Council for a new ballpark. Since there was no longer a team in the Jackson area, the owners decided to move the team from Greenville to Pearl, MS. That team became the Mississippi Braves, the Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have played at Trustmark Park since the move in 2005.

Many people say the baseball world is small and seeing how communities are connected through the national pastime is just one example.