Thursday, October 21, 2004

When They Were Toros

Hi Corbett field today. It was all locked up in preparation for a rummage sale this weekend.What do the following baseball players have in common?

Curt Schilling
Kenny Lofton
Craig Biggio
Travis Lee (DL)

They're all former Tucson Toros whose 2004 MLB teams made it to the postseason. Half of them are hurt, but only one is actually on the disabled list. The other injured player threw 99 pitches Tuesday night, with three sutures holding the tendons together over a dislocated, bleeding ankle.
Now try these names:

Bob Abreu, Ron Belliard, Luis Gonzalez, Jason Grimsley, Trent Hubbard, Geoff Jenkins, Todd Jones, Mark McLemore, Tom Martin, Jose Mercedes, Mel Mora, Phil Nevin, Shane Reynolds, Steve Sparks, Kelly Stinnett, Jim Tracy (Dodgers Manager), Fernando Vina and Billy Wagner.

Broken bats signed by C Hatcher, T Lee, Donne Wall and Orlando MillerYup. More ex-Toros in the majors.

One more time:
Mike Brumley
Dave Hajek
Chris HatcherFrank KellnerJoe Mikulik
Ray Montgomery
Scooter Tucker
Never heard of them? Then you weren't in the stands at Hi Corbett in the early 1990s, watching the Tucson Toros take the PCL championship twice before the team morphed into the Tucson Sidewinders in 1998. Joe Mikulik had "never surrender" written on his wristbands, and was the big hero of the 1991 championship. John and I didn't start going to games until 1993, but he was still around then, and for a year after that. Scooter Tucker was the Toros' catcher in summer, a UPS guy in the winter. "Double Dave" Hajek never really got his shot in the majors because he'd been a replacement player during the strike. Chris Hatcher was a big kid with a big bat, who never seemed to get it going until about June. Mike Brumley was a good journeyman player with heart, solid fundamentals, and (eventually) his own line of t-shirts. Kellner was a secord or third generation ballplayer whose father and uncle had played at Hi Corbett in an earlier era. Ray Montgomery couldn't shake the Spiderman nickname he got after a spectacular catch at the outfield wall.

Noodle, Tuffy and me, when the Toros and Noodle were still around. Hi Corbett Field, where the Toros played, was a two minute drive from Worldwide Travel (still is, for all the good it does me). It had been around for many years, refurbished and upgraded several times. It was the spring training home of the Cleveland Indians when the movie Major League was filmed, and later became the spring training home of the Rockies. It had a green monster, an overhang to huddle under while waiting to find out whether the game would be rained out, and relatively easy access to ballplayers and broadcasters. I used to pass notes of trivia up to the radio guys, who would sometimes use the material.

three kinds of Toros jerseys.It all came to an end in the late 1990s. First the team lost its Houston Astros affiliation, ending years of continuity. The 1997 Toros were baby Brewers, except for Travis Lee, the Diamondbacks' only AAA player to that point. The 1998 team was the Tucson Sidewinders. They were Baby 'Backs, as a 2002 (2003?) t-shirt called the team. They played at a new, fan-unfriendly ballpark at the edge of town, Tucson Electric Park. TEP originally charged $2 for parking half a mile away on grass or bare dirt. I had a broken ankle that spring, and was NOT amused by the long, expensive hobble on my crutches. The broadcasters were hidden away from public access, and so, for the most part, were the players. Longtime General Manager Mike Feder, who did as much for the Toros over the years as any ten players, lost his job. Tuffy the Toro, the wonderful team mascot for whom I'd named my dog, was replaced by Sandy Sidewinder, an improbable and unconvincing snake with arms. In just two years, the team had jettisoned absolutely everything I liked about the Toros, except the game of baseball itself. I don't go to games any more, not more than once a year or so.

The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks got us back into baseball, this time at the major league level. Their spring training was in Tucson, but unfortunately at TEP instead of Hi Corbett. We therefore never got anywhere near Curt Schilling or Randy Johnson for an autograph. Still, they did extremely well, and the Diamondbacks had their share of ex-Toros to cheer on. The team fell apart after that, but 2001 was great.
I gave up on baseball again when the Diamondbacks made fire sale transactions, dumping Schilling and Finley and Womack. But this postseason, I've been rooting for Houston, with its one remaining ex-Toro, and for Boston, with Schilling and the whole romance of battling back from 0 and 3 to beat the Curse of the Bambino.  So if I watch ESPN a few minutes longer to see whether Schilling gets an interview, can you really blame me?

1993 championship banner, autographedGo Sox. Go Astros.

Go Toros.


Tucson Weekly: Toro! Toro! Toro!

SportyReporter's Tucson Toros page

Tuffy Toro, Superstar
All photos by KFB, except for the Karen & dogs one. That's by JBlocher.


ryanagi said...

LOL I just can't shake the mental picture. Ever see the movie "Bring It On"? Love those Toros. Of course, in the movie it's a football team. What do I know. I don't follow sports, much. Go Sox! ;-)

jmaddawg13 said...

Nice story. I totally agree that TEP is not FAN FRIENDLY. I noticed you have a link to my web site on your page. I'm sportyreporter. E-mail me, I have a few Toro's questions for you. Thanks.

chuckydimez said...

Miss those Toros. Do you know what happened to that Toro that was in right field and blew smoke out of its nostrils when Tucson hit a homerun? Also, I'm lovin the merchandise you have. Do you know where to get any other Toros stuff? I know TEP park has jerseys, but I want a hat too...If you can email me I'd appriciate it. Thanks