Sports

Lexington Legends 10th Season

Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, welcome to Friday night's 10th annual home opener between the Greenville Drive and your Lexington Legends.

Get your pencils and scorecards ready, and I will give you the correct lineup of one writer's memories of the Legends' first nine seasons.

Lexington's new team

April 9, 2001, the Legends played their home opener. From the first pitch, a strike thrown by Nick Roberts, this team was special. Before the inning ended, the Legends had their first hit (Felix Escalona, bunt single) and first run (Jon Topolski). The Legends romped, 15-1, before a sellout crowd of 8,067, then they destroyed the rest of the South Atlantic League. Lexington finished the season with the best record in the minors, 92-48.

■ There was little celebration of that 2001 league title, though. With the Legends leading Asheville two games to none in the best-of-five finals, the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place. The playoffs were suspended and the Legends were declared champions.

Great performers

Category — Best hitting performance by a Legend in a single game. And the winner is — Kentucky native and Eastern Kentucky University product Josh Anderson, for a 2004 game in which he went 6-for-6, scored five times and drove in two runs.

■ Naming memorable players who have come through Lexington can be difficult. Remember the pitching matchup of Lexington's Eny Cabreja versus Hickory's Ian Oquendo? Both are in the big leagues. Cabreja is now known as Wandy Rodriguez, while Oquendo is now Ian Snell. Other opponents have included sluggers Ryan Howard and Ryan Braun, pitchers Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd. Last season, two Legends were MLB all-stars: Houston's Hunter Pence and Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist.

Oddball moments

Of course, there have been wacky moments. Legends first baseman Scott Robinson successfully pulled off the ol' hidden ball trick. Lakewood's Gavin Floyd no-hit the Legends, only to lose 1-0.

■ Wackiest of all came in 2003. Dustin Hawkins, tagging up at second base, advanced to third on a foul-out to deep right. However, when an umpire yelled "foul," Hawkins returned to second while third-base coach and Manager Russ Nixon had his back turned. By the time Nixon turned around, Hawkins was between bases and the ball was in the infield. If Nixon had said anything, Hawkins could have been tagged out. So the manager kept quiet while the opposition, thinking the play was dead, watched. Then, a hit drove in Hawkins, who made a head-first slide at the plate. Head-first slides into first base or home being prohibited by the Astros, Hawkins was taken out of the game. Seeking clarification about what had transpired, from Hawkins' retreat to his removal, team president Alan Stein approached the dugout between innings. That irked Nixon, who criticized Stein after the game but later apologized.

■ In 2002, Legends mascots Big L and Peewee were ejected from a game after spraying the visitors with "super soaker" guns. Trailing 2-0 through six innings, the Hickory Crawdads felt the timing of the soaking sucked.

Fighting mad

In 2002, the Legends brawled with the Charleston Alley Cats. Lexington third baseman Ramon German broke a finger when he tried to punch the opposing pitcher, only to swing, miss and punch the ground.

■ There was the 2006 game, when Asheville Manager Joe Mikulik was a tad upset that Lexington's Koby Clemens was called safe on a pickoff attempt at second base. Once ejected, Mikulik tossed his hat, took a dive into second base, uprooted and threw the base, pitched the resin bag, kicked dirt on the plate and plate umpire, tossed bats from the dugout, returned to the plate with a water bottle and "washed" home, spiked the water bottle and feigned a catcher's position while gloving an imaginary pitch.

After the game, Mikulik told this reporter: "I just wish the umpires association would train their young men to have a personality. I could get two mannequins at Sears and umpire better than what I saw this whole series."

Couldn't go all the way

Two Legends I thought would make it in the big leagues but didn't: Justin Humphries and Tommy Whiteman. Humphries could hit for average and power, was an able defender with a strong arm and versatile (first base, left field, catcher and even an emergency pitcher). He was slow, but he almost always produced except when trying to play through an injury. Whiteman, a shortstop, was a slick fielder with a good arm. After two slow starts here, he caught fire each season. He also had a most interesting name. A Crow Indian, "Whiteman" is the shortened version of his grandfather's name: Charges Plenty White Man.

Special times

The South Atlantic League All-Star Game came to town in 2003. Stars included B.J. Upton, Fausto Carmona, Delwyn Young, Brian McCann and Jeff Francouer.

■ SAL's founder and president, the late John Henry Moss, was a frequent visitor. He obliged a reporter by telling the story of how he met with Branch Rickey and, in one night, got the commitment of a big-league working affiliation.

■ Last, but not least, was the "Rocket Relaunch" of 2006. An overflow crowd of 9,222 and 120 media members, including representatives of The New York Times, ESPN and MLB.com, were on hand to see Roger Clemens in the first game of his comeback with the Houston Astros.

Now, it's time for a 10th season of Legends in the making.

  Comments