Cast of Characters...Baseball
By Jim Joanos
We are in the midst of another FSU baseball season. FSU baseball is fun. There are not too many things better than sitting in the sun, eating peanuts, and helping the umpire call balls and strikes.
FSU Baseball is also about memories. FSU baseball is known for its character. Character might mean charisma. It also might refer to someone who has an unusual personality. There have been a lot of characters that have played baseball for FSU. I thought that it would be fun to assemble my favorite FSU baseball characters of all time onto one team. Please note that this is not my selection of an all star team. If I picked an All Star team, I would have to try to be objective. That is not what this is about.
THIRD BASE. BILLY PARKER, 1948. I begin this project by picking somebody from the very first FSU team. Thinking about that team makes me feel thirteen years old again. That team went nine and eight, and that is the closest that an FSU team has ever come to a losing season. Billy Parker played the "hot corner". I do not remember much about Parker's playing ability. Primarily, I remember that he was always talking during the game. He talked to the pitcher, the batter, and his other teammates. He was the team's leading cheerleader. I went to the games that year with some of my junior high buddies. Somebody in our group dubbed Parker as the "Hot Dog". Thereafter, we cheered for "Hot Dog". I have been cheering for him ever since. Parker, a very successful business man, has done a lot for FSU. He was one of the original Golden Chiefs, has been chairman of Seminole Boosters and the National Alumni Association. In 1990, he was awarded the Moore-Stone award in recognition of his service to the FSU sports program.
SHORTSTOP. DICK HOWSER, 1955-58. My all time favorite FSU baseball player is Dick Howser. Dick loved baseball, life, and FSU, probably, but not necessarily, in that order. He was Florida State's first All American baseball player. He was on FSU's first three NCAA post season tournament teams, including the 1957 team that won the regional and made FSU's first trip to the College World Series. He had a lifetime career in baseball. After college, he made it to the major leagues and played for the Kansas City Athletics, the Cleveland Indians, and the New York Yankees. He was third base coach for the Yankees, spent a year (1979) as FSU's head coach, and served as Manager for the Yankees and the Kansas City Royals. His Kansas City team won the World Series in 1985. It is no wonder that FSU's baseball stadium is named for him.
Dick was much more than a great baseball player, he was a wonderful person, who made his friends feel good to just be around him. I met him when we were both students. He was a freshman ROTC cadet in my flight when I was a senior Flight Commander. He was spirited, always having fun, and getting into mischief...the same as he was in Baseball. He never changed. He went through life making it fun for everyone around him.
RELIEF PITCHER. MAC SCARCE, 1970-71. Mac Scarce is my favorite closer of all time. His 18 saves in the 1971 season is still the school record. No one else has had more than 11 in a season. But what I remember most is his appearance in the championship game of the College World Series in Omaha on Thursday, June 18, 1970. Scarce entered the game in relief in the seventh inning. The score was tied, 1-1, and there were two outs. He got the first batter he faced and the next fourteen in a row after that. The lanky left handed pitcher held Southern California scoreless for seven and one-third innings. Scarce had not pitched for more than about three innings at a time before that. Unfortunately, FSU could not score over that span. In the fifteenth inning, Scarce developed a blister on a finger of his left hand so that he could no longer grip the ball and had to come out of the game. Shortly afterwards, USC scored a run and won the game 2 to 1 and the national championship. I doubt there has ever been a more heroic job of pitching than what Scarce did that night. Scarce later spent five years pitching in the major leagues.
CATCHER. TERRY KENNEDY, 1975-77. Kennedy was precisely what a team leader is supposed to be. A power hitter, he was also great on defense with a canon throw to second. A first team All American in both 1976 and 1977, The Sporting News named him the 1977 College Baseball Player of the Year. He set school records in rbi's, home runs, and slugging percentage in 1977. He played fourteen years in the major leagues for four different teams. He was an All Star four times and played on two National League Championship Teams. A lot of FSU fans remember that when Kennedy was drafted to play professional baseball in 1977, he donated some of his signing bonus to FSU to help buy lights for the baseball facility. Up until then, games played at Seminole Field had to be played during the day.
FIRST BASE. DON "MEATLOAF" MILNER, 1978-79. A few FSU baseball players have had their own fan clubs. A most unique fan club was the "Meatloaf Fan Club" which honored Don Milner when he played. This fan club met regularly at The Palace Saloon. They kept a scrapbook on anything and everything pertaining to Milner. On game days, they sat as a group and brought a special paddle to the games to wave. On the paddle there was a large portrait drawing of Milner. Every time that Milner made a play on defense or came to bat, the group would chant or sing. Milner responded well to the attention. Those were great moments. When Milner finished at FSU, many of the fan club members continued their enthusiasm for baseball as "The Animals". Consequently, you could say that "Meatloaf" served as a catalyst in the development of the most fascinating group of fans in college baseball. Anybody that did that deserves to be on this all character team.
OUTFIELD. MIKE FUENTES, 1978-81. Feuntes is an amazing "rags to riches" story. As a freshman in 1978, he tried to walk on to the team but was cut. He tried again the next year and made it. He went on to stardom. He was selected a first team All American his junior year, and again his senior year when he was also selected the winner of the national 1981 Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur baseball player of them all. I remember him most for his "hustle" while playing the game. As a centerfielder, he could come up as fast as lightning to catch balls hit just over second base.
DESIGNATED HITTER. JEFF LEDBETTER, 1979-82. Nothing in the history of FSU baseball has been more fun to watch than Jeff Ledbetter hitting home runs. He was called, "Tree Tops", because of where his shots went. When it was over, he had hit the most in a single season , 42 in 1982, and the most in a career, 97. Both records are still very much intact. The 97 career record is 18 more than the next closest challenger. While the home runs were hit by left-handed hitter Ledbetter at a time when FSU had a low wall in right field rather than the chain link monster now existing, it would not have mattered much. Nearly all of his blasts were well over that wall and most landed near the circus tent well beyond. In addition to being a consensus first team All American his last two years at FSU, he was The Sporting News and Baseball America's Player of the Year in 1982. Many old timers watching FSU games today still compare home runs hit over the right field fence to those that Ledbetter hit during his years.
PINCH HITTER. MARK BARINEAU, 1981-83. If you had to get a batter on base, you would send Mark Barineau up to the plate. While Barineau was an all round good infielder and hitter, he excelled at being hit by pitches. In one game he got hit three times. His elbow was always in the way of the ball. While there were later players, Jose Zabala, 1995-98, and Karl Jernigan, 1998-2001 who were also very good at getting hit by the pitcher, it was Barineau who first made it into an art form and set an example for the others to follow.
SECOND BASE. MATT ROBINSON, 1982-83. This guy played second base with a little leaguer's glove. No kidding, most twelve year olds play with baseball gloves bigger than Robinson used. His glove was one thing, but what made him most memorable was his quick hands. He missed his calling. He should have been a riverboat gambler. I would love to see him shuffle a deck of cards. He was so quick. He made turning double plays a thing of beauty. He could not only cover a lot of space, but when he got the ball, he got rid of it faster than anyone else on earth. If the ball was hit to short, Robinson could also take the throw while touching second, pivot and throw to first in one move.
STARTING PITCHER. RICHIE LEWIS 1985-87. Lewis was probably the most versatile pitcher ever to don an FSU uniform. He was a great reliever. He could pitch middle relief and he could close. He was also a great starter. He was the Most Outstanding Player of the 1985 Metro Conference Tournament and in both 1986 and 87, helped pitch FSU all the way to the College World Series. He and Mike Loynd, in 1986, formed FSU's most famous pitching duo of all time. They led FSU to the championship game of the 1986 World Series.
Lewis was certainly the most entertaining pitcher I have seen at FSU. He would walk the bases loaded and then strike out the next three batters with the bases loaded. Believe it or not, one pitcher, Lewis holds both of the FSU career records for walks (232), and strikeouts (520). A two year All American, he went on to pitch in the major leagues. A battler all of the way, when he could no longer pitch well enough to pitch in the majors, he continued to pitch in the minors.
OUTFIELD. DEION SANDERS, 1987-88. This list of characters would be incomplete without "Prime Time". While Sanders' football and track exploits at FSU are more widely known, he made his contribution to the fond memories of FSU Baseball. No one could run the bases faster. He turned singles into doubles and doubles into triples or inside the park home runs. The most fun of all was to watch him when he got to first base. He would take a few steps off and start bouncing up and down. He unnerved a lot of pitchers. On defense, he could cover more ground in the outfield than imaginable. FSU's most famous three sport athlete, in 1988, Deion participated in spring football, track and field and baseball all at the same time. That year, when the Metro Conference Baseball Tournament and the The Metro Conference Track and Field Championships were being held simultaneously in Tallahassee, Deion would go back and forth between Mike Long Track and Howser Stadium. He played a large part in FSU winning both conference championships.
DEFENSIVE SPECIALIST. CHRIS BROCK, 1989-92. Chris Brock is a great story. For four years, he worked his tail off at FSU. An outfielder who could not hit very well or run particularly fast had little chance to play much at FSU. However, Brock had a cannon for an arm. Standing next to the wall in right field, he could throw strikes to the catcher at home plate. Consequently, Brock found a way to contribute. In the late innings when FSU had a lead, Coach Martin would put Brock into right field for defensive purposes. It paid off. On several occasions he made great throws to the plate preventing runners from scoring. We fans marveled at how this young man could keep his spirits up with such a limited role. We even pitied him. We thought his baseball days had ended when his eligibility ran out. We were totally fooled. The Atlanta Braves gave him a tryout. They took a look at his strong throwing ability and decided that he should be a pitcher. As they say, "the rest is history". Brock almost immediately became a minor league pitching star and made his way up the ladder to the majors.
OUTFIELD. J.D. DREW, 1995-97. What can you say about a guy who won the Golden Spikes, The Sporting News' Player of the Year, and Baseball America's Player of the Year awards? He is the only player in Division I history to have hit 30 home runs and stolen 30 bases in the same season. His batting average of .455 in 1997 is and probably will be the school record for a long time to come. He gave us memories of gigantic base hits, daring base running, and fantastic catches.