Hot Stove Banquet is Smash Hit for Houston

Hosted By the Sugar land Skeeters Constellation Field January 22, 2015

Hosted By the Sugar land Skeeters
Constellation Field
January 22, 2015

Thanks to the Sugar Land Skeeters, loyal banquet sponsors, and the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR, the greater Houston area again enjoyed the taste of a winter baseball banquet that from early on, until 2013, had convened annually to honor the great game we all love and honor those deemed worthy of honoring, including the top high school players from our area.

Held at Constellation Field, home of the Sugar land Skeeters, a mustard seed crowd of under three hundred dyed in the wool fans and other esteemed professional members of the baseball community gathered to both enjoy and resurrect what has been a Houston baseball tradition since the early years of the city’s enfranchisement as a major league city.

Former "League of Heer Own" star and Texas baseball hall of Famer Red Mahoney (L) and Marsha Franty listen attenttivley.

Former “League of Her Own” star and Texas baseball Hall of Famer Red Mahoney (L) and Marsha Franty listen attentively.

Although this is the third year the Skeeters have held such a function, it also marked the end in many of our minds of the two-year blackout from 2013 to 2014 of the former Houston Athletic Club Winter Baseball Dinners that once carried the larger crowds into the brink of spring training on many other levels. Those of us who attended last night are determined to pursue the return of even larger annual celebrations in 2016. It is in our blood and part of our make-up as the Greater Houston baseball community to see that day return. This morning, our genuine thanks go out to the Sugar land Skeeters and their wonderful supporters for making this rise from the abandonment of a great idea by others to a germinal state of normalcy for the entire local baseball community.

The evening began with Mike McCroskey of SABR singing Our National Anthem. Then things moved spiritedly  forward with a hearty and enthusiastic welcome from master of ceremonies Brett Dolan. Dolan also noted the presence of some pretty important former players at the banquet, notably, three men named Roger Clemens, Jimmy Wynn, and the Skeeters’ own Deacon Jones.

Banquet attendees were informed of how the Skeeters Foundation would be using proceeds from the night’s silent auction in active support of youth baseball and their playing fields.

Skeeters General Manager Chris Jones, a product of Bellaire High School baseball himself, spoke warmly and generously about the success of independent league baseball in Houston and his hopes for the coming season, as well as uttering some important words of support for the important role that former Bellaire coach Ray Knoblauch played in working with high school players.

Radio voice of the Skeeters, Ira Liebman, presented the first annual Larry Dierker SABR Chapter Award for distinguished service to baseball to Hall of Fame member and local resident former player Monte Irvin of the old New York Giants. Liebman noted that Irvin came close to playing the role of color line breaker that finally fell to Jackie Robinson, noting too that Monte was still one of the early forces for change against the embarrassing system of segregating blacks away from major league baseball for most of the early 19th century years and all of the 20th century seasons until 1947. Wonderful writer and broadcaster Greg Lucas accepted in Monte Irvin’s behalf, in effect noting an explanation for Monte’s absence that was straight out of an evergreen 1940’s popular song: “At age 96, Monte hopes that everyone understands that he deeply appreciates the honor, but that he doesn’t (don’t) get around much anymore.”

MC Brett Dolan also commented on how special it had been for him and his son to go visit with Monte earlier in the week and to soak up some of the many stories he had to share with them during a single visit. Talk about a lifetime gift. Just saying “I once drove Monte Irvin to a SABR meeting is at the top of my “brush with greatness” list. And Brett Dolan’s son, and Brett too, now have a chart-changer for their own lists. Congratulations, guys!

Greg Lucas and Ira Liebman each played roles in the Hot Stove program.

Greg Lucas and Ira Liebman each played roles in the Hot Stove program.

Dolan also did a magnificent job framing questions for a featured program panel that included Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti, Skeeters adviser Tal Smith, and the great former Houston Colt .45’s and Astros pitcher – and later broadcaster, writer, and team manager – Larry Dierker. You had to be there, friends, to enjoy all of this one and would be foolhardy to even try a recreation here, but I will point to one concluding question of the many great ones that moderator Brett Dolan posed to his very simpatico panel:

Dolan to Panel: “What is the one game in your memory that you cannot ever hope or expect to put away?”

 Tal Smith had two: (One negative and one positive.) The negative – Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS in which the Astros blew a late inning lead and the pennant to the Philadelphia Phillies. The positive – The 18-inning win over the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS that sent the 2005 Astros on to a win over the Cardinals for the NL flag and their only trip in history to a World Series.

Larry Dierker: For Larry Dierker, it was the last game of the 1999 season that was also the last game to be played in the Astrodome after 35 years in residence there. The date was October 3, 1999 and the opposition that day were the Los Angeles Dodgers. Because it was also the last Dome game, a special post-game ceremony had been planned by the club to honor the All Time Dome Team – which included manager Dierker as one of the pitchers and other active players from 1999 like Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. “Early in the game,” Larry reported, “I got to thinking. – We really need to win this game. It will take a lot of the fun out of our post-game celebration if we have to go there from a loss in the last game the Astros ever played in their original home. – It turned out well. The Astros defeated the Dodgers, 9-4. And manager Dierker got to fully enjoy his post-game party.

Gary Gaetti: Gary sort of got stuck, at first, trying to remember the date of a game during the 2005 season that he worked for the Astros as their batting coach and word came to them on the bench via the scoreboard that they had clinched a spot in the playoffs. Having never secured an exact memory there, Gary turned to his own playing days and Game 7 of the 1987 World Series (10/24/87) in which his Minnesota Twins defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the Metrodome, 11-5. “With two outs on the Cards in the 9th, a ground ball is hit to me at third. I pick it up and throw the runner out and it’s all over. The next thing I know, I’m rushing to the mound to celebrate, only to end up in the middle of big body pile of screaming, happy players. I can’t describe it any better. It was like no feeling I’d ever known before that moment.” – And probably too – because it’s a feeling that most players never get to touch. Congratulations all over again, Gary Gaetti!

Bob and Peggy Dorilll of SABR also paid close attention to this evening's program.

Bob and Peggy Dorilll of SABR also paid close attention to the program.

The HABCA All Greater Houston Preseason High School Baseball Team was next presented by MC Dolan. These fine young men included Tyler Rand of Langham Creek, Luken Baker of Oak Ridge, Ke’Bryan Hayes of Concordia, Pablo Salazar of Lutheran South, Cade Edwards of Second Baptist, Baylor Rowlett of College Station, Anthony Pagano of Atscosita, Kody Clemens of Memorial, Riley Gossett of Cy Ranch, Jacob Simon of Ball, Ryan Newman of Brenham, Jordan Hicks of Cy Creek, Chris Andristos of The Woodlands, Alex Shaver of George Ranch, Will Gaus of Kinkaid, and Zack Esquivel of Clear Creek.

As each honored athlete came forward to receive their individual awards, they received these unforgettable items as presentations from Ms. Meghan McCroskey, whose father earlier sang the Star Spangled Banner.

Deacon Jones of the Skeeters then led us all in a stand up “7th inning stretch” version of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game!” Way to go, Deak! You were in fine voice and spirits, as per usual!

Long time leader in Texas High School Baseball coaching circles, David Sitton, then presented the last award of the night, the 2015 Ray Knoblauch Coaching Award to Armando Sedeno, Head baseball Coach at Langham Creek High School and a 33-year veteran of teaching the game. He obviously loves working with the kids who are coming up through his teaching lane. Sedeno’s enthusiastic and modest acceptance of this award was only topped by his almost unnecessary closing comment: “I love the game of baseball!”

We do too, Armando! – And we shall only hope that our little shindig in Sugar land last night was just the beginning of a bigger and louder expression of shared joy for the game next year – and for all the other years that lay ahead for us in this ongoing love for the game that truly is  our national pastime.

Addendum: Thanks to Bob Stevens for the following comment. Yes, because of traffic and the weather, we arrived too late to hear or know that  Mike McCroskey had gotten everything started in song and, from where we sat, we didn’t notice that Meghan McCroskey was handing out the student athlete awards until her father came by our table during the presentation. Unfortunately again, because of some recent health issues, I lacked the mobility Friday night to approach the stage for some usable photos of the actual show. Thanks again, Bob!

The Bob Stevens Comment: “One highlight you may have missed was Mike McCroskey singing the Star Spangled Banner. And his daughter handed out the plaques to the preseason High School ballplayers. Oh, and I left using the stairs and there was Roger Clemens all by himself in the stairwell. I just wished him luck.







4 Responses to “Hot Stove Banquet is Smash Hit for Houston”

  1. Anthony Cavender Says:

    Bill: Apparently there maybe as few as two major league baseball dinners extant–New York and St. Louis.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Tony – And that’s exactly what made our Houston baseball dinner so special. We were hanging out in rarefied company with two of the great baseball towns in America and sometimes having an attendance that was as good or better than either.

  2. Bob Stevens Says:

    One highlight you may have missed was Mike McCroskey singing the Star Spangled Banner. And his daughter handed out the plaques to the preseason High School ballplayers. Oh, and I left using the stairs and there was Roger Clemens all by himself in the stairwell. I just wished him luck.

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