Sowing the seeds of change

April 06, 1994|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

HAGERSTOWN -- Last season, the Hagerstown Suns discovered that life as a Toronto Blue Jays farm club in Maryland can be frustrating.

Hagerstown fans -- accustomed to more than a decade of affiliation with the Orioles -- did not warm up quickly to the new alliance.

Attendance for the season was 95,702, second-worst in the South Atlantic League and almost 100,000 less than the Suns' record of 193,753 in 1991, when the Double-A Orioles farm club made the Eastern League playoffs.

But owner Winston Blenckstone, a Baltimore native, made a long-term commitment to stay, locating himself in the city, and he is beating the drums in an effort to spark renewed interest in the team.

"We think we're looking at probably a three-year turnaround," said Blenckstone, who brought the franchise here from Myrtle Beach, S.C. "It can't all be accomplished in one.

"We're happy with the progress we've made, but our job is to smooth out some ruffled feathers [after the pullout of the Orioles affiliate]. Being a local owner-operator can't do anything but help. We'll keep taking our message out into the community."

The owner was buoyed by a late-season rally at the gate and is hoping that attendance rebounds this season to near 130,000.

But he is fighting a tough battle because the Blue Jays are viewed as the enemy in a hard-core Orioles area.

One thing the Suns have going for them is the high quality of the Toronto farm system and the likelihood of another good team.

They finished third in both halves of the South Atlantic's Northern Division last summer, produced the league's Most Valuable Player in D. J. Boston and also showcased a probable future Blue Jays pitching star in Jose Silva.

Now, the theme for the Suns is "Restore The Roar in '94" as they prepare for tomorrow's season opener against the Augusta Greenjackets, which starts an eight-game homestand.

"Things look real good for us on the field," said Blenckstone. "The three clubs under us in the system all had good years. We won't have as many left-handed hitters to take aim at the right-field wall, but we should be exciting."

That's because new manager Omar Malave believes in the speed game offensively with a lot of running, stealing and bunting.

SUNS FACTS

Manager: Omar Malave.

Record last year: 74-68.

League: South Atlantic (Single-A).

Affiliation: Toronto Blue Jays.

Home field: Municipal Stadium.

Directions to stadium: I-70 West. Take Route 40 exit into Hagerstown. Go about 3 miles to fourth traffic light and take a left at Venice Inn.

Ticket prices: Box seats, $6; reserved seats, $5; adult general admission, $4; students, seniors and military personnel, $2.

Top players: P Edwin Hurtado (10-2, 2.50 ERA at St. Catharines), P Harry Muir (4-1, 2.30 ERA at St. Catharines), P Mike Romano (4-1, 2.63 ERA at Medicine Hat), P Mark Lukasiewicz (pro debut), C Joe Durso (.324 at St. Catharines), 3B Vic Davila (.302 at Gulf Coast), IF Jeff Patzke (.293 at Medicine Hat), IF Carlos Cabrera (.302 at Gulf Coast), OF Shannon Stewart (top draft pick, 1992).

SCHEDULE

April

7-10, Augusta; 11-14, Fayetteville*; 15-18, at Spartanburg; 19-22, BHickory; 23-24, Greensboro; 26-29, at Macon; 30, at Capital City.

May

1--3, at Capital City; 4-7, Asheville; 9-12, at Greensboro; 13-14, at Hickory; 15-16, at Fayetteville; 17-18, West Virginia*; 19-21, at West Virginia; 21-24, Columbus; 25-28, Albany; 30-31, at Savannah.

June

1-2, at Savannah; 3-6, at Charleston; 7-8, at West Virginia; 9-10, West Virginia; 11-12, Asheville; 13-14, at Asheville; 15-18, Spartanburg; 19-21, All-Star break; 22-25, at Columbus; 26-29, at Albany; 30, at Hickory.

July

1, at Hickory; 2-3, at Asheville; 4-7, Savannah; 8-11, Charleston; 13-16, at Greensboro; 17-20, Spartanburg; 21-24, Capital City; 25-28, Greensboro; 29-31, at West Virginia.

August

1-4, Macon; 5-8, at Asheville; 9-10, at Hickory; 11-12, at Spartanburg; 13-16, Fayetteville; 18-21, at Augusta; 22-23, at West Virginia; 24-25, West Virginia; 26-28, at Fayetteville; 29, Fayetteville; 30-31, Hickory.

September

1-2, Hickory; 3, West Virginia.

Note: Home starting times unless otherwise indicated: Monday-Saturday, 7:05 p.m.; Sunday, 2:05 p.m.

* *-4/14, 5/18 at 12:05 p.m.

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