Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Talking Tarpons with Tampa blogger Clark Brooks - Part 2

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)

This is part two of my interview with Tampa writer/blogger Clark Brooks. In Part 1, we talked about Clark's background working with the old Tampa Tarpons.

Bus Leagues Baseball: So were there any future major leaguers that you may have hung out with while working with the Tarpons?

Clark Brooks: I was pretty good friends with Chris Hammond, who made it to the big leagues with the Reds, then went to the Marlins, then had a noteworthy comeback with the Braves after he was out of the game for a couple of years. Chris was a good guy.

The Tarpons really didn’t push a lot of big leaguers through. A lot of big leaguers came through the other A club in Cedar Rapids. But the Florida State League at the time was a pitcher’s league and the Reds didn’t have a lot of pitching prospects coming through.

BLB: What about Tom Browning?

CB: Browning did, but he was before my time.

They had a club in ’83 that had Tom Browning, Paul O’Neill, Terry McGriff, Tracy Jones, they had a pretty solid club in ’83.

BLB: And Eric Davis would have been before that?

CB: Yeah, and I don’t think Eric Davis ever played for the Tarpons though. I think he went through Cedar Rapids.

We were the High-A club, but they put more prospects through the Midwest League for whatever reason.

BLB: Proximity to Cincinnati, possibly?

CB: Could be.

BLB: You sorta mentioned this earlier, but could you talk a bit more about your day-to-day actions?

CB: Well, I worked my regular job with the concessions at Tampa Stadium then head over to Al Lopez at night. It was like “Hey, we are shorthanded in the kitchen, so go in the kitchen and cook hot dogs.”

There were a couple of Saturdays where I mowed grass. One of our ushers, an employee, lived down the street. I would borrow his push lawnmower and I mowed the infield with that one Saturday morning. I put out the screen for batting practice, I lined the field, I did PA announcing for a couple of innings, and I sold souvenirs. Basically, whoever was available was available to do whatever.

It wasn’t departmentalized at all. I think there were maybe three fulltime employees. There was the GM, the Assistant GM, and one other person working in the office. That was it. The rest were game day employees only. Even bat boys were actually boys, like Little League-age kids.

I don’t think anybody gets by without a staff of at least five or six now. Plus interns, plus sales people. The idea of having sales people was a completely foreign concept.

BLB: So it was basically just tradition that drew people to the Tarpons games? Did they do any kind of marketing at all?

CB: Well, they put out the free tickets at the restaurants and you could pick the free tickets up. One of the good things about the Florida State League is that teams are always sending their major league players down for rehab assignments. So occasionally you get a big leaguer playing and people find out about it and they will come out for that.

We did promotions. We did giveaways. We did fireworks. Stuff like that.

BLB: Any promotions stand out?

CB: From the Tarpons? Everything was always trade; there were some giveaways, but nothing crazy.

BLB: Have you been to any Tampa Yankees games and how does that compare?

CB: Not a fan. First of all, I am not a Yankees fan. Secondly, Steinbrenner Field holds about 10,000 fans, which for a minor league game, especially when nobody draws, is way too big. And I don’t get the minor league vibe there like I get at some of the smaller ballparks. It seems kinda sterile and cold and empty. They are not drawing any more than we used to draw with the Tarpons.

BLB: Do you have a favorite Florida State League ballpark, past or present?

CB: I like the Lakeland ballpark. I also liked old Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater. It was almost a copy of what Al Lopez Field looked like. The seats were real low, almost a foot or so higher than the field itself. That was the same as Al Lopez, which where the seats were maybe two feet or so above field level. Real intimate and real close to the action. You could sit right next to the dugout. The grounds crew at Jack Russell was amazing.

BLB: And yours was you.

CB: Well, me and a few other guys. It wasn’t just me. But I think the Tampa Sports Authority would only come out to mow the grass with a tractor like once a week. And the rest of the time we had to make due with a push lawnmower. Like I said, the Tampa Sports Authority basically ran that team out of town, the Reds and the Tarpons both.

BLB: You mentioned you worked for Mike Moore. Could you talk about that?

CB: Mike was the GM at the time, from 1987 to 1988. Then he left and went to the National Association to become the president, which is now Minor League Baseball. It was known as the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues at the time.

BLB: Could you tell us a little about working for Mike Moore?

CB: Mike practiced what he preached. He would cook hot dogs and work the PA. Mike was a local Tampa sports legend before he got the job with the Tarpons. He was on TV with some of the old TV personalities in the 70s. He used to call pro wrestling in the area.

Mike just liked to do his job and not be bothered. He had a radio code – I don’t remember what the signal was – but when the owners were there we were to give Mike a radio so he could hide in the tunnels and not have to deal with them. He loved the game but he was not into the “big timeness” of being in professional baseball. He didn’t kiss the ass of dignitaries and he wasn’t impressed by celebrities.

BLB: Did you stay in touch with him as he became President of Minor League Baseball?

CB: Yeah, I kept in touch with him. I haven’t talked to him in a while. He is retired now. I think he spends all of his time fishing. But yeah, I stayed in touch.

I actually married the girl I was dating with the Tarpons after Mike left. And he was the best man at our wedding. So we used to socialize with him and his wife.

BLB: You said you were married at home plate, right?

CB: Yeah. Married at home plate at Al Lopez Field. Al Lopez was there. Which is very cool. My grandmother was swooning over him. That wedding was the last event at Al Lopez Field, as they tore it down the next month. And while Al was still alive, too. Which is basically an embarrassment of huge proportions.

How you let someone outlive their own monument is beyond me.

BLB: Any funny individual stories before we go?

CB: Yeah, the last year we were with the Reds, we had a centerfielder named Steve Davis. He was one of the guys I hung out with. He was talking to a little kid before the game who had this little novelty glove. The kid wanted Steve Davis to use it in a real game. Davis knew he wasn’t in the lineup that day, so he took the kid’s glove and said, “Yeah, I’ll wear your glove on the field.”

Right about the fifth or sixth inning, Davis got put in as a pinch hitter and was told to stay in the game. So the guys on the bench told him that he had to take the kid’s glove out. They told him that he promised so there was no way he could go out there and not take the glove. Davis objected, saying he couldn’t go out there with a kid’s glove, literally the size of his hand. But he took it out there and played centerfield.

Sure enough, a ball is hit to him.

He makes this long run and makes this amazing over-the-shoulder Willie Mays catch with this kid’s glove on. Nobody knew he had this glove on except for the kid and the guys who knew he promised. The dugout is going nuts. Great play. One of the greatest plays of the year.

He goes back to the dugout and all he hears is that he was making a mockery of the game. They can’t believe he wore that glove out there. They called him a clown. They were all giving him crap.

So that was kinda fun.

We definitely want to thank Clark for his time and be sure to check out his writings at RawCharge.com and at this personal blog Ridiculously Inconsistent Trickle of Consciousness.