Saturday, January 10, 2015

Norwich Navigators - A New Collection

In the little corner of Connecticut where I grew up, there wasn't much in the way of professional sports. We had the Whalers in Hartford (although not for long) and the Red Sox in Boston, but each was maybe an hour's drive away from where I lived, which may as well have been a thousand miles to a young kid like myself at the time.  I did get to see those teams play many times, and I'm grateful that I did, but when I was 11 years old a new team moved right into our part of the state.

In June of 1994, the New York Yankees revealed that they were relocating their AA farm system team from Albany, New York to Norwich, Connecticut. A brand new, 6,000+ seat outdoor stadium was constructed just 15 miles from my house, and the Norwich Navigators were born!

I loved the games for all the same reasons most folks enjoy minor league baseball. It was cheap, easy to get to, and you got an experience as a fan that was much more intimate than at a big league park. I had an opportunity to enjoy many games with friends and family during those first few seasons. In 2005, the franchise changed their name to the Connecticut Defenders, and a few years later moved out of town completely.

I've decided to start a small card collection dedicated to the brief history of the Norwich Navigators.  Kicking things off for today is a 30-card 1999 team set I picked up cheap a couple of months back.  This may be a boring post for many of you, but if you like obscure teams and weird little factoids about baseball there are some nice cards here.  For example, the Jason Beverlin card above that leads off the set...the reason he was on the Navigators is because he was the prospect that came with Rubin Sierra in the deal that sent Danny Tartabull from the Yankees to Oakland.  He actually made it to the show in 2002, logging some time with both Cleveland and Detroit.

Don't know a thing about Richard Brown, so I'll take this opportunity to point out the "so bad it's good" Navigators logo.  It features a reptile (named 'Tater') decked out in ship captain's gear inset within a ship's wheel.  In case you're wondering, yes, there was a life-size Tater the Gator mascot that would roam the stadium for photos and dance on top of the dugouts during breaks in action.

Vick appears to have gotten as high as AAA ball.

Never advanced past AA, and in fact his career came to an end within a year of this set's release.

Ditto, never made it beyond AA and was in his twilight in this photo, with his career ending in 2000.  I definitely recall all the signs for local businesses plastered along the outfield wall back in the day.

Craig Dingman actually debuted with the New York Yankees in 2000!

The Navigators were as far as Scott Emmons would go in his pro baseball journey.

Really not sure on this one.  Mark Johnson is way too common a name for me to even attempt to do any research here.  Not the most flattering photo, I will say that.

The second most successful MLB player on the checklist for this team set, Nick Johnson played a respectable 10 years with the Yankees, Expos/Nationals, Marlins and Orioles.

From what I can tell Brad Kaufman never rose above AAA ball, but at least he's got a baseball card!  Boy those uniforms were atrocious!

I don't think Donny Leon ever made the big show either, but holy God did he give it one hell of a shot.  Look at how many different minor league clubs this guy played for, courtesy of baseball-reference.com:

This isn't even the complete list, couldn't fit it all on the screen at once in my web browser.  It's a shame a guy like this never managed even just one MLB at-bat.

AAA was the end of the road for Joe Lisio.

This guy was an interesting story.  He basically rode Hideo Nomo's coattails and became a big name (at least locally) as a "can't miss" Japanese prospect in the mid-'90s, when the baseball world was going crazy with the allure of Japanese players.  The Yankees shelled out $350,000 to acquire him from the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball and paid him a $1.5 million signing bonus.  He was a giant bust, left the Navigators for Japan but couldn't catch back on there either, and retired.  Just another case of the Yankees burning money I guess.

Had two cups of coffee, one with the Cubs in 2000 (2 games), and another with the Marlins in 2002 (31 games).

Donzell was a speed guy, and racked up quite a few stolen bases at the minor league level.  He played in a handful of games with the Yankees in 2001 and the Royals the following year.

The 1999 season with Norwich was Brian's final season of pro ball.

Made it as far as AAA the season after this set was released...

Minors only...

Ditto.

Appeared in two career games with the Cleveland Indians in 2004.

Without a doubt, the biggest name in the set, pretty much anyone who's been a fan of baseball over the last 20 years recognizes the name Alfonso Soriano.  Alfonso swatted .305 with 15 home runs and 68 RBI over his 89 games with Norwich in 1999.  He'd make his Yankees debut later on that same season, and stuck around in MLB all the way through the 2014 season!  Soriano was a multiple time All-Star and Silver Slugger, hit over 400 career home runs, and even garnered MVP votes in a few seasons.

Soriano announced his retirement from baseball just a couple of months ago now.  Quite a career!

AAA Columbus was the end of the line for Cam in 1999.

Enjoyed a 10 year MLB career with the Yankees, Rangers, Tigers and Dodgers.

Never advanced past AAA ball.

Same for David Zancanaro...

Here's a name most will recognize.  This was the last stop for Mazzilli before moving on to bench coach for the Yankees in 2000.

Red Sox first base coach!


Carl Randolph has apparently enjoyed a very successful career as a trainer, and was recognized for it just a couple of years back.
Probably my favorite card in the set.  This Mike LaFrance "clubbie" card is so awkward it's great.  This guy must have been totally crushed when the team was renamed and then left town.

Well, that's it for today.  I will be searching out some other Navigators cards, but this should remain a relatively small collection.  30 cards and counting, looking forward to tracking down as many as I can though...

4 comments:

Tim B. said...

Great set! I love minor league sets. I especially love the Soriano. I'm fortunate to be in close proximity to the Durham Bulls.

Mark Hoyle said...

Great cards. Love the minor league sets. Years ago in college I got to play numerous times at the AA Albany Yankees field. 82,83 and 84

Billy Kingsley said...

There are so many alligators here in New England, they just HAD to choose one for the mascot! Good job guys! :) (For any readers who aren't catching my sarcasm, alligators are not native to New York or Connecticut)

shlabotnikreport said...

I always enjoy looking at minor league sets, even when I'd never heard of most of the guys. Don't hesitate to share more of these.

I remember Kat Maeda... According to Baseball Reference, his Japanese stats weren't all that great either, makes one wonder what the Yankees were thinking.

Donzell McDonald and his brother Darnell both kicked around professional baseball for a good long time.

I was wondering why David Zancanaro sounded familiar; when I searched on him I found that he was featured as an A's prospect in both the 1991 Line Drive and 1992 SkyBox Pre-Rookie sets.

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