Jax Jumbo Shrimp

“If at first the idea is not absurd,
then there is no hope for it.”

                      – Albert Einstein

From the days of my youth, the sun shone brightly in my hometown, especially in the first few days of spring. It appears, sadly, that those days have passed. This morning, as April 1st dawns, there’s a small part of me that genuinely grieves and an even larger part that wishes for all the world that I could close this post with the phrase, “April Fools!” The angst is real and the gotcha just isn’t coming, so don’t wait for it.

I’m in my mid-50s and baseball has always been an important part of my life. My mom and dad separated when I was 4 and the baseball coaches of my youth were some of the best father figures that I could have ever had. I played organized baseball when I was 6. By organized, I mean the kind where everyone wears the same color shirt with a team name on the front and a number on the back. I actually played baseball at the park across the street and in my backyard on Soutel Drive before my mom signed me up at the Forest View Little League. We didn’t play T-Ball back then and there were only 2 teams in the league for 6-7 year olds. I think today they refer to that group of action figures as being “Under 8.”

The team for which I played was called The Blues, and we squared off with The Reds every Saturday morning and Tuesday evening. We practiced almost daily at Yancy Park, across the street from my house. We finished the season 0-24. I wrote about that experience several years ago in a post called, Seeing Red.

Braves LogoThe next year, at age 7, I was “drafted” to play with a team in the 8 to 9 year old division. They were called The Jets and we wore maroon colored shirts with white sleeves. Some of my friends played for the Braves, they wore blue and had the old Atlanta Braves’ logo on the front, the mohawked brave with a single hanging feather.  (I played on that team the following year and we were sponsored by The Nice House of Music. It’s weird what I remember from my youth.) There was also a team in the 8 to 9 year old division called The Twins and, most importantly, there was a team called The Suns. They wore bright yellow shirts with white sleeves and white lettering. They took their name from the hometown Jacksonville Suns and every single one of us wanted to wear that bright yellow jersey.

I could go on to ramble about the Little League experiences from my youth. I remember the teams I played for, the other teams in the league, many of the coaches, the parade through the neighborhood that lead to the field on opening day, and the fact that you could get a free sno-cone for returning a foul ball or homerun to the concession stand, but this ramble isn’t about me; it’s about The Suns – The Jacksonville Suns.

I remember going to that park as a kid with my Little League team and I remember taking my daughter to her first ever baseball game there. I remember special event nights, such as the time I met and had a picture taken with Hall of Famer, Rollie Fingers (I’m sure that picture is still around here somewhere). I also remember meeting and talking briefly with Willie Stargell and Tommy LaSorda.

For a couple of seasons we had seats behind the Suns’ dugout, next to the bullpen. I remember having regular conversations with pitchers Ron Villone and Jim Gutierrez. I sat behind home plate one night and talked with Derek Lowe while he charted pitches. Click Here for the roster of the 1994 team.

I remember numerous conversations with team slugger Terrel Hansen, who I was genuinely rooting for to finally get that 1 at bat in the majors. I remember him telling me about how he had gotten called up once by the Mets because someone had gotten injured and they needed an extra bat off the bench. Unfortunately, he got sent back down shortly after he arrived because the team had signed Bobby Bonilla to fill the roster slot. Such was the life of a career minor leaguer; to me, Terrel Hansen was Crash Davis.

I had autographed baseballs from almost all of the Suns through the years, many of them are still in ziplock baggies in my garage. Eddy Diaz, noticed that I didn’t make it to any of the home games while future MLB superstar, Alex Rodriguez, was with the team (that only lasted 21 days, much of it during a road trip). My daughter had chicken pox and we couldn’t attend the games. Eddy got me one of Alex’s game bats that had been cracked and gave it to me the next time we made it to the park. The players all signed a card for my daughter. She was 8 at the time. Eddy went on to play 51 games with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1997.

I got to enjoy a picnic lunch one Sunday afternoon that was joined by many of the players. Edgar Martinez happened to be with the club on a rehab assignment after a serious hamstring injury. He went on to become of the best hitters in Seattle Mariners history and really should be a Hall of Famer. I remember greeting team owners Peter Bragan, Sr. and his son, Peter Bragan, Jr. before heading down to my seats behind the dugout. Both were personable and always thanked me for coming to the game that night or afternoon. There are memories, lots of memories. I could ramble on and on, but the biggest reality is that my story… my memories… are just a tiny slice of the pie. People like me, who literally grew up with The Suns, certainly number into the 1000’s, perhaps 10’s of 1000’s. Who really knows for sure?

You see, The Suns were Jacksonville’s only professional sports team when I was growing up (yes, minor league baseball is professional baseball). They were the team that we (those who grew up in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and so on) grew up with as our hometown team. One of my brother’s high school friends, Buddy King, played for them and he came to see me at my home on Soutel Drive when I was 8 or 9 years old. He hit fly balls to me in the backyard; Buddy freakin’ King came to my house and hit fly balls. I know, he was a friend of the family, but to me he was a Jacksonville Sun and he hit the ball farther than anyone I’d ever seen (it was only about 100 feet to the back fence). He was a pitcher.

I don’t remember much about my childhood, but when I think of The Suns, I remember things like that. So yea, The Suns mean something to me. As a kid in Little League, I wanted to play for The Suns. As a middle schooler, who dreamed of one day playing baseball at a higher level, it was The Suns, The Jacksonville Suns, that I wanted to be a part of my path to the big leagues.

Suns GameI grew up and lived most of my life in Jacksonville. I was a season ticket holder and always went to 15+ games a year, even in those years when I wasn’t. I now live in Fernandina Beach and we still go to a handful of games each season, including early April when my wife’s father is visiting from Montana. The Suns have always had a value to me that easily exceeded the ticket price.

The team is still here; the team name, however, is not. They are The Suns no longer. I cried quietly over this as I thought back through the memories of yesteryear. I will miss The Suns. I genuinely will.

Jax Suns Composite

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