Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, to Goodland Field,
home of the Appleton Foxes of the Class A Midwest League. It's July
26, 1986, a beautiful day, Old-Timers' Day and Miller Beer Seat
Now this affair isn't quite as star-studded as the antique shows
up in the majors, but the feeling here is hard to beat. The biggest
name, literally and figuratively, is Bill Gogolewski. Bill, who
hails from Oshkosh and pitched six years in the bigs, is examining
the Heinie Groh model glove used by Carl (Cully) Schultz when he
played third base for the Appleton Papermakers back in the '20s.
''Why, this is no bigger than my hand,'' says Bill, who is right
about that, although he does have unusually large hands.
Schultz, 84 and a retired farmer, goes to the mound to throw out
the first ball to Smiley Nicadam, the Papermaker catcher in '29. Nice
toss, Cully. Wait, he throws a second ball. And a third. And a
fourth. He's getting into it now. Finally, announcer Bob Lloyd tells
the fans, ''This is really the first ball,'' and Schultz uncorks a
beauty. He is lifted, at last.
They play a game, the old Foxes against the old Papermakers.
Captaining the Papermakers is Kevin Bell, the only old-timer besides
Gogolewski to have made The Show. Bell spent all or parts of six
seasons in the majors, playing mostly third, mostly for the White
Sox. He was a Fox in '74 and '75, and he married a fox from nearby
Little Chute, Bonnie Bongers. ''A couple of years ago, we were living
in Arizona,'' says Bell, ''when we thought, What better place to
raise our two girls than Appleton?'' Many of the ballplayers have
much the same story: They came to Appleton, met a girl and settled
there. Bell now drives a truck for Schmidt Oil, and on this day he
drives in a couple of runs as his team wins 5-2.
While the game is going on, the present-day Foxes are sitting in
the bleachers, looking at their futures. Maybe some of them will
marry Appleton girls and join the community. Maybe some of them will
make The Show. When the announcer says, by way of introducing Larry
Connell, ''Larry, you may recall, pitched a no-hitter for Appleton
back in 1965 (actually, Connell threw a one- hitter),'' the current
Foxes kid pitcher John Stein, who had a no-hitter earlier this
season. ''That's what you'll be like in 20 years,'' says one. ''You
remember John Stein. He threw a no-hitter back in '86.''
Flitting around, taking snapshots, is Patti McFarland. She looks a
little like Margaret Hamilton, but she's actually the Good Witch of
the North, baking birthday cakes for hundreds of Foxes, hardly ever
missing a game. McFarland knew Earl Weaver when he managed and played
second for Fox Cities, which is what the club was called until 1967,
just as she knows the current manager, Rico Petrocelli. She remembers
the time Dean Chance came back from a carnival with a car full of
stuffed animals he won throwing baseballs. She held Cal Ripken Sr.'s
infant son in her arms and went to Kevin and Bonnie Bell's wedding.
She carries special places in her heart for so many Foxes that you
would think she had no more room in there. But she has.
Appleton is a special place for minor league baseball. Oh,
attendance is down this year, and the current club isn't doing very
well -- it lost a game 25-10 the other night. But its history, dating
back to 1891, is rich with players and managers who went on to bigger
things. In 1960 when Fox Cities was in the Three I League -- why the
heck a town in a W State was in the Three I League is a question
best left to the ages -- the parent Baltimore Orioles sent Weaver in
with a club that included Chance, Boog Powell, Pete Ward and four
other guys who made the majors. They won the Three I pennant by 10
1/2 games. Weaver's trainer then is still his trainer, Ralph Salvon;
his catcher was Cal Ripken. Sitting in the Goodland stands that
summer was Vi Ripken, great with child. The child was, yes, Cal
The White Sox took over the Appleton franchise in 1966, and their
very first club had eight guys who made the majors. In 1970 Fox
players Bucky Dent, Rich Gossage and Terry Forster roomed together.
In all, four Cy Young Award winners (Chance, Sparky Lyle, Pete
Vuckovich and LaMarr Hoyt) and two MVPs (Zoilo Versalles and Powell)
have graced Appleton. ''It's no coincidence that so many players have
come out of there,'' says Roland Hemond, the former general manager
of the White Sox and now an assistant to the baseball commissioner.
''The town is so nice, and the people so friendly, that the players
can grow without feeling homesick or lost.''
One of the joys of rooting for a minor league team is the
opportunity to watch a player grow, to track his progress as if he
were your own child and you were marking his height on the wall. If
you're an Appleton fan, you can read the big league box scores and
take special pride in Harold Baines's heroics or feel bad because
Steve Trout got shelled last night. They were Foxes once.
But that pleasure may be in peril in Appleton. The White Sox are
pulling out after this season, moving their Midwest League
affiliation to a new club in South Bend, Ind. Nothing against
Appleton, mind you, but the fellows in the front office think that by
putting a minor league team in a city only two hours away, they can
attract more customers to Comiskey Park and get more people in South
Bend to subscribe to White Sox games on cable. So now the Appleton
Foxes brass has to scramble around for another patron.
The Foxes are not all that mad at the White Sox. ''They've been
very good to us for 21 years,'' says club vice-president Milt Drier.
And vice versa. Appleton is generally acknowledged to be the best
town in the Midwest League, and it should have little trouble
attracting another club.
One of the charms of baseball in Appleton is Goodland Field, which
sounds like something Garrison Keillor made up. The name is certainly
fitting, though the ballpark was actually named for former Appleton
mayor John Goodland. The field is one of the best in the league.
Shrubs and trees fringe the park, and the brick grandstand at Spencer
and South Outagamie streets is a classic. You can always get good
seats behind home plate, although on a warm summer evening the
bleachers behind the home dugout are the best place to sit. Popcorn
is 50 cents, beer is $1 and a cheese brat is $1.25.
Another nice thing about the club is that it's publicly owned. For
$5, anyone can buy a voting share of stock in the Foxes. The club is
governed by its officers and a board of directors, who hire a general
manager. Larry Dawson, who once worked on the Goodland Field grounds
crew, now runs the club. His predecessor, Bill Smith, left last March
to take a job in the Minnesota Twins farm department. Smith not only
gained invaluable experience from Appleton, but also a wife, Milt
Drier's daughter Becky.
Attendance is off slightly from last year, when the team drew
76,860, or 1,147 per date. But this club isn't as good as last
year's, which had the best regular-season record in the league. In
1986 the Foxes are third in their four-team division, 45-64, 23 games
behind the first-place Madison Muskies. The big reason for their
decline is the White Sox's decision to stock their other Class A
club, in Peninsula, Va., with the better prospects. The Foxes have
improved, though, since Petrocelli took over the team in mid-June.
Their first manager was Duke Sims, but when Tom Haller was promoted
from Double A manager at Birmingham to Chicago general manager,
everybody below him moved up one spot. Petrocelli, who was a roving
infield instructor in the White Sox farm system, decided to try
Petrocelli played short and third in Boston for 13 years but had
been out of uniform nine years when White Sox VP Ken Harrelson called
him at his Lynnfield, Mass., cleaning service last winter. ''I didn't
think I missed it,'' says Petrocelli, ''until I went to this dinner
for Jim Nance, the old Patriot fullback who had had a stroke a few
years ago. I felt the camaraderie again, and I realized that I wanted
to get back into baseball.''
Sims was, to put it politely, overbearing. He would fine players
for petty offenses. Petrocelli, on the other hand, is a gentle,
fatherly figure, sort of like Perry Como. When the Appleton second
baseman, Billy Eveline, returned to the team after a family tragedy,
Petrocelli took him aside and offered him understanding. ''We love
playing for Rico,'' says infielder Tim Haller, son of Tom. And
Petrocelli loves what he's doing. ''He's got a gleam in his eye,''
says his wife, Elsie, ''that I haven't seen for nine years.''
The 1986 Foxes may not have the talent of the '60 Foxes, but
they're an interesting club, nonetheless. Mark Davis, the leftfielder
and brother of Oakland's Mike Davis, just graduated from Stanford
with a degree in economics, which undoubtedly helps him live on his
$700-a-month salary. Stein, the no-hit pitcher, is the ace of the
staff and a Class A version of Steve Carlton. After his no-hitter he
refused to talk to Gary Shriver of the Appleton Post- Crescent
because of what he viewed as negative coverage of the team.
Three Foxes made the North Division All-Star team: relief pitchers
John Boling and Dave Reynolds and catcher Eric Milholland. Boling was
recently cited in Baseball America as having the best pickoff move in
the Midwest League, which came as something of a surprise to him. ''I
haven't picked anyone off all year,'' Boling says. Reynolds, a
Horneresque Texan, is a converted third baseman who didn't know he
was a pitcher until the White Sox told him so this spring. Milholland
guns down opposing baserunners with regularity.
The class clown is Tim Haller, whose pride in his voice elicited a
dare from teammates that he sing the national anthem.
Outfielder-first baseman- pitcher Ron Scruggs, the home run leader on
the team, also has a touch of whimsy. ''When they told me they were
sending me to Appleton,'' says Californian Scruggs, ''I said,
'Where's that?' They said, 'Wisconsin.' I said, 'Where's that?' ''
The one shared ambition among the Foxes is making the majors.
''The other night the bus took us past County Stadium in Milwaukee,''
says Petrocelli. ''The lights were on in the park, and you could just
feel the excitement in the bus.''
On Friday evening, July 25, the Foxes face a twi-nighter with the
first- place Muskies. It is also the night Haller will make his
singing debut. Before the game, he says, ''The key is in the 'O.'
Once I get that good rich 'O' I'll be all right.''
He steps to the mike. ''O, say . . .'' Uh oh. The O isn't as deep
as he - wanted. But wait, he's righted himself. ''. . . what so
proudly we hailed . . .'' He does have a nice voice. ''. . . at the
twilight's last gleaming. . . . The rockets' red glare, the bombs
bursting in air. . . .'' Haller stops, realizing he's pulled a Robert
Goulet and forgotten the words. Embarrassed, he throws up his hands
and walks away. The crowd feels a little bad for him, and so do his
teammates, although soon enough they're kidding him about it. Haller
vows to get back on the horse soon.
The first game is an 8-1 rout by the Muskies, whose star is Ozzie
Canseco, twin brother of A's sensation Jose. He swipes at a pitch and
sends it over the fence in right center for a grand slam. The second
game is much more exciting. The Foxes take a 1-0 lead on a home run
by Luis Salazar, the White Sox third baseman who is rehabilitating
his knee in Appleton. The Muskies tie it up in the fourth. In the
fifth, McFarland shows up, out of breath. She just got off her shift
in the lingerie department at the Prange-Way discount store. No
wonder Drier says, ''The Foxes are in business not because of me, and
not because of the White Sox. We play because of Patti McFarland and
people like her.''
A few fans are chanting ''Smoke those fish! Smoke those fish!'' --
a reference to the Muskies. In the bottom of the seventh -- which is
the last inning in a minor league doubleheader -- Appleton loads the
bases with no outs. Davis singles through the drawn-in infield, and
the Foxes win 2-1. By a quirk of fate, both games have been won by
brothers of Oakland A's outfielders.
As the players converge to congratulate one another and the fans
cheer, you look at their smiling faces, wondering which ones will
make it to the majors. You smile back, not only because you're happy
they won, but also because you're happy they have a place like
By the way, two days later Tim Haller tried the national anthem
again, in front of his parents yet. He made it.
HEARTS ON THE DIAMOND FOLKS IN APPLETON HAVE A MAJOR THING GOING WITH THE MINOR LEAGUE FOXES
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, to Goodland Field,