Fans Stayed Away in Droves Even the players weren't much interested in the Triple A World Series in Vegas

October 01, 2000

His gut large, his nose crooked, his pride wounded, and his
World Series batting average a whopping .153, Creighton (Goobie)
Gubanich gripped a bottle of Cashman Field's finest bubbly
(estimated price, $1.42) late last Thursday night and refused to
let go. He would take swigs every now and then, cherishing the
smooth liquid as it oozed down his throat. At one point, a
teammate yelled over to him, "Hey, Goobie! We did it, Goobie! We
did it!"

Goobie did not hear. He was in his own world. Planet Goobie.
Moments earlier, Gubanich--journeyman catcher for the Indianapolis
Indians--had caught the final pitch of the Triple A World Series,
a split-finger fastball from closer Bob Scanlan that darted past
the bat of Memphis Redbirds shortstop Luis Garcia and sealed the
Indians' three-games-to-one romp. Gubanich jumped, jogged toward
the mound and hugged Scanlan, who raised his gangly arms high
above his head. For a moment, it was as if the Indians had upset
the Atlanta Braves to win the World Series.

But Goobie is a realist. He knew better. This was Las Vegas, home
of Danny Gans, Tommy Tune, $3.99 breakfast buffets and, above
all, crapshoot dreams. Two nights earlier, with the Redbirds of
the Pacific Coast League and the Indians of the International
League tied at two in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 2,
Gubanich created the memorable moment of an otherwise forgettable
series, taking Jose Rodriguez's full-count fastball and slamming
it over the leftfield wall for the game-winning walk-off homer
and a 2-0 series advantage. When he reached home plate, Gubanich
was pounded on the back and helmet by his teammates, all of whom
chanted GOO-BIE! with the enthusiasm of a Pac-10 pep squad.

It was nice, real nice. But like many of his peers on the
veteran-laced Indians (15 of whom have major league experience),
Gubanich relished the Triple A World Series the way a hog
relishes bacon bits. Two of the four games started at noon in
100[degree] heat. For the opener on Sept. 18, there were fewer
than 150 fans. (The announced attendance, 1,939, included Elvis
Presley and 1,700 of his closest invisible friends.) Team buses
were late, the traditional free T-shirts never arrived, the
clubhouses were semiputrid, and--worst of all--there was no
Wayne Newton to sing the national anthem.

Surely, somewhere there is a major league team in need of a
hard-nosed, clutch-hitting gamer. "I know I'm a big-league
catcher," says Gubanich, who batted .284 for the Indians in the
regular season. "I just know it. If I could just get the chance
and have some time to show my abilities. That's all I want."

He is yet another in the long, unbroken line of Crash Davises--28
years old, with 10 years of professional experience and
once-upon-a-time potential. Way back in 1990 the Oakland A's made
Gubanich their sixth-round pick, out of Phoenixville (Pa.) Area
High. He was 18 and dazzled enough by a five-figure signing bonus
to turn down a baseball scholarship to Texas A&M. "I thought it
would be so easy," he says. "I was on a fast road to the majors."

The road turned out to be winding and rough. Gubanich failed to
dazzle the A's, who grew impatient with his mediocre defense and
inconsistent bat. He was often stubborn and lazy, unwilling to
make necessary sacrifices. He could--and still can--be loud and
abrasive and ornery. Last season, after having signed as a minor
league free agent with the Boston Red Sox, he spent part of the
year with their Triple A affiliate, Pawtucket. On April 15
Gubanich was in his Pawtucket apartment when Gary Jones, his
manager, called. "We've got a problem here at the stadium," Jones
said. "We need you to come down."

When Gubanich arrived, Jones stuck out his hand and congratulated
his catcher. The Red Sox were calling him up. In a May 3 game
against Oakland, Gubanich became the fourth player in major
league history to get a grand slam as his first hit. "The
greatest 84 days of my life were the 84 days I was with the Red
Sox last year," says Gubanich, who hit .277 with 11 RBIs as a
replacement for catcher Scott Hatteberg, who was on the DL. But
Boston, with a glut of catchers in its system, didn't re-sign

Everywhere he goes, Gubanich is certain to mention his 84 days.
It is his medicine--his reminder to fight the negative feelings,
to keep dreaming. Three times this year the Milwaukee Brewers,
Indianapolis's parent club, needed to add a catcher to their
roster. Three times they ignored Gubanich. "It's been tough on
him," says Steve Smith, the Indy manager. "He has the skills to
be a major league backup, but baseball is about opportunities. If
you don't get 'em...."

This was the tie that bound all too many of the Triple A World
Series participants--a common belief that there were bigger and
better games to be playing. It is also the reason Triple A
bigwigs should consider scrapping the three-year-old event.
(Instead, it will return to Vegas next year as a best-of-three
series.) Save for the handful of players (Scanlan and Memphis
second baseman Stubby Clapp, for example) who were genuinely
inspired by the thought of a Triple A ring, the Indians and the
Redbirds would have preferred to be somewhere, anywhere besides
Cashman Field. They were men who felt robbed of opportunity and
showed it through indifferent, let's-hit-the-slots attitudes.
With the heat and an empty stadium, who could blame them? Moaned
one Memphis pitcher, "Who thought of this stupid idea anyway?"

Some, such as Indians outfielder Lyle Mouton, had bona fide
gripes. Were there no Triple A World Series, the 31-year-old
Mouton, with five years of major league experience, would have
already been in Milwaukee as a late-season call-up, collecting a
higher salary and adding days to his pension potential.

"Our guys play hard all year in front of 12,000 fans a game, and
the reward is to fly out here and play in front of empty seats?"
said Redbirds manager Gaylen Pitts. "It makes no sense. I think
having this series in Vegas gives the team owners a chance to get
together and have a vacation. Why else would it possibly be

The idea, says Don Logan, the Las Vegas Stars' general manager
and the event's organizer, is eventually to award the World
Series to a different city each year. With a best-of-three,
Friday-through-Sunday format, Logan thinks fans would give the
series a shot. "But I'll be honest," he says. "Three years ago, I
was confident this could work. I'm still confident, but not at
the same level. It's a tougher sell than I thought."

That was obvious during the fourth and final game, when most of
the best seats in the house were occupied by tiny particles of
dust. At one point Jonathan Andrews, Jose Castro and Darion
Hayes, three 14-year-old friends with Richard Simmons enthusiasm
and booming vocal chords, tried moving closer to the action. In a
truly ludicrous moment, an usher told the youths there was no

"But there's nobody here," said Jose.

"Sorry, kid," said the usher. "These seats are reserved."

Some, happy or not, made the best of things. Although Indians
shortstop Santiago Perez won the series MVP award after hitting
.462 with two home runs, Gubanich admitted that his game-winning
homer would go down as one of his finest memories. "There are no
definites in baseball," he said, "so you take what you can get."

A Triple A game-winning home run? The 84-day big leaguer grinned
ever so slightly. "I'll always take it," he said. "Always."

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID GONZALES Gubanich, 28, is yet another in the long, unbroken line of Crash Davises.

The veteran-laced Indians relished the series the way a hog
relishes bacon bits.