Dave Smith lists “Jim Traficant Night” as a memorable experience which will be tough to duplicate.
By STEVE RUMAN
NILES — Normalcy returned to Eastwood Field Sunday when the Mahoning Valley Scrappers played host to State College.
As baseball was being played on the field, vendors peddled their goods throughout the stands. Between-inning promotions entertained the fans, while Scrappy signed autographs for eager children.
And, as usual, Scrappers general manager Dave Smith was making his rounds throughout the stadium.
Smith returned Sunday after missing his first Scrappers home game since joining the organization as assistant GM in the fall of 1999. Smith had attended 293 consecutive home games before his streak came to an end Saturday when he traveled to Virginia to attend the wedding of a close friend.
“It never really dawned on me that I hadn’t missed a game until I was planning my trip,” Smith said. “I guess I’ve just been lucky in that I’ve been healthy, as have my family and friends. I’ve never been given a reason to miss a game, so until now, it’s been business as usual.
“The nice thing is, I am surrounded by an extremely competent staff. They are in the trenches running the show on a daily basis. I didn’t have any worries being away on a game day,” Smith said.
Smith spent Saturday celebrating the wedding of Bryan Rodichok. The two attended high school together in Hershey, Pa., then they went to college together at Virginia Tech.
In fact, Smith noted that had he not attended the wedding, it is likely he would have missed Saturday’s Scrappers game for another reason. He and Rodichok share season tickets to Virginia Tech football games. The Hokies opened their season at home Saturday with a win over East Carolina.
“As it turned out, neither of us used the tickets — we had to give them to another college friend,” Smith said.
Some big ones
Smith said he has seen his share of unforgettable moments at Eastwood Field. From a team standpoint, Smith’s most memorable game was a playoff affair against Staten Island in 2000 which kept the Scrappers’ season alive. After Nate Janowicz sent the contest into extra innings with a ninth-inning home run, Henry Pechardo won the game with an eleventh-inning walk-off blast.
“The Scrappers were just finishing their second season in the Valley, and it was the first time area fans got to be a part of professional postseason baseball. It was a thrill,” Smith said.
From a promotional standpoint, Smith lists Jim Traficant Night as a memorable experience which will be tough to duplicate.
Shortly after Traficant was sent to prison in 2002 after being found guilty on 10 felony counts, the Scrappers saluted the former congressman with a theme night.
The promotion attracted national attention.
“That was one of those things where we thought it would be pretty amusing and well-accepted from a local point of view, but we never envisioned it would take off the way it did,” Smith said. “The story ended up on every national cable news channel, and in newspapers across the country.”
Then there was the great smoke-out of 2003, when on the last day of the season the Scrappers held a fireworks show in between games of a scheduled doubleheader. Smoke from the fireworks descended on the playing field, and after a lengthy delay, the second game of the twinbill was canceled.
“We made history for having the first ever smoke-out in baseball,” Smith said. “That night was a frustrating finish to what was a very frustrating year. We struggled on the field, and we had battled bad weather all summer long. It seemed like a fitting way to end the season.”
Smith doubts that his presence at Sunday’s game marked the start of a new streak which will extend beyond 293 games.
“That’s like asking Cal Ripken if he planned on playing another 2,000 games once he sat out,” Smith said with a laugh. “I’m older now, I have a wife and I just think that I would be hard-pressed not to have a reason to miss a game at some point between now and 2015.”