May 25, 2000
My favorite Clemson NCAA Baseball Tournament moment took place in Connecticut, my home state. In fact, many of my favorite Clemson sports moments have been NCAA Tournament events in Connecticut.
In 1990, the Tigers beat BYU and LaSalle in the NCAA men’s basketball Tournament at the Hartford Civic Center to advance to the Sweet 16. In the win over LaSalle, a team that had lost just one game all year, Clemson overcame a 16-point halftime deficit, the largest halftime deficit overcome to gain victory in school history. This past season, I watched the Lady Tigers defeat Drake in the first round of the NCAAs at UCONN. That was a favorite moment for me personally because I provided color commentary on a television broadcast for the first time.
But, getting back to baseball…Clemson had great teams in 1987 and 1988, winning exactly 54 games each season, but did not bid on a regional, so we were exiled to neutral sites, Huntsville, Ala. in 1987 and New Britain, Conn. in 1988.
I certainly enjoyed that 1988 trip because I stayed with my parents (my mother makes the world’s best apple pie) in West Hartford, just 15 minutes from “The Hive”. This was a relatively spacious minor league ball park, but it had one major problem. It didn’t have a tarp. A local pack of rats had eaten the rain prevention material during the previous winter, so when it rained everyone had to wait until the field dried naturally.
Of course, it rained the first scheduled day, so it moved the game to May 26, 1988. It gave me an extra day to spend with my parents. I don’t recall what the team did. Taking a tour of ESPN (in nearby Bristol) was not that big a deal in those days. Clemson’s first round game in the regional this year will be on the 12-year anniversary of that match up with Fordham. If it is anything like the game I broadcast 12 years ago, plan on buying lunch and dinner at the ballpark.
I arrived for the game at 10:00 AM and met Mark Packer, who broadcast the game with me. Jim Phillips did the Greenville Braves in during that time, so I did the play by play with Packer, son of Billy Packer, who held the broadcast rights to Clemson sporting events in those days.
Prior to the game I remember seeing Rico Brogna, now a major league star, who had signed a national letter of intent to play football and baseball at Clemson. He was from a nearby bedroom community. He had been recruited to Clemson by Danny Ford from the football side and Dave Littlefield, who was Coach Bill Wilhelm’s top assistant in the mid 1980s. Littlefield is now second in command in the front office of the Florida Marlins.
I don’t know if Rico stayed for the entire game that afternoon. In fact, very few people saw every pitch outside of the players….and of course Mark, myself, Cobb Oxford from the Orange & White, and Bob Bradley, who was in his next to the last year as sports information director.
We went on the air at 11:15 AM with our pregame show for the 11:30 AM start and stayed on the air until 5:15 PM. It was a cloudy, windy but mild day and the wind was blowing in. We felt the elements because the Beehive Stadium press box held about three people. We put the equipment inside and sat outside with our headset cords stretching over a fence (see photo).
Beehive Stadium was a big park to begin with (about 420 to center), but with the wind blowing in, you couldn’t have driven a golf ball over the fence. We had some good home run hitters on that team in Mike Milchin and Jerry Brooks, who both made it to the Majors, but no one came close.
Clemson scored in the first inning, in fact Bert Heffernan, the first batter of the game for either team, scored. But, that was not a foreshadowing of things to come. Fordham tied the game in the fourth off Tiger starter Brian Barnes, another future Clemson Major Leaguer. Clemson took a lead in the fifth when Rusty Charpia singled, stole second and eventually stole home.
Fordham tied the game in eighth off Barnes, and reliever Phil Lowery. Milchin, who started the game at first base, put the fire out, a foreshadowing of his future success on the Major League level as a relief pitcher. Neither team scored in the ninth and we headed to extra innings tied at 2-2.
About that time the wind started to get even stronger. The pitchers, with the wind to their backs, had more and more confidence and it seemed to increase their velocity by 10 MPH. No one was even getting on base. The defenses were iron clad. The two teams had just three errors between them in 156 chances. At one point, both teams went 10 consecutive half-innings without a hit, a combined 0 for 33. Fordham got a couple of walks in the 12th off Milchin, but he got out of the jam. That was the only half inning for either team between the ninth and 16th innings that a man got to second base.
Meanwhile, Mark and I were getting punchy. The consecutive one-two-three innings were easy to broadcast, but it was monotonous. At one point after another one-two-three inning in the top of the 17th, we both just started laughing. Were we going to sleep in Beehive Stadium that night? Even my parents left in the 17th, my mother had to prepare dinner. And this was a game that started at 11:30 AM.
Stanford was playing Kentucky in the second game, which was suppose to start at 3:00 PM. They had gotten to the ballpark at 2:15 PM. It was 4:15 PM and there was no scoring in site. As we headed into the 18th, we got the news…this was now the longest NCAA Tournament game in history.
Finally, in the 19th inning, the hitting famine broke. You never would have guessed that this would be the magic frame, because the Tigers started the inning with consecutive outs. When Milchin entered the game to pitch, Wilhelm lost the DH. That meant pitcher Mike Kimbrell, who never batted, was due up.
David Tripp, a freshman who had seen time in the outfield and on the mound in 1988, was sent in to bat for Kimbrell and he drew a walk. Taking matters in his own hands, Tripp stole second, his fourth steal of the year. Rusty Charpia, also a starting defensive back on the Clemson football team, then doubled to score Tripp with the third run of the game, the first run for either team in 10 innings and nearly two and a half hours.
After his offensive performance, Tripp had to do the job on the mound. He gave up a one-out double , but forced the next two batters to fly out to Brian Kowitz in left, a fourth future Major Leaguer in the boxscore for Clemson that day.
When was the last time you saw a baseball game when the pitcher who had the save, also scored the winning run? It probably has happened in the National League, but rarely in a college baseball game.
That game was exhausting, 5 hours and 18 minutes, and it had a carry-over affect and the next day the Tigers lost to Rutgers, 6-1. After a win over St. John’s, Clemson was eliminated by Kentucky. Stanford, who lost in the first round to Kentucky, went on to win the regional and the College World Series that year.
When I got back to Clemson, people told me they had listened to our broadcast on their lunch hour and when they went home after work. It had been a long day at the ballpark, still the longest game in NCAA baseball history.
My mom’s apple pie tasted very good that night.
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