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  • Rochester Red Wings' Long and Storied History (Excerpt)

    Seth Stohs

    Below is an excerpt from the recently-released 2019 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. Nate Rowan is the Media Relations Director of the Rochester Red Wings. The Minnesota native was kind enough to write up a history of the Rochester Red Wings. It’s really a remarkable history when you think about it, and when you read the full article. It is full of incredible stories, each one a little crazier than the previous.


    Below, I’ll share a few snips from the article. If you would like to read the article in its entirety (along with articles from the other Twins affiliates, full articles on the Twins Daily Minor League Award winners, over 160 Twins minor league player profiles, prospect rankings and much more, you have a couple of purchase options. If you want the paperbook copy of the book, it is $17.99. The electronic, PDF version is available for immediate download for $12.99. (Be sure to go to Lulu.com to see if there are any promo codes to provide a better price.)

    Image courtesy of Rochester Red Wings (photo of Frontier Field)

    The following is an excerpt from the 2019 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook, an article from Rochester Red Wings Media Relations Director Nate Rowan:


    Roughly 250 miles from New York City in Western New York sits Rochester, home of the Red Wings, the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins for the last 16 seasons. The Wings have known just two other MLB affiliates since 1928: the St. Louis Cardinals and the Baltimore Orioles.


    Rochester’s baseball history dates back to 1877 and the city has had a franchise in what is now known as the International League as early as 1885. According to Rochester sports historian Douglas Brei, the current team has been operating since 1899, one of only six franchises in North American professional sports to have been playing in the same city and same league continuously and uninterrupted since the 19th century. The others? All Major League teams: the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cardinals.


    Rochester was a member of the International League in 1885 and has played parts of 131 seasons in the league since, except three: 1890, 1893 and 1894. The team played in the Major Leagues as part of the American Association in 1890, going 63-63. A fire burned down the home of the team, Culver Field, after the 1892 season ended and forced a two-year hiatus of professional baseball in Rochester.


    The team was known by several nicknames from 1877-1927 until the eventual purchase of the franchise by Branch Rickey and the Cardinals prior to the 1928 season. Rickey had envisioned a system of teams that would develop and supply players for St. Louis. Prior to this, minor league teams operated independently and would sell players to Major League teams. A ‘Name the Team’ contest was held in February, 1928 and eventual National Baseball Hall of Famer and Rochester General Manager Warren Giles decided on ‘Red Wings’ out of the roughly 700 suggestions. The local newspaper reported that Giles decided on the name for several reasons. He liked that it was unique among other organized baseball teams. He also liked that the team would serve as a wing of St. Louis. Lastly, Cardinals were birds with red wings.




    Back in those days, Havana, Cuba had a team in the league known as the Sugar Kings. A trip to Havana in 1959 nearly ended in tragedy. The Red Wings and Sugar Kings were playing a doubleheader on July 25th when, at the stroke of midnight, shots rang out in the streets and at the stadium to celebrate the first anniversary of Fidel Castro’s ascent to power. Rochester had taken the lead in the top of the 11th inning, but in the bottom half, Sugar Kings batter Jesse Gonder led off with a double. Rochester manager Cot Deal wanted first base umpire Frank Guzzetta to ask for help on the play in which Deal insisted Gonder missed first base. As Deal would recall in a 1994 interview: “Guzzetta notified me that there was no way he was going to ask for help to make a questionable call against the Sugar Kings with all those gun-toting fans in the stands. He told me we’d have a riot.” Deal would be ejected and Havana tied the game. Deal told infielder Frank Verdi to take over as manager, meaning Verdi would assume third base coaching duties as well. With one out in the top of the 12th, more shots rang out in the stadium. Verdi and Sugar Kings player Leo Cárdenas were struck by bullets. The plastic lining Verdi wore inside his cap deflected the bullet into his shoulder and away from his head, though he did lose a chunk of his ear. The umpires called the game, and the rest of the series was cancelled. Havana would keep a team until July 8, 1960, when Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick moved the team to Jersey City, New Jersey.




    Any baseball fan has seen Bull Durham, or at least heard of it. That movie was written and directed by former Red Wing Ron Shelton, who appeared in 79 games for the team from 1970-71. Shelton developed the plot and characters from his own experiences and observations as a minor leaguer. As stated in the book Silver Seasons and a New Frontier by Jim Mandelaro and Scott Pitoniak, the plot was inspired by stories Altobelli would tell about a hard-throwing, wild pitcher whom the Orioles designated as the veteran Alto’s roommate in an effort to control his off-the-field behavior. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1988. Shelton would go on to write and/or direct White Men Can’t Jump in 1992, Cobb in 1994 and Tin Cup in 1996, among other works.




    Other stories include the longest game in professional baseball history, an impressive list of opponents who played their final minor league games against the Red Wings, Irabu Fever, and a recent, very unique no-hitter.


    To read more about the Twins' impressive Triple-A affiliate and much more about the Twins minor leagues, grab your copy (or copies) of the 2019 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook.


    Paperback version

    PDF version




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