Saturday, April 19, 2014

1974 Spring Training: Blyleven Taken Deep By Rollins College Player













This post highlights the March 6, 1974 Twins versus the Rollins Tars College spring training game. It was notable for the hitting of Rollins players John Castino (photo, above) and Russ Ricciardeli. Rollins is located in Winter Haven, Florida, and its team had competed with the Major League Twins for several years running by 1974.                                                                                                                          
It was usually the first game played by the Twins in the spring; Twins pitchers and catchers had reported on February 25. It was definitely a spring of change for Minnesota (i.e., see "Woodson, Braun, Hisle On Trade List" newspaper account), and the biggest question mark entering camp was whether Harmon Killebrew could come back after an injury-plagued 1973 season  (see 3/9/74 TSN page 1 and page 2).


Guiding the Rollins squad was coach Boyd Coffee, a solid, no-nonsense baseball man who had previously been a catcher in the Twins farm system in the middle 1960s.  He prepared his teams well, emphasized integrity, following the rules, and advocated accountability to the team (see story with Castino comments). He was an active player as late as 1966 with the Orlando Twins (A-Florida State League - see 1965!), and had been a minor league teammate of future Twins Rod Carew, Tom Hall, Charlie Manuel, and Rick Renick. After retiring from active play at age 28, he then managed the Auburn Twins of the New York-Penn League, from 1968-71, with two first place finishes and one second in four seasons.  His enduring fame in baseball, however, would come as The Tars college coach. His career record was an illustrious 586-419-6, a .582 winning percentage! 


Winona (Minn.) Daily News March 6, 1974


Wilmington (NC) Star: March 7, 1974

In this very same game, the future-Twin Castino collected two singles for the Tars, and presumably opened the eyes of the Minnesota management to his energetic style of play. In 1976, he would be selected number 10 in the 3rd round by Minnesota; a 1979 (co) AL Rookie Of The Year Award awaited him. By contrast, the slugger Russ Ricciardeli is difficult to find on the web for any information, from 40 years ago to the present; it's almost as if he's disappeared from the face of the Earth. He went undrafted after college, and isn't found in the data bases I checked. But wherever he is, he can always feel the warm glow of knowing he took a baseball immortal deep. You can go to John Swol's always excellent Twins Trivia for an audio interview from Nov., 2010 with Johnny C.


It is not inconceivable that amateurs would hit major league caliber starters after a winter of inactivity, especially in the first non-intrasquad game of the year. I do know I was shocked listening to this game live in the spring of '74, as a kid. This was the era when many or most major leaguers still worked at other jobs during the off-season, and didn't maintain workout regimens. But what stands out here are the hits coming off a Hall Of Fame pitcher like Blyleven, and future star Dave Goltz and company.

Bert Blyleven's [Cy Young-worthy] 1973 Season

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA FIP G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP Awards
1973 22 MIN 20 17 .541 2.52 2.32 40 25 9 325.0 296 109 91 16 67 258 156 1.117 AS,CYA-7,MVP-26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/19/2014.

As the great announcer signed off, I likewise say:
"So long, everybody!" - Herb Carneal

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