CLINTON — The snow did serve one decent purpose Monday night. It got people who attended the annual Clinton LumberKings Hot Stove Banquet yearning for spring and baseball to arrive.
Around 250 fans showed up at Eagle Park Point Lodge to share the passion of the game, and to listen to a Major League Baseball manager speak.
Bryan Price, who will take over for Dusty Baker this season as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, was the keynote speaker at the event. The event is held so that the Friends of Riverview Stadium can raise funds for team and stadium needs.
“Without this event and the support of all the fans, we would have to pull funds out of our profit, so we are extremely grateful of the support the community has shown us,” LumberKings general manager Ted Tornow said. “For this size of town to support a baseball team like this is truly incredible.”
There was a silent auction and raffle celebrating the young prospects who played in Clinton last summer and beyond.
Price admitted during his keynote that there weren’t a whole lot of connections between his Reds and the LumberKings. Price did serve as pitching coach for the Seattle Mariners in the early 2000s, and the Mariners are currently affiliated with the LumberKings.
Price told a couple of stories from his days in the minor leagues, climbing the ladder in the Angels organization. He told a story where they would build bonfires in the bullpen when the cool California summer nights would kick in.
“There was one night where the opposing team brought in big chunks of wood and two-by-fours and placed a cardboard box above everything, and when it got all lit up, one of the players got on top of the fire somehow and yelled, ‘I am Oz!’ “ Price recalled. “And the umpires finally called time, and that was the last time we ever got to have bullpen fires.”
Memories like that, Price says, are what make the minor leagues so unique, but he says it’s the connection between players and fans that makes a baseball town what it is.
“Never underappreciate the people around you who support you,” Price said. “When we lost to the Pirates last year in the playoffs, I don’t think we understood the importance of the fans and never made a connection with them. I think Clinton does a great job of that.”