CASHION — Shortly after arriving at Chavez Ravine, Greg Harrel, of Cashion, will place a baseball card in his Dodger Stadium locker.
Harrel, 48, is the new assistant athletic trainer of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Only the memories of the man on the well-worn 1998 Oklahoma
“That goes wherever I go,” Harrel said. “So there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about him.”
Although Harrel has been a trainer in pro baseball since 1986, including several seasons at Triple-A Oklahoma City, this is his second trip to the major leagues.
The other came in 2003 with the Texas Rangers.
That's the same year Biagini, former manager of the Oklahoma City 89ers and the RedHawks, battled kidney cancer before dying at age 51.
“When I saw him toward the end, he just told me not to take anything for granted,” Harrel said. “He couldn't even taste his favorite foods anymore.”
That's in part why Harrel took some time to savor his memories of baseball before going off to gather new ones starting with spring training in Glendale, Ariz. Some are distant, others more recent. Some are humorous; others are just good baseball stories.
They date to his childhood in Duncan, when his father, Jerry, listened to the Texas Rangers on 820 AM WBAP. Seeing his son show a little interest in baseball, Dad planned a trip to watch the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.
A life in baseball
Harrel was hooked — as it turns out, for life — on pro baseball. Although he never suited up for a varsity game for the Duncan Demons, coach Rod Battles noticed Harrel's love for the game. Within a few years, Harrel found another way to achieve his dream. In 1986, when the Rangers offered a Class A minor league job at Daytona Beach, Fla., he packed his bags, and he's been filling them with memories upon memories ever since.
Memories such as that night in 1992 when the 89ers' Steve Balboni stepped to the plate to pinch-hit in Game 2 of the American Association playoffs against the favored Buffalo Bisons.
“He had a sprained MCL, and he could barely move,” Harrel said. “Steve hits a game-tying, pinch-hit home run. We ended up sweeping them in that series. He autographed that bat for me, and I still have it.”
Memories such as 18 guys gathered around major league pitcher Danny Darwin, who was down on a rehab assignment from the Rangers, as he told stories during a rain delay in the weight room at All Sports Stadium.
Memories such as when former RedHawk Tom Quinlan withheld some information, at least for a few days.
“He was a hockey player who chose baseball,” Harrel said. “He used to block third base like a catcher. Three days after he blocked somebody, he came up to me, raised his pants and showed me his leg where he'd been cleated. Then he laughed and said, ‘I didn't show it to you that night because I didn't want any stitches.' He was crazy.”
That practical joker
Memories of former 89er and well-known practical joker Mike Berger.
One day Harrel got a phone call on the pay phone near the clubhouse. The guy on the other end identified himself as Branch Rickey, then president of the American Association. He wanted to inform Harrel of his appointment to the 1992 Triple-A All-Star game in Richmond, Va.
“The whole time I'm thinking, ‘It's Berger,' but I was nice and polite and just went along with it,” he said. “I didn't say anything to anyone. Then about a week later, I got an official letter. I had been named to the All-Star game. Until that point, I was thinking, ‘Berger's not going to get me.' He had got so many people on stuff like that.”
That turned out to be Harrel's first of two selections to the Triple-A All-Star game.
But his most recent favorite baseball memory came last October. Harrel and his wife, Michelle, have three children: Ryan, 13, Joshua, 10, and Emilie, 7. The boys got a feeling that Dad might be headed back to the majors and were excited.
So every day for about two weeks when they jumped into Dad's Ford pickup after school, they'd ask and Harrel would say, ‘Nothing yet.'
“The first time I went to the majors in 2003, I was mainly excited for me and my wife, because that's what we'd been working toward,” he said. “This time I was also excited for our children.
“I think baseball kind of brings the kid out in everyone.”
That's something to savor.
at a glance
• Age: 48.
• Resides: Cashion.
• Family: Wife, Michelle. Three children — sons Ryan, 13, and Joshua, 10, and daughter Emilie, 7.
• Education: Earned his bachelor's degree in physical education with a business minor from Central State University (now University of Central Oklahoma).
Enters his sixth year with the Dodgers' organization and his first season as an assistant athletic trainer for the major league club. Harrel served as the club's Triple-A athletic trainer with Las Vegas (2007-08) and Albuquerque (2009-11) and was appointed as the organization's head minor league athletic trainer in 2008. Harrel worked for the Rangers (1986-2003), Marlins (2004, also in Albuquerque) and Padres (2006), including one season on Texas' major league staff in 2003.