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Local connections to postseason play abound

As the 2020 Major League Baseball season made its way through the post season, both the American League and National League Championship Series featured many local connections that excited upstate New York baseball fans.

In the American League Championship Series, the Houston Astros roster was filled with former Tri-City Valley Cats players who at one point in their careers honed their skills at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy. Included were; Jose Altuve (2009), George Springer (2010), Garrett Stubbs (2015), Jose Urquidy (2015 & 2018), Framber Valdez (2016), Christian Javier (2017), Abraham Toro (2017) and Luis Garcia (2018). Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Ryan Thompson (2014) also played before upstate fans during his time in the New York-Pennsylvania League with the Valley Cats. In addition, the Tampa Bay Rays featured Bethlehem Central High School graduate Matt Quatraro as one of their bench/hitting coaches. Quatraro played for the Schenectady Mohawks (now Amsterdam) in 1992, before being drafted by the Tampa Bay organization in 1996. After seven seasons as a player, where he reached the AAA level, he became a coach for the Tampa Bay organization. He was inducted into the Amsterdam Mohawks Hall of Fame in 2008.

The National League Championship Series also featured former Tri-City Valley Cat Kike Hernandez (2010) who was the Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman. On the other side of the field, the Atlanta Braves featured rookie pitcher Ian Anderson, who just four years prior could be seen playing for Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park. His coach at Shenendehowa was Gloversville native Greg Christodulu, who helped groom Anderson into a First Round Draft Pick by the Atlanta Braves in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft. The 22 year old made his Major League Debut on August 26th against the New York Yankees and compiled a 3-2 record and an ERA of 1.95 during the regular 2020 season. He would go on to start three games in the post season, putting up a record of 2-0 and an ERA of just 0.96.

These local connections to the Major League post season mirror what local fans experienced during the 1955 World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. Area connections to both teams could be found through Dodgers pitcher Johnny Podres and Yankees pitchers Rip Coleman and Bob Grim, as well as catcher Johnny Blanchard and utility player Joe Collins.

Johnny Podres

Johnny Podres was the star of series, pitching two complete games over the Yankees in Game #3 and the deciding Game #7, earning him World Series MVP honors. Podres, a native of Mineville New York, was signed at the age of 17 by Amsterdam’s Alex H. Isabel. Isabel was the Brooklyn Dodgers regional scout for Upstate New York and parts of New England/Canada and followed Podres development as a high school player. Based on Isabel’s recommendation, days after Podres graduated high school in 1950 the Dodgers signed the key pitching component that would bring the organization its only World Series.

Rip Coleman

For the Yankees, they had recently called up (mid-August) pitching prospect Walter “Rip” Coleman, who was a native of Troy. Coleman had appeared in ten games over the end of the season and would appear in one game during the World Series.

Former Amsterdam Rugmakers

Also on the Yankees squad were former Amsterdam Rugmakers Joe Collins, Bob Grim and Johnny Blanchard. The Rugmakers were the New York Yankees Class C affiliate in the Canadian-American League from 1938 to 1951. They played their home games at Mohawk Mills Park (now Shuttleworth Park) and often traveled to Glovers Park in Gloversville as part of their regular season schedule. Utility player Joe Collins suited up for the Rugmakers in 1942 at the age of 19. Pitcher Bob Grim appeared in 25 games for the Rugmakers in 1949. And catcher Johnny Blanchard spent part of his first year in professional baseball as a catcher for the Rugmakers in 1951.

Bob Grim

And for Grim, the area connections went much deeper. After playing for the Rugmakers in 1949, the New York City native spent the following two seasons in the Yankees minor league system. Following the 1951 season, he was drafted into the Marine Corps, where he served in the 2nd Signal Battalion’s Special Service Division at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. One of his duties was playing on the Camp Lejeune baseball team. The team was comprised of mostly players with professional experience and their job was to entertain the troops for morale purposes. The team competed in three or four games per week and Grim went 16-11 during the 1952 season. He followed that up with another 24 wins in 1953, to only four losses. Also on Camp Lejeune team was third baseman Dick Johnston. Many will remember Johnston as the long time co-proprietor of the popular Dick & Pegs Northward Inn restaurant just outside of Gloversville. Johnston had played for the Flushing High School team, before going on to play for Florida Southern University and semi-professionally for Milmacks in the Queens Alliance league in New York City. Like Grim, Johnston was a drafted into the Marines as part of the same Special Services Division and part of his duties were to play on the Camp Lejeune team as their regular third baseman. The 1952 team was the one of the most successful teams in the history of Camp Lejeune and qualified for the National Baseball Championships (N.B.C.) in Wichita Kansas. In the fall of 1953, both Grim and Johnstown were honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.

Johnston had been offered a professional contract by the Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves) of the National League while in High School. Johnston opted to instead attend college, first going to Florida Southern, as well as Hofstra University. His play on the Camp Lejeune team garnered an offer by the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, Johnston instead chose to return to Flushing, where he married Margaret (Peg) O’Shaughnessy on October 11, 1953 and entered the business world. The young couple then moved to Gloversville New York, where Johnston took a position with the Decca Record Company that same fall. They would eventually open Dick & Peg’s Northward Inn in 1971

Grim returned to the Yankees and received a 1954 spring training tryout with the big league squad. During that time, the strength and confidence he had gained pitching in the military impressed manager Casey Stengel so much that he brought Grim up to the big leagues and he made his Major League debut on April 18, 1954. That season, Grim went 20-6, with 8 complete games and a 3.26 ERA, earning him the American League Rookie of the Year honors. He would spend 8 seasons at the Major League level and appeared in the 1955 and 1956 World Series with the Yankees, as well as the 1957 All-Star game.

According to Peg Johnston, “when Dick and the other soldiers were allowed to go home, Grim and two other players from the New York City area often rode home with Dick. When Grim made it to the big leagues, Dick was very excited, as he had been a Yankee fan all his life. We often went down to Yankee Stadium and Grim left us tickets to the games. We always got to visit with Grim after the games and he and Dick always stayed in touch.”

In the coming years, it is likely that local fans will also be able to watch future World Series games and have a personal connection to some of the players. Ian Anderson is only 22 and on a Braves team that is certain to consistently be in the post season mix for many years. While the Tri-Cities Valley Cats have lost their Major League affiliation with the Astros, dozens of former Valley Cats are sprinkled throughout nearly every 40 man roster across Major League Baseball. And closer to home, both the Amsterdam Mohawks and Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs of the Perfect Game Collegiate league can boast that they collectively have over one dozen players currently in the Major Leagues, and dozens currently playing the minor leagues. And as these players continue to rise to the Major League level, there are sure to be players who will play in future World Series, creating the same connection and feeling of pride that local baseball fans felt during the 1955 World Series.

A special ‘thank you’ to Peg, Lora and Bobby Johnston, Brian Spagnola and Travis Heiser for their research assistance and input in writing this story.

Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organizations website at www.fchof.com, email; mhauser@frontiernet.net or call (518) 725-5565. If you enjoyed this story and want to learn more about other sports history topics, look for Hauser’s “Hometown Sports Heroes” series of paperbacks on www.amazon.com and search; ‘Mike Hauser Hometown Sports Heroes.’

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