NOT JUST ANOTHER JOE
[December 27th] -- After completing my last Air Force tour-of-duty in Japan, my wife and I spent a couple of years living in her family's home town of Salt lake City before returning to Washington D.C. It was there that my first daughter, Kira Katrina, was born on June 19th, 1981. The doctors let her go home three days later with the admonition that we "get her out into the sun" - she was suffering from jaundice. We were driving home from the hospital when we passed Derks Field, home of Salt Lake's 'AAA' baseball franchise, the "Gulls."
Cool. That's outside.
With my wife's permission, we pulled into the parking lot and made our way to the ticket booth. Two tickets; $3.50 total. Not bad at all.
As we entered the grandstand, we realized that it was "Picture Day" at Derks' Field. You could go right on to the field and have your picture taken with your favorite Salt Lake Gull (historical note: remember, crickets were destroying one of the first Mormon crops in the Salt Lake valley when sea gulls came "out of nowhere" and devoured the insects, saving the crops). Along the first base line, separated by twenty feet or so, were each of the Gulls' players and coaches. My wife - just 72 hours from pushing a bowling ball out from between her legs - begged off and took a seat just behind the first base dugout.
Carrying my new baby, I walked down the steps and onto to the field, and headed over to Daryl Sconiers, a high average - medium power first baseman. I handed him my baby and he eagerly grabbed her into his arms. As I was setting up the shot, he reached into his mouth and pulled out a small piece of his tobacco plug and said, "Hey baby, want some of my chew?"
I began to walk towards Tom Brunansky, the Gull's all-star outfielder who was only a few weeks away from being called up to the Angels. As I came closer, I noticed a man in a Spokane Indians' uniform watching with amusement at what the Salt Lake players were having to go through. Waiting for Brunansky's line to shorten I kept looking at this guy. He was too old to be a player, but certainly still looked in game shape. The more I stared, the more I began to realize that I knew this guy - not personally, but as a fan. Suddenly, while talking to Jim Maler, their first baseman, he went into a mock windup and threw a pitch.
BANG. Got it!
Just as Brunansky put out his hands to take my daughter, I turned and walked away and headed straight for that guy, whose team wasn't participating in "Picture Day." I approached the man, handed him my daughter and said "hold this please." I took a few steps back and began to set up my camera. Confusion didn't begin to describe the look on his face.
"Um, we're not part of the picture day event" the man said. "Oh, I know -- hold still please" I replied. He then gave me a half-smile and said, "Oh, you must be from Spokane!" "Nope. Can you move your head to the left please?" "Seattle?" "Never been there. Raise your cap just a bit." I snapped the above picture while he was still trying to figure out why this guy from Salt Lake City shoved a baby into the arms. You can clearly see that "what in the heck is going on?" look on his face.
Now, I wasn't just a Senators' fan, I was A SENATORS' FAN. I knew every stat of every player who ever wore the expansion team's uniform. I knew all about this guy.
Now he was shaking his head in disbelief. "Obviously you know who I am. Who are you?" I smiled and said, "Just another fan who'd loved to have had the chance to beat the hell out of Bob Short when he made that trade in 1970."
The man dropped his head and began to laugh. "If you want to beat up Bob Short, you must be from Washington," he said, still shaking his head. He put my baby onto his left shoulder and walked to me with his arm outstretched. "Hi, I'm Joe Coleman" said the lanky former pitcher with still a "tinch" of his Massachussets accent.
We talked for about 15 minutes before the "Picture Day" event came to an end. He told me that he really enjoyed his time in Washington, and yes, he couldn't believe that he went 3-0 with three complete games to start off his major league career. Coleman told me that - at first anyway - he was saddened to move on to Detroit, but he began to realize that he moved with a large part of his team, so at least he wouldn't be lonely, and maybe, just maybe, he'd have a chance to finally win a pennant. I asked him about Ted Williams. He said that during spring training of 1969, Williams scared him to death. "I was 22 for crying out loud -- just a kid, really. And me, being a kid from Natick, playing for a guy I grew up watching, a guy my Dad pitched against? It was crazy (his dad, Joe Coleman Sr. was a pitcher for the Athletics for many years and finished his career with a 52-76, 4.38 record). Over the next three years, however, he grew to appreciate Williams and his baseball knowledge.
Was Frank Howard as nice as he seemed? "Nicer." Who was the better left side of the infield, Mark Bellanger / Brooks Robinson or Eddie Brinkman / Ken McMullen? "No one was better than Robinson but Kenny was the best of the rest. Eddie was better than Mark, and was a much better hitter in '69-'70." Could Hondo have been a better fielder if he practiced more? (smile) "Well, Frank was never much for practice, but then he didn't need it usually." What did you think of your trade when you first heard about it? "At first, I thought it was one-sided like everyone else, but not as much as you might think. I believed that Denny (McLain) would regain his "stuff" and win 15-20 games for Washington in '71. I thought Toby Harrah was close enough to take over at short or third, so they really needed to replace only one starting infielder." I didn't think it was a great trade, but not a bad one. I guess I was wrong."
I got the impression that no one had asked Coleman these questions for some time, and that he enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Although he had three or four outstanding years for the Tigers, he was never a household name, especially in Spokane Washington. I think he actually enjoyed the time we spent talking about his past.
I shook his hand and told him I enjoyed coming to RFK and watching him play. I had gotten about five or six steps towards the stands when he said, "Hey!" I turned and looked back to see that he had walked towards me. He put his hand out one more time and said, "If you paid those ticket prices at RFK, I guess I can 'comp' you a few tickets now." For the remainder of the series, I got into Derks Field free, thanks to Joe Coleman, former Senator.
Coleman didn't just burst on to the scene in 1965; much was expected of the kid. Most of us with graying hair remember that Rick Monday was the first pick of the first major league baseball amateur draft that year. Few remember, however, that Coleman was selected by the Senators with the #3 pick, just after the Met's Les Rohr.
Coleman was terrible for Burlington of the Carolina league that first year, going 2-10, 4.56 in 12 starts. Amazingly, Coleman got a September callup (probably a P.R. move by the Senators) and got an opportunity to start two games. Two amazing games. Coleman completed both of them, allowing an average of eight baserunners per 9 innings. In 1966, following a 7-19, 3.75 season at 'AA' York, Coleman got the opportunity to pitch another game in Washington. Again, he pitched a complete game, giving up just six hits and two runs. In his first 27 major league innings, Coleman allowed a total of four runs.
During the remainder of his time in D.C., Coleman was slightly below average, going 40-50, 3.68. In the next four years with the Tigers, however, Coleman blossomed, going 58-50, 3.48. His ERA was a little better, but his accomplishments clearly were helped by playing with a much better team. Following a couple of sub-par years with the Tigers, Coleman became a baseball gypsy, playing with the Cubs, Athletics, Blue Jays, Giants and Pirates before finally retiring in 1979 at the young age of just 32.
He was a pitching coach in 1981, and he is a pitching coach today. Since 2000, he has been the pitching coach for the Durham Bulls. Baseball has been Joe Coleman's life since his earliest days when he watched his father pitch for the Philadelphia Athletics at Fenway Park.
His father opened a sporting goods in their home town of Natick after retiring in 1955. The sign read "Joe Coleman & Son" in hopes that Joe Jr. would one day take over the business. It never happened. Instead, Coleman followed his father's other footsteps and became a professional baseball player instead. His father closed down the store a year or two later.
Was Joe Sr. saddened by his son's decision? No way - it was a "win-win" situation. His son could have followed his father into the family business, or he could have followed his father and become a major league pitcher. Either way, pappa Coleman must have been very, very proud.
Note: I was opening some boxes looking for a Christmas ornament when I came across the pictures I took at Derks Field that day, in addition to the program that had all the notes of my talk with Coleman. I knew that If I didn't write them down, I would have forgotten them.
My name is Eric Pastore and I own a baseball stadium museum called
We are seeking photographs of now demolished ballparks and I see you have a few of Derks Field. Please let us know if you'ld be willing to share any photographs of this now demolished ballpark (or any others that you may have. Ogden maybe?)
Please let me know... firstname.lastname@example.org is my email.
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