B y T o m D a n e h y
THE LEAGUE-LEADING Tucson Toros return home tomorrow night to open their last homestand of the season, a 12-game stretch with Calgary, Las Vegas and Albuquerque which should help them improve on their league-best home record and secure them a spot in post-season play. After falling just short of the first-half crown, the Toros have exploded in the second half, pulling out to a comfortable lead over first-half champion Colorado Springs and powerful Albuquerque.
Should the Toros maintain their second-half lead, they will open up the Pacific Coast League playoffs in Colorado Springs September 6-7, before returning home for the final three games of the best-of-five series September 8, 9 and 10.
Whew, I tried to write the whole column in hackneyed journalism style, but I can only hold my breath for so long. In order to write like that for extended periods of time, you have to either do it for a living or be able to train your mind to think the way Frank Gifford talks. So, if it's all the same to you, I'll just continue this in hackneyed Danehy style.
I'm really a big fan of the entire Toros' organization, from General Manager Mike Feder on down. It's a class organization that knows its clientele, gives them a good product and treats everybody right. And in this day and age, with major-league baseball shooting itself in the foot on an almost daily basis, Feder's success in promoting quality baseball is the equivalent of a Pinto salesman setting sales records right after the news of the rear-end explosions came out.
The Toros expose virtually all of the major-league operations for what they are--collections of greedy, bumbling clods. It's not that there aren't good people in major-league baseball. They're just spread way too thin, like bouncers at a Dead concert.
Things are going well for the Toros, despite a variety of factors which could easily have caused it to degenerate into a tiptoe through a minefield. For example:
The Toros will draw over 300,000 in attendance for the fifth year in a row and should come in right around the 309,000 they drew last year. This despite stumbling out of the blocks when they had to share Hi Corbett with the late-starting Colorado Rockies in the spring training that pretty much wasn't.
You remember the Rockies being in town this year? Me neither. Apparently they drew crowds like they were a Gary Lewis and the Playboys reunion concert.
The brutal (even for Tucson) weather hasn't had any real negative effect. According to Feder, who says that he's one of the few people who don't want it to rain during monsoon season. For him the heat isn't a factor. "We have a thermometer out by the scoreboard and we haven't had a (triple-digit) reading that I can remember. The temperature falls off a good 10-15 degrees between 6 and 7:30."
Plus, the Toros have added a new touch. A couple pleasant young female ushers walk through the stands carrying industrial-strength squirt guns and wet down the crowd upon request. (When I told this to my friend Dave, his eyes sorta glazed over, but then I assured him that it's just good clean family fun.) Feder says they've only had one complaint so far.
The last three half-seasons have been frustrating for the Toros. They managed to fall just short of first place both halves last year and did it again in the first half of this season.
The Toros were in good shape this year when the parent club, the Houston Astros, called up Brian Hunter and Phil Nevin with a couple weeks to go and the Toros' offense suddenly sputtered. Colorado Springs overtook the Toros and grabbed the first half.
Then when the second half started, Albuquerque exploded out of the blocks and looked to run away with it. The Dukes eventually cooled off and the Toros moved into first place and have been there nearly a month.
Hunter remains with Houston and at press time was hitting a blistering .360. Nevin, on the other hand, did his part during his big-league stint to keep costs down by never actually hitting a ball hard enough to where it had to be replaced by the ump. After going 7-for-60, he was sent back down and did some serious damage to his career by cussing out Astros manager Kevin Kennedy.
Nevin has been on and off the injured list since returning to Tucson. The offensive load is now being carried by shortstop Dave Hajek.
Perhaps most importantly, Hi Corbett remains a fun place to be. Lots of parking, clean facilities, decent food and non-stop promotions. Last weekend they had sports-bag night on Friday, a game between soap opera stars and local celebrities on Saturday and free tickets from ABCO on Sunday.
Tomorrow night, they kick off the homestand with Toros cap night, then they have the annual event on the 19th where fans can do the jobs of Toros personnel for a night, from PA announcer to radio play-by-play.
They end the home season with Field of Dreams Night, where they'll give away a car. And believe me, it wasn't easy finding a Corvair in running condition.
Actually, that's nothing compared to finding a professional baseball team worth supporting. But that's just what the Toros are. So, support them.
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