The opening homestand of 1999 at Lake Olmstead Stadium has been a homecoming of sorts for several former Augusta GreenJackets.
In the offseason, the Hickory Crawdads reached a new two-year player development contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the GreenJackets' parent club from 1989-1998.
While the Jackets' new affiliation with the Boston Red Sox has been greeted with open arms by longtime fans, the ties to the former Augusta players now playing for the Crawdads and throughout the Pirates orgainzation remains.
"It's great to see a lot of the former players back here this weekend," Jackets general manager Chris Scheuer said. "We're excited, of course, about being with the Red Sox now, but we also had a great relationship with Pittsburgh."
Four former Jackets were in the Crawdads' lineup in Game 1 of the series on Friday -- pitcher Clint Johnston, catcher Franklin Anderson, catcher/designated hitter Rico Washington and outfielder J.J. Davis. When the suspended game resumed on Saturday, 1998 SAL All Star Paul Stabile, the ace of the Jackets staff during the first half last season, came on in relief.
Among the other former Jackets now with the Crawdads is Alex Pena, who played for parts of three seasons as an outfielder in Augsuta and was converted to a pitcher in the offseason after hitting 98 mph in the Florida Instructional League. The Pirates feel the 21-year-old has a chance to make it to the big leagues as a pitcher and added him to the 40-man major league roster.
The Pirates also made several other organizational changes in the offseason. After a long affiliation with the Carolina Mudcats of the Class AA Southern League, the Pirates' new Class AA affiliate is the Altoona (Pa.) Curve, managed by Marty Brown, who skippered the Jackets last season. Scott Lovkamp, the Jackets' pitching coach the past two seasons, is also now in Altoona.
The Curve also feature several former Jackets, including shortstop Matt Bryant, outfielder Garrett Long and pitchers Paul Ah Yat, Bronson Arroyo, David Daniels, Kane Davis, Aaron France, Sam McConnell and Brian O'Connor.
At high Class A Lynchburg, there were 21 former Jackets on the opening-day roster, including 1998 team MVP Kory DeHaan, catcher Lee Evans, first baseman Eddy Furniss and pitchers Carlos Alvarado, Andy Bausher and Mike Gonzalez.
The HillCats are managed by former Jackets skipper Scott Little, who spent the 1998 season in Pittsburgh as a bench coach.
Rob Mueller covers minor league baseball for The Augusta Chronicle.