25-Year Anniversary Series: Top-5 Boise Hawks Teams at Memorial Stadium

MemorialStadium3This season, Memorial Stadium turns 25, with the longtime home of the Boise Hawks seeing countless highlights and lowlights over the years – and some phenomenal players and teams along the way.  As we get closer to Opening Day for the short-season leagues, we plan to take a look at some of the history of the ball park – starting today with a look at my Top-5 Boise Hawks teams to play at Memorial Stadium.

We opened up the nomination process on Facebook and Twitter, and disappointedly, received only one response – thank you to Aaron England for giving us his thoughts, which were actually aligned with mine.

The big question I felt was how to determine the list.  Did a team have to win a Northwest League title?  Did a team have to be chock full of MLB talent?  Did a team have to break a ton of records?  I wouldn’t put the 2008 team on the Top-5 list, but 10 different players have already made their big league debuts from that team alone.  Same goes for 2003, a team that won just 27 games (worst record by a team in Memorial Stadium) – but had eight players head to the big leagues (including Rich Hill and Sean Marshall).  The 1993 team had a record-setting season by Todd Greene (15 homers, 71 RBI), one-upped by the 2006 and Russ Canzler (16 homers, 61 RBI), and upped again in 2011 by Paul Hoilman (17 homers, 44 RBI) – with all three teams making the postseason (only the 1993 won a title).

Of the 25 teams that have played in Memorial Stadium, three I felt were honorable mention picks –

Shields1997: The Tom Kotchman led Hawks had a banner season, as future MLB hurlers Scot Shields (7-2, 2.94 ERA) and Matt Wise (9-1, 3.25 ERA) anchored a rotation that won the Southern Division of the NWL with a record of 51-25.  Offensively, outfielder Casey Child (.325 11 HR 57 RBI) and catcher Jason Dewey (.324 13 HR 64 RBI) both earned All-Star honors – but Boise lost a hard-fought five game series with the Portland Rockies

2004: Tom Beyers led the Hawks to a magical second half run, including eight-straight wins during the Western Idaho Fair road swing – led by first-round picks Ryan Harvey (.261 14 HR 43 RBI) and Luis Montanez (.297 8 HR 48 RBI).  Current Detroit Tigers reliever Darin Downs (5-3, 4.95 ERA) got the win in Game 1 of the LCS against Vancouver, with Oakland A’s set-up man Jerry Blevins (6-1, 1.62 ERA) picking up three saves to sweep the series with the Canadians for the last title by a Boise team.

Amaya32012: After a woeful start to the season, Mark Johnson’s squad made a complete turn-around in the second half of the season, leading the NWL with a 24-14 mark after the break.  The emergence of slugger Dan Vogelbach (.322 10 HR 31 RBI), and all-stars Gioskar Amaya (.298 8 HR 33 RBI, 12 3B) and Stephen Bruno (.361 3 HR 37 RBI) paced an offense that many longtime NWL broadcasters felt was the most potent lineup they’d seen.  Pitchers Tayler Scott (5-1, 2.52 ERA) and Felix Pena (4-2, 3.43 ERA) were stellar down the stretch, rallying the team to beat Yakima in the Divisional Series, before a tough three-game LCS setback to Vancouver.

And now to my Top-5:

Leftwich#5 – 1990: The very first affiliated season in franchise history was a very memorable one for fans in Boise, as the Hawks won their first ever NWL divisional title, recording a franchise-best 53-23 record.  In his first year in his legendary run as manager, Tom Kotchman watched as future MLB outfielder Mark Dalesandro (.335 6 HR 44 RBI) paced an offensive attack, with hurlers Hilly Hathaway (8-2, 1.47 ERA) and Phil Leftwich (8-2, 1.86 ERA – pictured left) helped the squad win a division title – but lost a Best-of-3 series to Spokane in the NWL Championship Series.  Future MLB all-stars Garret Anderson and Troy Percival (then a catcher) made their professional debuts on the team.

#4 – 2001: The first Cubs’ affiliated team ran roughshod over the East Division by 13 games, posting a record of 49-27.  All-star outfielder Keto Anderson (.376 6 HR 41 RBI) set a franchise record for batting average, while all-star first-baseman Brad Bouras (.349 6 HR 60 RBI) had a big year as the Hawks hit .291 as a team.  On the mound, future big league standouts Dontrelle Willis (8-2, 2.98 ERA), Angel Guzman (9-1, 2.23 ERA), and Sergio Mitre (8-4, 3.07 ERA) provided a formidable rotation for Steve McFarland’s squad.  However, in the LCS, the Hawks ran into a tough Salem-Keizer squad anchored by Jesse Foppert and Noah Lowry, and were swept in the series, 3-0.

Percival#3 – 1991: The 1991 season marked the first championship for the Boise franchise, as Kotchman led the Hawks to a 50-26, winning the Southern Division by eight games over Eugene.  Led by the bats of future MLB players in OF Chris Pritchett (.267 9 HR 50 RBI) and 1B Mark Sweeney (.282 4 HR 34 RBI), with a pitching staff led by hard-throwing Julian Heredia (8-1, 1.05 ERA) and Percival (2-0 1.41 ERA, 12 saves), who was in his first season of pitching, the Hawks rolled swept Yakima in the LCS to win the league title.  The season also was the debut season for future MLB players Orlando Palmeiro and Eduardo Perez.

#2 – 1995: The last of three-straight league titles for Kotchman in the mid-90s was also the last title won by an Angels affiliated team.  The Hawks jumped out to an early lead in the South Division, holding off the Portland Rockies to earn a berth the LCS with a record of 48-27.  All-star pitcher Grant Vermillion (12-3, 1.96 ERA) set a franchise record for wins in a season, while all-star third-baseman Ryan Kane (.276 14 HR 59 RBI) and all-star first-baseman Danny Buxbaum (.329 8 HR 51 RBI) led the offensive attack.  The Hawks rallied to defeat the Bellingham Giants in three games to win the title.  Future MLB hurlers Juan Alvarez and Jarrod Washburn were also a part of the title team.

Nolasco#1 – 2002: This was my first season affiliated with the team, and this was a fun team to watch.  A total of 13 players from McFarland’s squad eventually played in the Big Leagues – including starting pitchers Andy Sisco (7-2, 2.43 ERA), Jae-Kuk Ryu (6-1, 3.57 ERA), and current Miami Marlins ace Ricky Nolasco (7-2, 2.48 ERA).  The team had tough outs up and down the line-up, but OF Kevin Collins (.342 13 HR 37 RBI), 1B Micah Hoffpauir (.301 10 HR 41 RBI), and 3B Donnie Hood (.279 12 HR 42 RBI) led the way.  Boise met the Everett Aquasox in the LCS, with future San Diego Chargers WR Gary Banks throwing out the tying run at the plate to end Game 1 of the series – helping the Hawks to a three-game sweep and their first title from the Cubs’ system.

Remember – these are my thoughts.  Are there any that I missed, would you change the rankings?

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