Greatness and Disappointment

Tom Nichols will continue to join us to add insight on Mobile BayBears players as we produce our scouting reports on the San Diego Padres minor leagues throughout the offseason. In this segment, Nichols talks about past seasons in Mobile and the excitement and disappointments of the minor leagues.

Tom Nichols, entering his eighth season as a broadcaster for Mobile, has seen it all. Along the way, vivid memories have kept him doing what he loves. Who can forget 1998 when Mobile took home the Championship? Nichols calls that the highlight of his career.

"The year we won the Southern League Championship, we were the minor league team of the year. We had Ben Davis, we had Mike Darr and a number of other players who got to the big leagues. Gary Matthews Jr. was on the team that year. That was a great season."

San Diego Padres General Manager Kevin Towers called the 1998 BayBears the best minor league club the Padres had ever had.

In the minors, it is tough to get attached to a player as he shoots through the system. From one week to the next a player never knows where he might end up next, if by merit, or the team decides to go in another direction. The memories will last a lifetime. The Padres have dealt players and although there can't be any regret, there is still a sense of longing to wish them well in their careers.

"Matt Clement and Ben Davis", are two that came to mind that moved on from the Padres organization.

"We had Clement in 1997 and Davis in 98, but we don't worry about that too much because once they come through here, that is somebody else's job. They felt like they got return on both of those at the time the trade was made. I don't get too caught up in that part of it."

Traveling with the team, Nichols feels for a few players who never performed up to the standard they once set in Mobile. Realizing to play in the Majors takes effort every step of the way; it is still disappointing to him to see someone with promise falter.

"There are players over the years that I wished they had been able to perform at a higher level the way they did here.

"The one that might stand out aside from Dennis (Tankersley), we had a pitcher in 98 who won the ERA title that year, Bryan Wolff. He had an ERA of 2.29 and the next closest in the league was 3.29.

"He was exactly a full run below anybody else and the thing I remember most about him was – we won the league championship that year, he was our number one starter and he started game one of both the Western division playoffs and the Championship series so he was our number one starter going in.

"Of those two starts he made, he pitched two complete games and he pitched 17 scoreless innings and he gave up a solo homer to Gable Kapler in a blowout game in the eighteenth inning that he pitched. He threw a nine-inning shutout against Huntsville and then in his next start he threw nine innings and gave up one run against Jacksonville. That is how dominant the guy was."

Wolff was dominant after being moved into the starting rotation on June 2nd of 1998. In his first start, Wolff took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and struck out 11. In the first game of the Western Division playoffs, Wolff came within four outs of a perfect game.

"He was so good that year that he could potentially throw a no hitter on any given night. You really though that maybe this would be a guy who could get it done at a higher level. But he was an older guy, he was 27 when we had him. He never got higher than Triple A."

Wolff won a career-high nine games after making 33 appearances (14 starts) with Double-A Mobile. He went 9-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 133.2 IP, leading the Southern League with his 2.29 ERA and two shutouts and was third with three complete games. He then spent time with Las Vegas, New Orleans and Edmonton in Triple A, never mimicking the success he had in Mobile.

"There are people like that, that you see and pull for over the years and you really hope that good things will happen and sometimes they just never get over the top hurdle.

"A guy we had for a number of years, a little feisty second baseman, John Powers. Powers was our Co-MVP of the 1998 season at about 5'8" tall on a team of big time sluggers and a lot of hard hitters. He is still playing and has never really gotten out of Double A ball. He has had an injury that caused him to miss a whole season, a shoulder injury, and just a guy that played his heart out every time he stepped on the field and was a great Double A player but could never really do it at a higher level."

The former 21st round draft pick Batted .303 with 12 homers and 52 RBI in 127 games en route to a earning a spot on the Southern League All-Star Team as a utility player in 1998, registered a .406 on-base percentage. He missed most of 1999 and was never the same when he returned to action in 2000, posting a .262 batting average in 93 games with Double-A Mobile.

"I wish he could have found the formula to produce at a higher level."

Alas that is the trap with any prospect. First round draft picks often don't pan out as so much can happen between the start of a player's professional career and making it to the show. Each year, expert's rank the top farm systems for Major League teams and many can't miss prospects have, in fact, sent an arrow wide of its mark.

Nichols, a broadcaster with Mobile for the past seven seasons, keeps plugging away. His dream is still to be in a booth at the Major League level. Only so many spots are open and the competition is fierce. Nichols is not one of those can't miss guys, but rather one of the hard workers who is waiting for his break. One day his name may be called and we can cross his name off the list of people we wish would make it to the majors.

Tom Nichols has agreed to help us with our scouting reports for the BayBears players, having seen them play every day. Nichols will also accommodate us with in season reports of who is hot and who is not on the Double A club.

Part I with Tom Nichols

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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