|In 1991, Stanford's David McCarty was Baseball America's National Player of the Year.|
By Harry Cummins
I remember well the 1993 Pacific Coast League baseball season. It was the year the Portland Beavers led the league with a 87-56 record and were then unceremoniously sold at the conclusion of the year and relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah.
There were many moments and players to celebrate throughout that fateful season. Bernardo Brito hit 20 home runs and batted .339 in 85 games and Pat Mahomes went 11-4 on the mound for the Beavers. The singular moment that stands out from that season, for me, came in April when perhaps the two best prospects in the game faced off in a classic showdown in Civic Stadium in Portland.
I would wager that many of the 1,217 fans in attendance that night may not still remember when David McCarty of the Beavers and Tacoma's Todd VanPoppel were featured in a pitcher-hitter match-up for the ages. Both players were former first-round MLB draft picks. VanPoppel by Oakland in 1990. McCarty by Minnesota in 1991. Both players were recently ranked as the top prospect in all of baseball coming into the game.
On this night, VanPoppel sailed thru the first 6 innings, allowing just 2 hits. Both hits came off the bat of McCarty. Both hits were home runs. The first coming in the opening inning, when the 6'5" slugger lined a lazer into the left-field seats. The second was a prodigious 420-foot blast into the centerfield seats.
Van Poppel left after 6 innings with the score tied 2-2. Suddenly the game lost much of its original appeal. I remember the Beavers went on to win 5-4 on Derek Lee's 2-out, 12th inning home run. Just a few days earlier in the same series, McCarty, the PCL's leading hitter at .460, went 4 for 6 and won another 12 inning game with a single. McCarty played just 40 games in Portland in 1993 and hit .385.
Van Poppel and McCarty would go on to long, but somewhat disappointing, careers in the majors. Neither lived up to the incredible hype they attracted in 1993. McCarty went on to play for 7 different teams over the next 12 years. VanPoppel also played for 7 teams over a 14 year span.
Although the Beavers returned to Portland in 2001 for a final 10 year run in the Rose City, I don't remember another anticipated match-up quite like McCarty vs VanPoppel.
Why do we remember these small, mostly meaningless moments, while so much of significance in left on the cutting room floor of the mind?
Ah, the mystery and magic of memory. Feel free in the comments section below to tell me about the greatest pitcher vs hitter at bats you can recall in that jumble of electrical circuits that constitutes your baseball brain.