My number five top Wilmington Blue Rocks moment is…
The three championships: 1996, 1998, and 1999.
Blue Rocks fans were spoiled in the 1990’s, as the team was always in the postseason (except for 1997). They had already won a Carolina League championship before I started attending games in 1994.
1996 was obviously my first championship. It was a team with some carry overs from 1995, along with some new blood. Because of Hurricane Fran and the damage she caused to Grainger Stadium in Kinston, North Carolina, the entire best-of-five championship was played in Wilmington.
Game Three, which was a Kinston “home” game, went to the Indians, as David Miller hit a walk-off homerun in the 9th inning. The following night, Matt Smith hit a two-run homerun in the top of the 11th inning for the Blue Rocks. They held on for the victory.
The cool thing about the series finishing in Wilmington was getting to watch the players celebrate on the field, with champagne and beer flying everywhere.
1998’s championship was special because there were quite a few carry overs from the previous season that statistically was awful. It was another great series, which I enjoyed because I had the chance to see Winston-Salem alot as I was visiting colleges in the Carolinas.
The Warthogs had some thump in their lineup, led by Joe Crede, but the Blue Rocks pitching was up to the challenge. Outside of the first game of the series, the final three were decided by one run and the winning team did not score more than three runs. The lone loss was a tough one, as starter Todd Thorn allowed the game’s lone run in the 8th inning. The final two games were decided in the Blue Rocks final at-bats.
The Blue Rocks won the series in four games with catcher Paul Phillips earning MVP honors (he only played in Wilmington over the season’s final week).
1999’s championship was a shared one. The Blue Rocks were down two games to one heading into Game Four in Myrtle Beach. Starter Corey Thurman came up with one of his best starts of the season and Joe Caruso hit a three-run homer in the 7th inning to lead the Blue Rocks to victory. That tied the series at 2-2, with the decisive Game Five scheduled for the next night.
However, Mother Nature had other plans. After returning to the hotel after the game, the Blue Rocks were told to evacuate and head out on the road. Hurricane Floyd was heading for Myrtle Beach. Since the Blue Rocks had at least two players leaving for their wedding and no one knew how much damage the hurricane would cause, the Carolina League named the Blue Rocks and Pelicans co-champions.
In the Pelicans two victories, their double-play combination of shortstop Rafael Furcal and second baseman Marcus Giles were the key on offense. In Game Two, Furcal had three hits and a stolen base against hard luck loser Thorn (2-1 loss). In Game Three, Giles went 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
That 1999 championship is the last won by the Blue Rocks.