DURHAM, N.C. – If there’s anyone who can relate to the coming-out-of-nowhere playoff run that the Pawtucket Red Sox have enjoyed, it’s Rick Burleson.
A former Red Sox and PawSox shortstop, Burleson is presently the hitting coach for the Reno Aces. The 61-year-old’s presence in the Eastern Time Zone this week conjures up memories pertaining to Pawtucket’s first Governors’ Cup-producing club in 1973. More than eager to take a stroll down memory lane, Burleson says the ’73 PawSox possessed future major-league contributors by the bushel.
“I believe (Jim) Rice and (Fred) Lynn came up from Double-A at the end of the year and played for us. We had Cecil Cooper, Juan Beniquez, Dick Pole, Lynn McGlothen … Vic Correll was the catcher and Buddy Hunter played second,” recalled Burleson. “It was a good club and we had a lot of guys who eventually played in the big leagues.”
There are some striking similarities between this year’s Pawtucket club and its ’73 brethren. Both squads reached the playoffs despite finishing second in the division race during the regular season. Both teams defeated opponents with better records in the Governors’ Cup finals, though the ’73 team was forced to go the full five games before finally putting Charleston down for good.
While this year’s PawSox partook in a one-game format to decide this year’s best Triple-A outfit, the ’73 squad went from the Governors’ Cup to what was dubbed the Junior World Series, which pitted the champions of the I.L. and the American Association.
“The PCL wasn’t even involved back then, so we wound up playing Tulsa. The series was four out of seven; it wasn’t one game,” Burleson said. “We actually went to Tulsa to start the series and lost Game One before winning the next four.”
Burleson noted that the winning surge the PawSox have enjoyed lately reminds him of several recent MLB World Series victors – teams such as the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals that had perfect timing in terms of heating up and continuing to ride that tidal wave of incredible play all the way to the finish line.
“It’s about who gets hot and making sure that the pitching is rolling and everyone is playing together,” Burleson said. “I think this Pawtucket team is in that category after beating two teams in the playoffs that had better records.”
Nicknamed “The Rooster” by former BoSox manager Don Zimmer, Burleson played seven years (1974-80) with Boston before returning for two years in early 90s as a third base coach under manager and former Red Sox teammate Butch Hobson. His post-playing days have seen him manage in the minors at six different stops including Louisville in 2003-04. The 2012 campaign marked his fourth season with Reno.
“I got to go to the 100th anniversary (celebration of Fenway Park) in April and enjoyed it,” Burleson pointed out. “I hadn’t seen a few guys in 30 years.”
A mini reunion took place at Durham Bulls Athletic Park Monday as PawSox hitting coach Gerald Perry and Aces manager Brett Butler embraced one another behind the hitting cage before chatting for several minutes. In an ironic twist, Perry and Butler were teammates on the 1980 Durham squad, then the Single-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. Later on, they were on the same Triple-A Richmond squad in 1982 before playing together with the big-league Braves a year later.
Asked to provide an anecdote about Perry, Butler said, “He was one of most calming influences on our teams and a guy who went about his business. Whether he went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, he was the same guy. He always had a great smile and cared about pushing his teammates.”
The presence of Butler was also a treat for PawSox skipper Arnie Beyeler, who admits he kept close tabs on Butler’s career and was especially excited when the 17-year pro signed on with the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the 1991 season. Beyeler grew up a Dodgers fan.
“It was a thrill to step on the same field as him and shake his hand,” said Beyeler. “I respected what he did as a player and have heard people say great things about him. Anytime you can talk to a guy that has the résumé he’s got and the way he played the game … I just really respected everything he did.”
Beyeler was looking forward to getting to know Butler away from the ballpark at Monday’s gala at Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, but Perry wound up hedging in to the point that he wound up monopolizing all of Butler’s time.
“He sat and talked with (Gerald),” said Beyeler with a smile. “They’re old teammates so they were huddled up all night.”