On a shelf in my parents’ living room, there is a baseball signed by every attendee of the 2004 New Hampshire Baseball Dinner. Some of the names are starting to fade, but most are still clearly visible. Jim Rice. Johnny Pesky. Rick Wise. Butch Hobson. Bill Monbouquette. It’s one of those items that is pretty cool to have, even if the actual monetary value is probably nonexistent.
In addition to some of the big name stars who signed balls for fans that night, there were a couple of relative nobodies, minor leaguers who had played their high school ball in New Hampshire and were now working their butts off for the opportunity to play in the major leagues.
Manchester’s David Williamson (for some reason, all the stats sites refer to him as “Willie” Williamson) was a former seventh round pick by the Cardinals out of UMass-Lowell who was starting to run into some serious and confusing trouble. Like Steve Blass, Mark Wohlers, and others before him, Williamson was a pitcher with immense physical talent who, somewhere along the way, had forgotten how to throw strikes. In 2002, with the Low A New Jersey Cardinals, he appeared in six games, all starts, posting a 2.25 ERA, 10.13 K/9, 7.13 BB/9, and a 1.29 WHIP in 24 innings pitched. His line the following year? 17 games, four starts, 9.90 ERA, 7.20 K/9, 15.30 BB/9, 2.45 WHIP in 20 innings pitched. In 2004, he ended up at the end of the world, in Nashua, pitching for the Pride, hoping to figure out the problem and capitalize on his potential. Didn’t happen. I distinctly remember watching him in one of the three games he pitched – he got two quick strikes on one of the hitters he faced, then hit the backstop on the fly with his next pitch. He ended up appearing in a total of eight games between Nashua and Pennsylania (the league’s traveling team, which really WAS the end of the world for most guys), walking 31 batters in 7 2/3 innings. Just like that, his career was over.
The other minor leaguer at the dinner that night was Litchfield’s Kyle Jackson, a 32nd round selection by the Boston Red Sox in June 2001. Unlike Williamson, Jackson has achieved limited success at the minor league level; for awhile, he was even included on Boston’s 40-man roster. He suffered a setback in 2007, however, going 4-9 with a 5.99 ERA in 42 relief appearances at AA Portland. Now 25 and in his seventh minor league season, Jackson’s career is at a critical stage. Will he finally follow in the footsteps of Charlie Zink and Chris Smith (Portland’s “Governor” and “Mayor”, respectively, as Kevin Gray tells us at the beginning of a story on Jackson in today’s Union Leader), who left the Sea Dogs after a combined nine seasons with the team, moving down the highway to AAA Pawtucket? Or does Jackson’s story end before he walks down the tunnel, through the dugout, and out onto the impossibly green grass of Fenway Park? At this point, only time will tell.