Former minor league teammates play catch-up at FIBI Old-Timer's Game
Although he hadn't seen Tom McGough in 40 years, Mike Krizmanich recognized his former minor league teammate instantly Thursday night.
The former members of the 1975 San Antonio Brewers, the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, reunited for the first time since that season before the Freeport International Baseball Invitational's annual Sonny Westerman Old-Timer's Game at James E. Swartz Memorial Field.
“I didn't know if he'd remember me or not,” said Krizmanich, 68. “Sonny asked, ‘Do you know who that is?' and I said, ‘Yes, I played ball with him.' Sonny didn't believe it.”
McGough and Krizmanich nearly had a chance meeting 31 years ago when McGough moved to Plum. He bought his Christmas tree that year from Krizmanich's brother, Jim.
The two players originally met when Krizmanich was traded to the Indians' organization in 1975 from the New York Yankees. McGough was drafted by the Indians in 1973 and had reached Double-A by 1975.
“I don't even feel 40 years old, let alone for that to be 40 years ago,” McGough said. “But (he was) just a good, good player, a good, good teammate, the kind of guy you want on a ballclub.”
McGough reached the major leagues by 1977, while Krizmanich retired in 1978 after eight seasons as a minor leaguer in the Yankees', Indians' and Pirates' organizations.
“What I remember about Mike is just an extreme competitor and just a great teammate, in the model of Pete Rose,” McGough said. “Everything he would do would be just that kind of intensity.”
“Tom was smooth as could be,” Krizmanich said. “You knew he was going to make it, it was just a matter of when.”
While McGough is a regular at the Old-Timer's Game, Krizmanich made his first appearance at the event.
The Shannock Valley graduate played against some of Westerman's Freeport teams, and Westerman eventually helped Krizmanich sign his first professional contract in 1971.
“We had the American Legion playoffs here all the time, and there'd always be eight to 10 scouts here,” Westerman said. “(They'd ask), ‘Well, Westerman, are there any good ballplayers around?' I said, ‘Yeah, I've got one boy around here by the name of Mike Krizmanich. He'll hit them up on the hill.'
“Finally, they heard so much that I was telling them, and the Yankees signed him.”
A 5-foot-6 infielder/outfielder, Krizmanich batted .297 across eight minor league seasons before retiring to work for UPS. He played under future Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox in Single-A and Triple-A in the Yankees' organization.
“It was kind of odd being small, but I had a good arm, so it worked out pretty well,” Krizmanich said. “I had pretty good averages throughout my career. I hit the ball pretty well, and that kept me going.”
Krizmanich said he hadn't played baseball in about 30 years, and that streak continued Thursday as he decided not to play in the Old-Timer's Game. McGough also didn't play.
“I don't want to overdo it,” Krizmanich said. “I feel good. I think I could still play, but I've learned from playing some softball about pulled muscles and things like that. I don't want that right now. That's what you've got to be careful of.
“As far as hitting the ball and throwing, I don't think I have a problem with that. As far as running, I learned my lesson: Don't overdo it. I just came here to have fun.”
The game itself, featuring local baseball alumni as well as a couple of celebrities, had its usual light-hearted atmosphere.
Apollo-Ridge baseball coach Joe Rice, playing in the game for the second time, beat out a ground ball for a single — setting a good example for a handful of his players in attendance.
“I love this event; it's one of my favorites,” Rice said. “I get to feel like a kid again. Instead of watching the kids play, I get to be one. That makes it special to me.”
Before the game, Freeport International president Chuck Sarver presented the Mike Westerman Memorial Unsung Hero Award to the family of Kevin Holbein, a longtime supporter of the Invitational who died earlier this year.
“He was always here, and he supported us financially as well,” Sarver said.