Farewell, Jason Hammel!April 6, 2009 at 12:52 am | Posted in Baseball, Rays | 4 Comments
Since their amazing run to the 2008 World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays have parted ways with Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske, Rocco Baldelli, Jonny Gomes, Edwin Jackson, and Trever Miller. Today, they said goodbye to another member of the 2008 team, Jason Hammel, who was traded to the Colorado Rockies for a promising 21-year old minor league pitcher, Aneury Rodriguez. Hammel lost the battle for the 5th spot in the starting rotation to Jeff Niemann, who does have a much higher upside. Niemann was the #4 overall pick in the 2004 draft, he’s finally healthy after overcoming several injuries, and he’s proven all that he can in the minor leagues. However, he’s just keeping the #5 starter role warm for David Price.
Anyway, it’s sad to see Jason Hammel go. He’s responsible for one of my best all-time baseball memories. First, here’s some background. Hammel was the Rays’ 10th round pick in the 2002 draft, and he quickly emerged as one of their top pitching prospects. By 2005, he was dominating in Double-A for the Montgomery Biscuits, and other than the injury-plagued Niemann, he was the Rays’ top pitching prospect. He completely overshadowed James Shields in the Montgomery rotation that year. He was promoted to Triple-A Durham at the end of 2005, and I remember excitedly making a trip to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch him pitch for the first time.
However, it was during the 2006 season that Hammel created the memory that will stay with me for many, many years. It was July 16, 2006, exactly two weeks after my wedding. My wife and I had recently gotten back from our honeymoon in St. Lucia, and we were busy sending out thank-you notes for wedding gifts and trying to return to normalcy after our whirlwind wedding and honeymoon experiences. I suggested that we go to the Bulls game that day, and we invited two friends of ours to come with us. The Bulls were playing the Columbus Clippers, who at the time were the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate. I remember that it was a beautiful day for a baseball game. It was about 85 degrees with the sun shining, and we had great seats on the first base side. And Jason Hammel was on the mound.
Hammel was pitching brilliantly, and the Bulls took a 4-0 lead over the Clippers. Around the 4th inning, I commented that he hadn’t given up any hits yet, and I explained what a no-hitter was to my wife. I told her how rare it was and that I’d never seen one in person. The innings continued to go by, and Hammel continued to not allow any hits. I was beginning to think that this could be a truly special day. By the 8th inning, Hammel’s pitch count was getting high, and I could tell that he was laboring a bit more, but he continued to not give up any hits. After getting one out in the 9th, Bulls manager John Tamargo needed to take Hammel out of the game. After all, he was a highly regarded prospect, and this was the minor leagues. The Rays organization doesn’t like to take chances with potential injuries. Although many fans grumbled, Hammel got a loud standing ovation as he walked back to the dugout. Juan Salas entered the game in relief. Due to a combination of walks and errors, Salas did give up a run in the 9th, but he didn’t give up any hits. The Bulls won the game 4-1, and the no-hitter was complete! I was absolutely thrilled to have seen a no-hitter in person!
Hammel got his first shot in the major leagues at the end of 2006, and he split 2007 between Durham and Tampa Bay, becoming a fixture in the Rays starting rotation by the end of that season. In 2008, he was in the big leagues for good, starting out as the #5 starter, and then becoming the long man in the bullpen after Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza returned from the D.L. He proved to be an effective long reliever, but my favorite Hammel memory from 2008 came on September 10, in the heat of the pennant race at a game in Boston. The game went into the 14th inning before Carlos Pena hit a home run in the top of the 14th to give the Rays the lead. They exhausted the bullpen, using seven different pitchers, before giving the ball to Hammel in the bottom of the 14th to save the game. Hammel was accustomed to being a long reliever, but he was effective and picked up his first career save in an extremely crucial game.
I wish Jason Hammel nothing but success with the Rockies. I hope that he finds a way to pitch well in the thin air of Colorado. Here are some of my photos from that glorious day back in 2006…
I took the picture of the starting lineups as I was leaving the stadium. I figured that it would be interesting to look at the lineups years later to see who was in the game. The Bulls lineup was headlined by B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes, and it also included future Ray, Ben Zobrist. But take a look at who was hitting third for Columbus – Carlos Pena! Pena had fallen on hard luck after a few decent seasons in Detroit. He had been with Columbus all year, and he’d be released by the Yankees later that summer. He then signed with Boston, and he played for both Triple-A Pawtucket and the Red Sox at the end of the season before they released him too. The Rays picked up up from the scrap heap before the 2007 season, and he just barely made the team after an injury to Greg Norton. He went on to hit 77 home runs and drive in 223 runs for the Rays in 2007 and 2008, making it hard to believe that back in 2006, he was stuck in Triple-A on a team that was no-hit by his future teammate Jason Hammel!