WASHINGTON – The Nationals have a new Triple-A home for 2021 in Rochester.
But the city in upstate New York is old hat for Fairfax native Tommy Shields, 56, the co-field coordinator in player development with Washington.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Rochester and how much I enjoyed it,” Shields told Federal Baseball this past weekend.
Other Nationals ties to Rochester: reliever Sam Clay, signed last week, pitched for the Red Wings in 2019 when he was a member of the Minnesota system.
“The fans were always supportive, the front office was nice,” Shields added of Rochester.
“I have good memories of the ballpark (Silver Stadium), by the paint factory,” he said.
Red Wing (later Silver) Stadium was Rochester’s home from 1929-1996. Frontier Field, located 2 1⁄2 miles south has been the Red Wings’ home since 1997.
Besides the scenery, Shields said Rochester helped revive his career after a poor season at Triple-A in 1991 with Pittsburgh affiliate Buffalo – also in the International League.
He hit .247 in 1990 with Buffalo then batted .289 and .302 in two seasons with Rochester.
The Nationals were based in Fresno, California for their Triple-A affiliate in the 2019 season and would have been there for 2020 had the minor league season not been called off.
Shields said he made several trips to Fresno during the 2019 season from his home in Lancaster County, Pa.
“They were outstanding,” Shields said of Fresno front office.
“They bent over backward to help the staff and the players. Everything about it was a great experience (but) it was 2500 miles or whatever from D.C.”
The two-year deal between the Nationals and Grizzlies ran out earlier this year.
Nationals’ fans in the DMV who grew up following the Orioles are aware Rochester was the top farm club of Baltimore for 42 years, from 1961 to 2002.
Some of the players who came through Rochester included Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken, Jr. For good measure, Ron Shelton played for the Red Wings in 1970 along with future Major Leaguers Don Baylor and Bobby Grich, among others. Shelton was also in Rochester the following year.
Shelton didn’t make the majors but he directed the iconic baseball film “Bull Durham,” which drew on his time in the minors, though the movie was based on the current Triple-A home of the Rays in North Carolina.
Former Orioles manager Johnny Oates, a member of the athletic Hall of Fame at Virginia Tech, also played in Rochester as a catcher in 1970-71. He died in Richmond in 2004.
Another player for Rochester in 1991 beside Shields was pitcher Mike Linskey, a Baltimore native who was a standout at James Madison University in Virginia.
There was a sad reason why Shields was promoted from Rochester to Baltimore in 1992 – fellow infielder Tim Hulett of the Orioles went on the inactive list after his son, Wayne, age 6, was hit by a car and killed as he was crossing a street in suburban Baltimore in July 1992.
“A terrible reason,” said Shields, who played in just two games that year for the Orioles.
“This, we all know, is a parents’ nightmare,” Orioles pitcher Storm Davis told The Baltimore Sun after the accident.
He played in 1992 for manager Jerry Narron - who is related to Sam Narron, a pitching instructor with the Nationals. Both Sam Narron and Shields were part of Instructional League this fall.
If all goes well Shields will get to go back to Rochester in the 2021 season to help monitor and instruct minor leaguers in Washington’s system.