RIO RANCHO, N.M. — What was happening around the world in 1994?
Let’s see: Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked, the “Chunnel” between England and France was completed, OJ Simpson was involved in a low-speed chase, former Lobo basketball star Luc Longley was enjoying his first season with the Chicago Bulls, Brazil won the World Cup, a 232-day Major League Baseball strike resulted in cancellation of the World Series … and the Albuquerque Dukes won the Pacific Coast League championship. It was their eighth and final PCL title.
The Dukes, managed that season only by former Baltimore Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey, the 1983 World Series MVP, compiled a record of 83-56 that season, finishing second in the Southern Division for the first half, and then first in the second half.
Back then, the seasons were split into two halves, thus creating fan interest for teams who seemed doomed for lousy finishes to get a reprieve with the second half; that’s not done anymore.
The ’94 Dukes socked a team-record 168 homers, four players hit 20 or more homers for the first time in team history and the pitching staff combined for only one complete game. And the team was stellar in August, winning 22 of its 30 games.
Ticket prices were more than reasonable: $4 for a box seat, $3 for an adult/general admission, and $2.50 for an adult and a buck for a child in the drive-in area. Among the ’94 season promotions were four 50-cent hot dog nights, Sunwest Bank Weekend (easy to get free tickets), fireworks nights on July 2 and 3, and on-field entertainment by Billy Bird & Co., Max Patkin and the Blues Brothers.
Longtime fans of those Albuquerque Sports Stadium (1969-2000) teams should remember these standouts from that 1994 squad, from which 27 players had played in or would play in the big leagues:
- Billy Ashley: An outfielder and the PCL homer champ with 37 long balls, 105 RBIs and a .345 batting average.
- Ron Coomer: The sure-handed third baseman who drove in a PCL-high 123 runs and set a team record with 61 multiple-hit games.
- Jerry Brooks: Another outfielder who became the Dukes’ all-time leader in RBIs, with 310 for his years in the Duke City; he was voted the team’s Most Popular Player.
- Todd Hollandsworth: Another outfielder and later Colorado Rockies outfielder who put up some great numbers: .285 batting average, 19 homers and 91 RBIs.
- Greg Hansell: The right-handed hurler had the best winning percentage in the PCL that season (.833), going 10-2, and was second in ERA (2.99).
- Todd Williams: The Australian closer who was 4-2 with a 3.11 ERA and 13 saves.
- Tom Prince: The former Pirates catcher set a single-season record for homers by a catcher, with 20.
- Mike Busch: The third baseman, later crossing strike lines in 1995, clobbered 10 homers in July, with three in a July 23 game in Vancouver.
In the postseason, the Dukes beat Colorado Springs three games to one in the Southern Division playoffs, then needed five games to beat Vancouver for all the marbles. The Dukes had lost two of that series’ first three games.
In alphabetical order, here are the Dukes on the Opening Day roster: Don Barbara, Bill Bene, Jerry Brooks, Mike Busch, Roger Cedeño, Ron Coomer, Omar Daal, John DeSilva, Rick Gorecki, Kip Gross, Greg Hansell, Todd Hollandsworth, Matt Howard, Ron Maurer (who in the Labor Day game of 1995 played all nine positions!), Mark Mimbs, Hector Ortiz, Al Osuna, Jose Parra, Tom Prince, Eddie Pye, Rudy Seañez, Jody Treadwell, Ben Van Ryn and Reggie Williams.
After the season, Ashley and Hansell were named, respectively, the Los Angeles Dodgers Organization Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year. Ashley was also the PCL’s Player of the Year and USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year.
Prior to the 1995 season, the Dukes were looking into making the Sports Stadium a smoke-free environment. Dempsey was back as the skipper, but there would be no more PCL championships for the Duke City — at least through the 2019 season.
And after the 2000 season, there were no more Dukes, either, and no pro baseball in Albuquerque the next two seasons — and in time for the 2003 season, we had Isotopes Park and the top affiliate for the Florida Marlins.