By JOE McFARLAND
Watching the Houston Astros defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series might have given some baseball fans in Edmonton deja vu.
That’s because the on-field architect for the Astros’ title was a major part of an Alberta baseball championship 20 years ago.
In 1997, the Edmonton Trappers captured the Pacific Coast League title for a second-straight season. And a catalyst for that team was current Astros manager A.J. Hinch.
In his playing days, Hinch was a catcher who made stops in Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit and Philadelphia in his seven-year Major League career. He hit .219 in 350 games, hitting 32 home runs and adding 112 runs batted in.
Before he made it to the big leagues, he made a stop in Edmonton for that fateful 1997 season. He actually spent most of that season with the Modesto A’s in the California League. But he moved his way up quickly to the AAA Trappers to round out the campaign. Hinch hit .376 in 39 games in the province’s capital, adding 4 home runs and 24 runs batted in.
His torrid pace continued into the post-season, and was very evident in the championship series against the Phoenix Firebirds.
In Game 1 on Sept. 8, the Trappers came from behind to knock off the Firebirds 6-5 in extra innings. Former Calgary Cannons outfielder Patrick Lennon scored the winning run for the Trappers, who were down 5-1 going into the bottom of the 6th, but managed to chip away at that lead.
Hinch went 1-for-2 in that game with a two-run double in the 8th as well as a run scored. He also had three walks in the contest.
In Game 2 the next night, the Trappers came away with a 4-2 victory. Hinch didn’t get a hit in three at-bats, but had a walk and a sacrifice fly.
With the three-game sweep on their minds, the Trappers were dismantled 8-2 in Game 3. But Hinch was still a big factor, as he had a double and had both RBIs for the Trappers.
They would close the series out on Sept. 11, with a 7-1 win over Phoenix. Jeff D’Amico was the story in that one, as he threw nearly flawless baseball over more than five innings of work. Hinch went 1-for-4 with a run scored and was also hit by a pitch.
All told, Hinch finished the championship series 3-for-12 (.250) with five RBIs and four walks. Not bad for a guy hitting seventh in the batting order.
The Trappers had some solid talent make their way through Edmonton in 1997, including Tony Batista, Brent Mayne, Izzy Molina and Aaron Small (who threw a no-hitter for the Trappers in August 1996), but it was many of the role players who were able to help get the job done down the stretch.
20 years after that championship run, A.J. Hinch returned to baseball’s promised land, albeit in a different role and a much bigger stage.