Trojans’ baseball alumni have break-out seasons
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 10, 2001
Highlighted by Michael Rivera’s call-up to the Detroit Tigers, the 2001 professional baseball campaign was one of the most lucrative in Troy State baseball history.
Rivera, whose exploits at Double-A Erie have been well documented, made his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 18 and finished the year with the big club. His final numbers included a .333 batting average, two runs, two doubles and an RBI in four games.
Aaron Kirkland, who was a starting pitcher each of the last two seasons for the Trojans, signed with the Chicago White Sox and was assigned to their rookie team in the Arizona Fall League. The Chatom native was named the 13th best prospect after he led the league in ERA, saves and opponent batting average (.158). One of his most impressive stats was his zero unintentional walks in 62 innings pitched. White Sox manager Jerry Hairston said of Kirkland, "he’s a strike-throwing machine, a sleeper and a great find."
Shortstop Casey Smith, who played at TSU from 1999-2000, signed with the Anaheim Angels and was assigned to Single-A Provo where he hit .321 with 11 doubles, a home run and 34 RBI. His efforts earned him a spot on the Pioneer League All-Star team.
Pitcher Jason Bernard went 2-6, with a 3.90 ERA, for the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League. Bernard, who was the TSU ace the past two seasons, finished with 30 strikeouts in 64.2 innings pitched.
Ryan Petersen signed with Boston after being invited to an open tryout in May. He was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Red Sox in Ft. Myers, Fla., where he hit .280 with 11 doubles and 17 RBI in 49 games. The Plantsville, Conn., native was then called up to Single-A Lowell of the NY-Penn League and played in eight games for the Spinners. He had seven hits, two doubles and six RBIs in eight games at third base.
Tom Gregorio, who played catcher at TSU from 1996-99, helped lead the Double-A Arkansas Travelers to the Texas League championship. He finished the season with a one home run and 23 RBI and played a vital role in the Travs’ championship run. After taking the first game of the seven-game series from Round Rock (Texas), Gregorio’s top-of-the-ninth, broken-bat RBI-single gave the visitors from Little Rock the 5-4 victory and a 2-0 series lead. As a result of the events that transpired on Sept. 11, the league board of directors voted to award Arkansas the league title.
Kevan Burns (1999) led the Lancaster Jethawks with a .360 batting average and finished with seven triples, 11 home runs and 45 RBI. Foy Shemwell, who lettered for the Trojans from 1999-2000 and was a volunteer assistant coach last season, hit .289 for Albany, Ga., of the All-American Association. The Albany native helped lead the Alligators to the AAA championship series. Willie Wright (1998) hit .299 in 27 games for the Montgomery Wings.