'The Streak': 25 years later, the Trappers' record-setting performance still stands tall
A friendship was born, but the reality of competing with organizations like the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants was no easy task. Schley had to rely on contacts and his scouting network to find players, all the while funding much of the initial costs associated with starting the team with his personal American Express card. Despite these challenges, Schley was not discouraged. With his management team in place, Schley and his staff were now ready to begin building a team.
"We told Van we need strong pitching and offense, and he listened," Gilligan said. "We had no idea what we would get in terms of players defensively, but I knew we were going to hit."
Through Schley's Texas Star baseball network, Gilligan set up a series of open tryouts, posted in such publications as Baseball America, for would-be players who could show up and show what they had. The tryouts were held in such places as Malibu, Calif.; Beaumont, Texas, and Miami — with 100 to 150 players participating in a series of drills to determine if any had the skills Gilligan sought.
Although only a small number who attended the tryouts were invited to then practice with the team, the opportunity for the experience was an investment many aspiring, young players could not pass up. Plus, it was good publicity for Schley and his fledgling team.
At the open tryout in Salt Lake City, the players came in all shapes and sizes to try for their shot at playing professional baseball and the chance to earn $500 per month — plus the $11 a day in meal money.
"We had one guy who had been on a three-day bus ride from Pittsburgh show up at Derks Field at 6 a.m. ready to show how good a pitcher he was and another player who wore overalls and work boots to the tryout," remembers Dave Baggott, who played in 1986 for the Trappers and then moved to the front office as assistant general manager in 1987. "It was certainly a broad spectrum of baseball talent that came to these open tryouts."
But most of the players who made up the '87 Trappers played college baseball and came from recognized programs with a solid pedigree. For various reasons, though, they'd been overlooked and were not selected in the draft.
"No manager gets the kind of players and personalities that I had on that '87 team," Gilligan said. "Jimmy Ferguson had that movie-star smile, hit .329, and Colston, well, I can't tell any of the stories about Frank that you can print. But he was a character, and he led the league hitting nearly .400 that year. All of the players brought some element of character and personality to the team. That was key to our team chemistry."
In retrospect, the real benefit to the Trappers was the focus that Schley, Gilligan and Moss put on those overlooked college players. Many of the players who were recruited were all-conference or led their teams in any number of statistical categories. Some were just coming off playing in the College World Series, while others had been selected from other teams in the minors.
How did this all factor into the psyche of the team?
"Many of our players were obviously scouted by the heads of their major league organizations, and for some reason they were overlooked," Gilligan said. "It didn't mean these weren't good players, it just meant that they felt another player was a better fit for their situation.
"What drove this group of players," Gilligan added, "was the fact they hated to lose — that's what motivated them."
In the end, the chemistry experiment would be put to the test as the Trappers ended up playing against what the establishment deemed future major league stars.
Randy Kerdoon, the radio play-by-play man for the Trappers that year, recalls how he became the Trappers' announcer.
"I was doing (Salt Lake) Golden Eagles hockey games and was offered to do play-by-play for the Trappers for $25 a game," he said. "I loved baseball so much that I took the job. Looking back, I'm glad I did.
"At the start of the season," Kerdoon continues, "we didn't know what we had. I was just trying to learn all the players' names. We were all in the minor leagues, trying to prove ourselves. We were all looking to get to the major leagues."
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