“I’m taking you back to my youth here in Burlington at Centennial Field,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “I even brought a prop with me! I took it off the wall from home — Vermont Reds (Eastern League) All-Star Game pennant from July 14, 1986, right here at this ballpark. So today, we’re going to talk about professional baseball here at Centennial Field.”
“The first professional team (to play here) was (the Burlington A’s) back in 1955, and it was an affiliation with the (Kansas City) A’s for one season,” Vermont Lake Monsters media relations director Paul Stanfield said. “The next major league team (to place a minor league affiliate) here was (the Cincinnati Reds) in 1984, with the Vermont Reds. They were here in 1984 through ’87, winning the Eastern League championship — they were a AA team — in ’84, ’85 and ’86. And then in 1988, the Seattle Mariners had their AA team here.”
Perkins asked, “Who were some of the standout players?”
“There are a couple of Hall of Fame players in this group,” Mike Hoey noted.
“Yeah, I mean, when the Reds were here, they had something like 11 players that ended up being on their 1990 world championship team,” Stanfield said. “Guys like Chris Sabo and Paul O’Neill.”
“Barry Larkin! Can’t forget him,” Perkins added.
“Then, when the Mariners were here, both Omar Vizquel and Ken Griffey, Jr. were here,” Stanfield continued. “Ken Griffey, Jr. only played about two weeks, but he was here for two months. He was rehabbing (an injury) for a lot of it.”
“And there’s Ken Griffey, Jr.’s baseball card from his time with the Vermont Mariners,” Perkins noted. “Now, you had a fun story about Ken Griffey, Jr.”
“The teams used to park their cars behind the clubhouse, and there was a foul ball that went back there one night,” Stanfield said. “And all of a sudden, one of the bat boys comes running in and says to Ken Griffey, Jr., ‘Ken, that foul ball went through the back window of your Trans Am!’, and he went running out there.
“After 1988, that team left and went to Ohio. There wasn’t (another minor league) team here until 1994, when Ray Pecor bought a team in the New York-Penn League, which was a short-season (single-A) affiliate, so those seasons only went from June through basically Labor Day. That team moved here in 1994 and was here, in the New York-Penn League, through 2019.”
“(The team has been nicknamed) the Vermont Expos and then, later, the Lake Monsters,” Perkins said.
“Right; it was (an affiliate of the Montreal Expos and then) of the Nationals, once they moved to Washington, through 2010,” Stanfield replied. “And then starting in 2011 through ’19, it was affiliated with the Oakland Athletics. Now, we’re in a collegiate baseball league, the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.
“Now, instead of getting college kids that have just graduated or gotten drafted, we get players who are basically freshmen and sophomores in college — so we’re getting them before they’re getting a chance for them to get drafted. You come out to the ballpark and you watch it, and you don’t really see that much of a difference.”
“You get to see it, Paul, right up close, with the myriad of different things you’ve done here at Centennial over the years,” Hoey observed. “Not just in the Lake Monsters organization — but, as you’ve mentioned, the Expos and Reds prior to that.”
“I came to Vermont Reds games in 1984, and then I started working for that team in ’85,” Stanfield remembered. “I’ve been at Centennial Field a real long time now!”
Perkins asked, “How can people see baseball here at Centennial Field?”
“Obviously, you can come out to the ballpark,” Stanfield answered. “We have — I think it’s 35, 36 home games during the regular season — and you can follow along online through our website.”