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Altoona Curve

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[edit] History

The Altoona Curve were founded in 1999 as an expansion team in the AA Eastern League. The Curve name is in reference to Horseshoe Curve [1], a National Historic Landmark which boasts the "best train watching in America"; the name is derived from the U-turn-type curve trains make while passing through the mountainous region. The Curve name ties the team with the rich history of Altoona, PA as a railroad town; the team is very closely connected with the history of the region. Making their home in Peoples Natural Gas Field, the Curve play in the shadow of baseball's only wooden roller coaster. The ride once belonged to Lakemont Park, an amusement park built in 1894.

On April 2, 2002, the Curve was purchased by an ownership collective headed by Pittsburgh Attorney Chuck Greenberg. The ownership collective featured other notable Pittsburghers hockey great Mario Lemieux, former Pittsburgh Penguin and current (through 2006 at least) head of the Penguin's ownership group, and former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis. The collective also featured Altoona area businessmen Steve Sheetz and Don DeVoris. In 2005, the ownership collective established the State College Spikes as a sister franchise in the New York-Penn League. Both teams are contracted affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates through the 2010 season. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Florida State League affiliates of the Atlanta Braves, are the Curve Ownership Collective's third minor league team.

[edit] Inaugural Game

The first game in Curve history took place on April 9, 1999 in Reading, PA. The game against the Phillies' affiliate was suspended on a rain delay and completed the next day as part of a doubleheader. The Curve lost their first game, 6-2, but made up for it with their first win just a couple of hours later with a 6-4 victory in game two of the April 10 twinbill.

[edit] Team Eccentricities

The Altoona Curve, like many minor league teams, have become somewhat well-known for unique and odd promotions. In 2006, the Curve held promotions such as Frivolous Law Suit Night, in which thousands of fans went home with prizes mocking famous frivolous suits and one fan won his own frivolous law suit with a local law firm. The Curve also hosted several Awful Promotion Nights throughout the season. Events of these nights included Autograph Sessions with Non-Celebrities, competitions where a select group of lucky fans get to try and catch dead fish as they are launched from oversized slingshots, and "Bobbing for Onions".

Awful Night IV of the 2006 season outdid the previous three events. The first 1,000 fans through the gates received an 8x10 color glossy photo of Altoona Curve General Manager Todd Parnell's gall bladder. Mr. Parnell underwent gall bladder surgery in the off season, and was gracious enough to share his experience with Curve fans. One lucky fan actually won the real thing! That's right, at the end of the game a complete stranger went home with the disembodied gall bladder of Mr. Parnell!

[edit] 1999

In their first season, Altoona outscored their opponents 695-649 but Marty Brown's club finished last in the southern division of the EL at 67-73. They drew 323,932 fans, 6th in the 12-team league. While they had no All-Stars, Bronson Arroyo (15-4, 3.65) tied for the league lead in wins and was 9th in ERA. OF Adam Hyzdu (.316/~.387/.612) was fifth in the league in average and probably higher in slugging. OF Tike Redman (.269/~.334/.368) led the EL with 12 triples, scored 84 runs and stole 29 bases in 45 tries. Meanwhile, C-1B-OF-DH Craig Wilson (.268/~.341/.508) joined Hyzdu in the 20-homer club.

[edit] 2000

Rising to fourth in the southern division at 74-68 in their second year under Brown, Altoona drew 333,968 fans (6th in the league). They missed the playoffs by one game. Hyzdu (.290/.405/.554) led the EL in total bases (285), extra-base hits (72), homers (31) and RBI (106) while tying Cesar Crespo for the run lead (96). He drew 94 walks and hit 39 doubles as well. Wilson Guzman (10-4, 3.02, 6th in ERA) and Sam McConnell (9-2, 1.61, not among the ERA qualifiers) were the EL's two All-Star left-handed starters while Hyzdu was an All-Star outfielder. Also playing well was utility man Rob Mackowiak (.297/.332/.449, 18 SB, 82 R, 87 RBI). Hyzdu's number would later be the first retired by the Curve.

[edit] 2001

Altoona fell to 63-79 and fifth in the South in Dale Sveum's first year at the helm. They remained sixth in attendance (348,316). It was not a great year for top prospects going by their initials - J.J. Davis hit .250/.317/.386 and J.R. House .258/.323/.399 with 103 strikeouts. 33-year-old Mike Garcia was one of the bright spots (2-0, 4 saves, 0.45 ERA in 18 games) while Dave Williams was a solid 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA in nine contests.

[edit] 2002

Sveum's team improved to 72-69, 4th in the southern division of the 2002 Eastern League. 363,871 fans showed up, fifth-most in the EL. The season started on a birght note when Adrian Burnside, Neal McDade and Chris Spurling no-hit the high-scoring Akron Aeros 2-0. Overall, Altoona scored 642 and allowed 618. Their .978 fielding percentage led the EL. OF Tony Alvarez was 2nd in the league in average (.318/.361/.483, 37 2B, 15 HR, 29 SB) and made the All-Star team, as did 1B Carlos Rivera (.302/.345/.500, 22 HR, 10th in average). Davis (.287/.351/.526) cracked 20 homers in making significant strides at the plate. Spurling (4-3, 20 Sv, 2.19, 12 BB in 70 IP, .210 opponent average) led the staff.

[edit] 2003

Sveum's team finished second in the southern part of the EL in 2003 (78-63) but fell 3-1 in the playoffs to Akron. Altoona scored 636 while allowing 525, the fewest in the EL. Landon Jacobsen (9-11, 2.93) was second in ERA while All-Star LHP Sean Burnett (14-6, 3.21) was fifth and led the loop in victories. John VanBenschoten (6-0, 2.22), Ian Snell (10-3, 3.33), Brady Borner (4-1, 1.68), Bobby Bradley (3-2, 3.40) and Bryan Bullington (8-4, 3.05) were among the other fine arms on a staff featuring 4 former first-round picks (Bradley, Burnett, Bullington, van Benschoten). They also had a solid all-around offense with OF Vic Buttler (.285/.360/.382, 22 SB), C Ryan Doumit (.275/.351/.434, 38 2B, 77 RBI), 2B Jeff Keppinger (.325/.365/.424), OF Nate McLouth (.300/.386/.411, 85 R, 40 SB in 44 tries), 1B/C Chris Shelton (.359/.478/.641, 21 HR) and 1B/DH Walter Young (.278/.348/.462, 20 HR, 87 RBI). Had he qualified in plate appearances, Shelton would have led the EL in average, OBP and slugging; he was only three homers shy of the league lead.

[edit] 2004

Altoona won the division in 2004 under new manager Tony Beasley; 394,062 fans put them fifth in the EL in drawing power. In the playoffs, they beat the Erie SeaWolves 3 games to 0 but they fell 3 games to 0 in the finals to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, dropping two of the games by one run and the last by two. The Curve outscored opponents 697-636, finishing second to Erie in runs scored. McLouth (.322/.384/.462, 93 R, 166 H, 40 2B, 73 RBI, 31 SB) was fourth in average and led the league in doubles, runs and hits. Outfield mate Chris Duffy (.309/.37/.439, 32 SB, 84 R) was 7th in average and led outfielders in fielding percentage (.993). Snell (11-7, 3.16) was 6th in ERA. Keppinger hit .337/.387/.413 in 81 games before being traded - he won the batting title between his two teams, the first EL multi-team player to win a batting championship in 81 years. Keppinger made the All-Star team. Zach Duke (5-1, 1.58) dazzled in 9 starts. First-round selections Bullington (12-7, 4.10) and Bradley (5-4, 3.11) were less successful than the former low draft choice.

[edit] 2005

With a 671-652 edge in runs in 2005, Altoona finished second in the southern division. Beasley's team fell 3 games to 2 to Akron in the playoffs. 390,239 fans came out, fifth-most in EL once more. Tom Gorzelanny (8-5, 3.26) finished 9th in ERA. The Curve's 155 steals led the league, the vast majority coming from co-league leaders Rajai Davis (.281/.351/.369, 82 R, 45 for 54 in SB tries) and Rich Thompson (.257/.330/.344, 45 for 51 in stealing). The power was provided by 3B Jose Buatista (.283/.364/.503, 23 HR, 90 RBI), 1B Josh Bonifay (.282/.339/.556, 25 HR, 77 RBI) and 2B Craig Stansberry (.238/.314/.470, 11 triples, 18 HR). Matt Peterson (11-9, 5.51) led the league in runs allowed (102).

[edit] 2006

Altoona made their fourth playoff appearance. New manager Tim Leiper's team was 75-64, again second to Akron in the southern division. Akron again beat them in the playoffs 3 games to 2. Altoona scored 607 and allowed 561. Jacobsen (14-9, 3.21) was fifth in the EL in ERA and second in victories. Buttler (.292/.345/.445, 21 SB in 24 tries) led the league with 14 triples and was sixth in average, while OF-1B-DH Brett Roneberg (.303/.379/.430) finished second in batting average. The lone All-Star was Shane Youman (7-2, 1.51, one save in 23 games) while Brandon Knight (2-7, 27 Sv, 86 K in 64 IP, 2.25) led the EL in saves. Three of the top Pirates prospects were called up late in the year - C Neil Walker (.161/.188/.355 in 10 games), OF Andrew McCutchen (.308/.379/.474 in 20 games despite being Altoona's youngest player to that point at age 19) and SS Brian Bixler (.301/.363/.407 in 60 games).

[edit] 2007

Altoona was treated to visits by almost all of Pittsburgh's top prospects in 2007. Walker and McCutchen began the year with the team and were soon joined by slugging 1B Steve Pearce and later OF Jason Delaney; only Delaney finished the year in Altoona. Delaney hit .265/.370/.404, Pearce .334/.400/.586 with 72 RB in 81 games, McCutchen .258/.327/.383 with 17 steals in 18 tries and Walker .288.362/.462 with 30 doubles and 77 runs while playing his first year at third base. Luis Munoz led the staff with a 12-5, 3.73 record while closer Matt Peterson was 4-2 with 29 saves and a 1.97 ERA. Munoz finished 8th in the EL in ERA and Pearce would have led in average had he qualified. Baseball America rated McCutchen the #2 prospect and most exciting player in the EL and Walker the #9 prospect. Peterson was the team's only post-season All-Star selection.

[edit] 2008

Altoona had a miserable year in 2008. They went 65-77 and only the Reading Phillies were worse in the EL. They were outscored 666-539, posting the worst offense in the league, 80 fewer runs than any other team. No one hit more than 12 homers or had more than 52 RBI. Delaney (.292/.403/.422) was the top hitter. Juan Mateo (7-1, 5 Sv, 2.12) led the staff, which was below league average but far better than the offense.

[edit] 2009

Altoona started slowly, only winning a third of their games in the first couple months. The bright spot was Brad Lincoln, a former #1 draft pick, who was posting great ERAs but getting little offensive support. When he was moved up to AAA in late June, Altoona got Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh's first-rounder in 2008. After going 28-54 before Alvarez's promotion, the Curve were 34-26 after he came on board, as he hit .333/.419/.590 for the club, as he fueled their turnaround by himself.

[edit] 2010

Altoona's first game of 2010 drew significant notice as they faced Stephen Strasburg, the #1 pick of the prior draft. They scored four runs in five innings off Strasburg but Rudy Owens and Dustin Molleken could not contain the Harrisburg Senators offense in a loss. Altoona finished with the best record in the West Division at 82-60 then topped both the Harrisburg Senators and Trenton Thunder in the postseason. They were second in the EL in ERA (3.55) thanks to All-Star LHP Rudy Owens (12-6, 2.46, 1st in ERA) and Justin Wilson (11-8, 3.09). Daniel Moskos (3-1, 21 Sv, 1.52) and Michael Dubee (6-2, 5 Sv, 2.24) led the bullpen. The offense was 5th in runs (688) with All-Star catcher Hector Gimenez (.305/.384/.533, 16 HR, 72 RBI in 94 G) leading the way and solid help from 1B Matt Hague (.295/.375/.442, 15 HR, 86 RBI) and 3B Josh Harrison (.300/.345/.398, 74 R, 75 RBI). Wilson was named postseason MVP. Bryan Morris (6-4, 4.25) and Owens were named the league's #14 and #15 prospects, respectively, by Baseball America.

[edit] 2011

2011 marked a big drop-off for Altoona at 64-77, next-to-last in the EL. The staff was in the middle of the pack in ERA (3.95) but the offense tied for last with 574 runs. They did benefit from seeing Starling Marte (.332/.370/.500, 38 2B, 8 3B, 24 SB, 91 R, 18 A), an All-Star outfielder and the EL batting champion. Baseball America named him the #7 prospect in the circuit. Former first-rounder Tony Sanchez hit a disappointing .241/.340/.318. Mike Colla (5-11, 3.70) finished 8th in ERA and Kyle McPherson (8-5, 3.02) just made the top-20 prospect list.

[edit] 2012

In Forbes' second season at the helm, Altoona finished in the middle of the pack at 72-70. Their staff again outperformed the hitters, placing third in ERA (3.65) while the offense's 605 runs tied for 6th in the 12-team league. They again had one All-Star and it was again the league's batting champion, this time SS Brock Holt (.322/.389/.432). The top supporting player was 1B Matt Curry (.285/.352/.480, 34 2B). Among the staff highlights were two first-rounders, Vic Black (2-3, 13 Sv, 1.65, the league leader in games pitched, lowest average and K/9) and Gerrit Cole (3-6, 2.90) while Phil Irwin (4-7, 2.93) also suffered from poor support. Fellow first-rounder Jameson Taillon was excellent in three late-season starts (3-0, 1.59). Cole was picked as the EL's #3 prospect by Baseball America, the team's only one to make the list.

[edit] 2013

Altoona got a new skipper (Carlos Garcia) in 2013 but slumped to 63-79. They had the second-worst record in the EL (one game ahead of the Reading Fightin Phils) and drew 286,227 fans (8th of 12). Alex Dickerson (.288/.357/.494, 36 2B, 17 HR) was an All-Star outfielder, while Justin Howard (.314/.405/.459) and Andrew Lambo (.291/.351/.559, 46 RBI in 58 G) did well in limited time (Lambo due to promotion). Baseball America listed them as having three of the league's top 20 prospects: OF Gregory Polanco (.263/.354/.407 in 68 G, #7), Taillon (4-7, 3.67, #6) and Nick Kingham (3-3, 2.70, #15). Casey Sadler (11-7, 3.31) finished third in the EL in ERA while David Bromberg (6-12, 3.51) was 7th. The team was 5th in the EL in ERA (3.92) but scored the fewest runs (569).

[edit] 2014

[edit] Mascots

[edit] Year-by-Year Record

Year Record Finish Manager Playoffs Hitting coach Pitching coach Coach
1999 67-73 8th Marty Brown Jeff Livesey Scott Lovekamp
2000 74-68 7th Marty Brown Jeff Livesey Bruce Tanner
2001 63-79 10th Dale Sveum Scott Little Scott Lovekamp
2002 72-69 4th Dale Sveum Jay Loviglio Bob Milacki
2003 78-63 2nd Dale Sveum Lost in 1st round John Wehner Jeff Andrews
2004 85-56 1st Tony Beasley Lost League Finals John Wehner Jeff Andrews
2005 76-66 2nd Tony Beasley Lost in 1st round Matt Winters Jeff Andrews
2006 75-64 2nd Tim Leiper Lost in 1st round Brandon Moore Ray Searage
2007 73-68 4th Tim Leiper Brandon Moore Ray Searage
2008 65-77 9th Tim Leiper Brandon Moore Brad Holman
2009 62-80 11th Matt Walbeck Ryan Long Dean Treanor
2010 82-60 2nd Matt Walbeck League Champs Ryan Long Tom Filer
2011 64-77 11th P.J. Forbes Brandon Moore Wally Whitehurst
2012 72-70 6th P.J. Forbes Ryan Long Jeff Johnson
2013 63-79 11th Carlos Garcia Ryan Long Stan Kyles
2014 Carlos Garcia Ryan Long Stan Kyles Miles Durham

[edit] Further Reading

  • Brock Helander: "The History of Baseball in Altoona, Pennsylvania", The Baseball Record Journal, SABR, Volume 41, Number 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 45-49.

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