Gallagher column: Those days were Unbollweevable

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2013

The first time I heard it was in Clearwater, Fla., during 1996 spring training at the Philadelphia Phillies’ facility.
Roy Majtyka, the manager of the Class A club playing in Kannapolis, told me, “This season is going to be “Un-Boll-Weevable.”
It was then that I realized I was going to be covering a team with one of the best nicknames in professional baseball.
The Piedmont Boll Weevils.

So when the Kannapolis Intimidators hold “Turn Back the Clock Night” on Saturday and salute the Boll Weevils, I’ll think of the personalities who streamed through Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium back then.
Every time Brett Myers’ face would pop up on TV, I would think, “Hey, he was one of us.”
Same thing when Jimmy Rollins would sign another big contract.
When Ryan Madson had Tommy John surgery.
When the 30-for-30 “Run, Ricky, Run” airs on ESPN, I have to remind myself, that yes, that same Ricky Williams played right here after his freshman football season at Texas.
Even now, when Marlon Byrd smacks a home run for the Mets, I think of son Jack’s six-year-old birthday party in August 2000, thrown by vice-president and good buddy Todd Parnell. I still have the picture of Byrd with his arm around Jack.
And of course, there are the souvenirs. Our family never goes to the coast without taking some Boll Weevil beach towels. C’mon, people, you know you’ve still got Boll Weevil stuff packed away somewhere.
“Wow, so many memories,” Parnell responded Wednesday when asked about his Boll Weevil days. “The saying, ‘Unbollweevable’ still rolls off my lips once a week.”

Parnell was brought in for the 1997 season to turn things around attendance-wise. He was a wunderkind, someone who had made Reading Phillies one of the most watched minor-league teams.
He left before the start of the 2002 season, and has moved on to much bigger things. In 2011, for instance, he was named Minor League Executive of the Year after the Richmond Flying Squirrels averaged 6,679 fans. He is still with the team as the chief operating officer/vice-president.
In fact, when he was asked for Boll Weevil memories, he was on a bus headed to the Eastern League All-Star game.
Our favorite characters formed the 2000 Boll Weevils, who produced five future major-leaguers: Byrd and Jorge Padilla, along with pitchers Myers, Madson and Frank Brooks.
We knew this was going to be a fun group at the preseason media day when Myers told a reporter, “Tell the people to come watch me.”
Myers was a 19-year-old bonus baby. Parnell tells the story of Myers “sending the batboy to my office with a note, ‘Tell the GM to move my BMW around to the players’ lot when it’s delivered.’
“My direct and succinct note back to him,” Parnell quips, “was, ‘Tell the player to come ask me personally.’ ”
That team had the best winning percentage in all of pro baseball for much of the summer, finishing 90-47. It was coached by Greg Legg, whose claim to fame is being a member of the Baseball List of Rhyming Names, along with such notables as Don Hahn, Larry Sherry, Paul Schaal, Still Bill Hill, Lu Blue and Mark Clark.

Legg was one of three managers I’ll never forget: the crusty veteran Majtyka, who is in the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame, the always-entertaining Ken Oberkfell and Legg.
Obie was a trip. We’d go to his office after a game for quotes just as all the leftover pizza and hotdogs were being delivered from the concession stand. He’d wash them down with a few brewskis.
“Want a beer, Gallagher?”

No thanks.
Speaking of night life, Parnell can laugh about the time he took some Boll Weevils to a bar during All-Star Week, buying them a few beers, then realizing Rollins was only 18 and shouldn’t be in a bar. For the record, Rollins was not drinking.
Parnell remembers an argument Oberkfell had with an ump named Jack Kennedy, telling him, “that they had shot the wrong Jack Kennedy.”
Uh, I think Obie might have been ejected for that one.

And then, there was Williams, who gave us the Heisman pose on his baseball card. Which was appropriate because he wasn’t much of a baseball player. But when he did get on base, it was eye-opening watching that speed. Class A catchers did not want home-plate collisions with this guy.
Who could forget the fanfare for the 1996 pitchers Rob Burger, Dave Coggin, Anthony Shumaker and Jason Kershner. All but Burger had stints in the majors, but Burger was the one who threw a no-hitter in 1996.
Kershner was the most successful, pitching in 89 games for the Padres and Blue Jays.
Reggie Taylor was a No. 1 draft pick who played for the Phillies and Reds.
Certainly, we can’t forget Eric Schreimann and Kirby Clark, who seemed like they played here for 10 years.

But alas, when looking back, Parnell turned around attendance tremendously everywhere he went but here. Taxpayers weren’t happy with having the team thrown on them without any say in it. One night, as I stood beside Parnell at the front gate, a fan complained about having to pay the parking fee. Parnell reached in his pocket and paid the guy back.
Parnell said it seemed like he was working 20 hours a day in a futile attempt to get advertising and fans in the seats. He eventually had an ulcer so bad, it scared me half to death. I once called Parnell at his home during a game and interviewed him from the press box. The man was in so much pain, it was difficult for him to talk and painful for me to listen.
That was a long, long time ago and life is now good for Parney, one of the funniest, most hard-working and likeable guys you’ll ever meet. He enjoys reminiscing.
“For all the tough times we had, it was still great,” Parnell reports. “And I personally learned so much that I use every day in my career now.”
The attendance still isn’t great. The names of the stadium and the team have changed. But perhaps just that phrase, “Unbollweevable,” will bring back many of the old fans — and many of the good memories — on Saturday night.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or