Gary Pellant Has The Inning Of His Life: My Most Memorable Minor League Game
As we all wait for the return of baseball, we want to remember some of what has made us fall in love with baseball. Baseball America staffers are writing about the most memorable games they have experienced in person. We want to hear about your most memorable games as well. Email your memories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been watching minor league baseball for a long time. Like, more than 50 years. (Yes, that long!)
My first introduction to minor league ball was when my dad took us to historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa., to see what was then the Mets' Double-A affiliate, with many of those players becoming part of the Miracle Mets roster a few years later. In the intervening years I’ve seen a lot of memorable games and watched many of baseball’s best prospects in their formative years.
But the game that most stands out in my memory banks involved few players who subsequently made it to the big leagues. It was a Carolina League game on April 30, 1979, between the visiting Salem (Va.) Pirates and the Alexandria (Va.) Dukes, then an affiliate of the Mariners. In looking back at the lineups, only one player who saw action at Alexandria’s Four Mile Run Park that night made it to the big leagues.
That 1979 game remains my fondest minor league memory because of the performance of one player—Alexandria third baseman Gary Pellant—who had the game of his life.
Or rather, the inning of his life. In the seventh inning of the game, the then-23-year-old, switch-hitting Pellant homered from both sides of the plate. The feat sent researchers scurrying to find out whether that had ever been accomplished before.
Pellant didn’t have a very long playing career, but he’s a baseball lifer who has worked in the game every year since then. More on that later, but let’s first set the stage on how Pellant wound up in Alexandria.
The Alexandria franchise was formed the previous year when the Carolina League expanded from four to six teams. First known as the Alexandria Dukes, the 1978 team did not have a major league parent organization for their debut season. They were considered an independent team consisting of unaffiliated players, many of whom were area college players looking for one more shot at the game.
The franchise was mostly ignored by Washington D.C. area baseball fans, drawing hundreds of fans rather than thousands. Their home park, situated behind an elementary school in an older neighborhood of Alexandria, wouldn’t come anywhere close to meeting the minimum requirements now in place for minor league facilities with its metal bleachers and clubhouses that were just classrooms in the elementary school.
But for all of its problems, Four Mile Run Park remained the home to the Alexandria club for six seasons before the franchise moved 20 miles to the south to a brand-new stadium in Prince William County.
With the ballpark being just a short distance from where I lived at the time, my roommates and I split a couple of season tickets, attending just about every home game during the life of the Dukes franchise.
Alexandria aligned with the Mariners organization, then in its third year of existence, in 1979, replacing their Stockton, Calif., affiliate at the high Class A level, and took on the Mariners name to replace the Dukes moniker. As a relatively new organization, the Mariners needed to add depth to their minor league system, so after a spring training tryout, Pellant and three of his Dukes teammates signed with Seattle and returned to Alexandria.
The 1979 team also had some promising prospects on its roster, most notably outfielder Tito Nanni, the sixth overall pick in the 1978 draft, and catcher Dave Valle, a second-round pick from the same draft who went on to a 13-year big league career.
Pellant was the veteran in the Alexandria lineup, more of an organizational depth piece than a true prospect. He turned out to be their best hitter in 1979, leading the team in batting average (.279), home runs (18) and RBIs (70). His 18 long balls also led all Carolina League hitters and his .847 OPS ranked third overall.
But Pellant’s season accomplishments paled in comparison to what he did in the seventh inning of the game on April 30.
Very little action of note happened in the first six and a half innings of the game. Alexandria scored four runs in the third inning before yielding two runs on no hits to Salem in the top half of the fourth. The Mariners then added three more runs in the fifth to take a 7-2 lead. Alexandria starter Donald Minnick, a second-round pick in the regular phase of the 1979 January draft, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before yielding an infield hit to Salem shortstop Drew Macauley, the No. 9 hitter in the Pirates' order.
Right after the seventh-inning stretch, it was time for Pellant to make history.
Pellant had walked in his first three trips to the plate, later recalling that he had yet to swing the bat up to that point. Leading off the inning and batting righthanded against Salem southpaw reliever Jose Calderon, Pellant smashed a pitch over the left field fence.
“He (Calderon) was a hard-throwing lefty, kind of wild,“ Pellant said. “He tried to get a fastball by me, and I got it.”
The Alexandria batters just kept hitting, plating seven runs while making only one out. Two pitching changes later, righthander Luis Jimenez came on to get Nanni to ground out to second base for the second out.
That brought Pellant to the plate for his second time in the inning, this time batting from the left side.
I can honestly say that I quickly realized the significance of the moment. You might even say that I called the shot. With Pellant in the batter’s box taking his warmup swings, I tapped my roommate on the arm and said something to the effect of, “If he hits a home run now, we might see something that’s never happened before.” The words were barely out of my mouth when Pellant smacked a long fly ball well over the fence in right-center, the ball disappearing into the night.
“I think that was a bad breaking ball, down and in,” Pellant said. “It wasn’t a fastball. I just put a swing on it, totally shocked that I was coming up for a second time in the same inning. My whole goal was not to strike out.”
Alexandria plated 12 runs in that seventh inning. Salem tallied five in the eighth, but the Dukes added one more run in the bottom half of the inning to finish the 20-7 victory.
Yes, it really happened. Two home runs in the same inning, one while batting righthanded and the other batting lefthanded. Had it ever happened before in the history of professional baseball?
Pellant’s accomplishment made the sports page of The Washington Post, which reported that it was believed to be a first in professional baseball. Through the efforts of Alexandria public address announcer Robert Siegrist, news of the feat got a mention on Paul Harvey’s nationally syndicated radio show. The bat that Pellant used, one that he borrowed from Valle, was sent to the Hall of Fame.
A few days later it was revealed that a switch-hitting outfielder named Ellis Burton had accomplished the feat in 1961 while playing for the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs. Eventually, major leaguers Carlos Baerga (1993) and Mark Bellhorn (2002) did the same thing in MLB games.
The fact that Pellant wasn’t the first doesn’t diminish the accomplishment. It was truly a memorable experience, both for Pellant and for the few fans at Four Mile Run Park who realized the significance of what he had done.
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“I started getting inundated with phone calls from friends and family in California,” Pellant remarked, primarily because of the mention that he got on Paul Harvey’s show, adding that the national radio exposure generated a lot of interview requests.
Pellant advanced to Double-A in 1980 before moving on to other roles within the Mariners organization. His last playing experience came in 1983 as an occasional fill-in while serving as a player-coach with Seattle’s Midwest League affiliate. He managed the Mariners' short-season affiliate in 1984 and 1985 before starting a scouting career in 1987 that continues to this day. He currently is a pro scout with the Tigers.
The story could end here, and I’d still have such fond memories of that special night in 1979.
But wait, there’s more.
During the 2011 season, long after I had started doing photography for Baseball America, I traveled to Albuquerque for a couple Triple-A games featuring the visiting team from Omaha, a roster filled with Royals prospects ready to make the next step to the big leagues. Meeting up with me in Albuquerque was Jason Grey, now a pro scout with the Rays but then a baseball writer for ESPN.com.
After batting practice was over, I headed to the press box for the pregame media meal. Grey was already there and introduced me to a White Sox scout who he referred to as Gary. I shook the scout’s hand and said it was nice to meet him, before looking at his scout badge and noticing his full name.
My eyes popped out, and I said, “You’re Gary Pellant! I was there in Alexandria 32 years ago when you hit the two home runs in one inning, one righthanded and one lefthanded.” I added something like how it was such a special moment for me to witness that feat and that it was so great to meet him after all these years. The expression of amazement on Pellant’s face matched my own.
“For a split second, Pelly looked like he was in shock,” Grey said. “For the next minute, all he could do was just kind of shake his head and say, ‘Wow.’ It was an incredibly cool moment, just something that was awesome to be a part of simply by introducing two people. I remember sitting with him during the game talking about how crazy this happenstance was, and he would just smile and say things like, ‘How about that?’ and ‘Isn’t that crazy?’ To this day, it still comes up every so often in our conversations as if we still can’t believe such a random occurrence.”
Later that year I dug through the boxes in my garage to find my scoresheet from the game, scanned it and emailed it to Pellant. I still run into him quite regularly on the back fields and stadiums of Arizona. We’ve repeatedly shared the story about how we first met and how I had witnessed his special moment of glory back in 1979. Neither of us have grown tired of telling the tale to whomever will listen.
That’s my memorable minor league baseball experience, and I will continue to cherish both the moment when Pellant had his moment of glory as well as when we first met 32 years later.