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Hurdle, Kurkjian, and Rhashan / Wow Hot Stove League Audience

For a few short hours last week, it seemed like summer as the “summer game,” baseball, was celebrated at the Williamsport Crosscutters Hot Stove League banquet held at the Genetti Hotel.

The banquet was highlighted by appearances by former Pittsburgh Pirate manager and former Williamsport Bills manager Clint Hurdle, ESPN’s Hall of Fame announcer and commentator Tim Kurkjian, the induction of Rhashan West-Bey, the Crosscutters “Director of Smiles,” into the Bowman Field Hall of Fame, and Chevy Troutman receiving his induction to the Sports Walk of Fame

The banquet raised more than $9,000 to benefit the Sojourner Truth Ministries.

Also appearing were Chris Howard, coach of the Penn College baseball team, and Rick Oliveri, coach of the newly revived Lycoming College baseball team.

I was able to talk with both Hurdle and Kurkjian before the banquet.

Hurdle remembers his season here in 1991 with the Williamsport Bills well, when they were an affiliate of the New York Mets.

Hurdle had managed the Jackson Mets the year before to a first-place finish before the franchise was moved here temporarily for one season. He believed that having a strong team the previous season meant that the 1991 Bills would be a contender in the Eastern League in 1991. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

“Our pitching really struggled that year with the exception of Dave Telgheder, who won 13 games and led the Eastern League in wins,” Hurdle told Webb Weekly. “Our hitters were sometimes inconsistent, except for Jeremey Burnitz. He was really exciting to watch hit. He hit 31 homers that year and led the league and tied for the RBI lead with 85.

“We had high hopes for the Mets’ Number One Draft Pick that we had, Alan Zinter, but he never really got untracked,” said Hurdle. “I know what it is like to have a lot of expectations thrown at you after that Sports Illustrated cover that featured me in 1978. I really felt badly for him, but we might have had a little better team if he had played a little better.”

He said two of his players that year, Joe Dellacari and Tommy Allison, later became scouting directors for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He reunited with them during his time as manager of the Buccos.

Hurdle said he was very proud of what he was able to accomplish when he managed the Colorado Rockies to their first World Series appearance in 2007. His fondness is tempered by the fact that they were swept by the Red Sox in that Series.

“We really got hot at the end of the 2007 season and won something like 13 out of 14 games at the end of the season, and that carried over into the playoffs,” Hurdle said. “We ended up finishing our championship series early and had to wait eight days to play the Red Sox, and I think the wait took a lot of the momentum and edge off of us.”

After his stint with the Rockies, he became manager of the Pirates in 2010, leading them back to respectability with three playoff appearances in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

He said managing the Pirates was a great experience, and giving them their first winning season in 20 years gave him a lot of satisfaction. Additionally, he saw the development and maturity of players like Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

Hurdle now enjoys a quiet retirement in Florida with his wife, Karla, a Muncy native, and their children.

Tim Kurkjian is one of this nation’s most noted sports journalists, writing for various publications and as a baseball commentator with ESPN since 1998. He was honored with the Baseball Writers Association Career Excellence Award in 2022, receiving the honor during the induction ceremonies at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He is no stranger to Williamsport, having covered several Little League World Series for ESPN.

“I love coming to Williamsport and coming to the Little League World Series and the MLB Little League Classic,” Kurkjian declared. “I think the Series is one of my favorite things to cover. “I love the spirit, the enthusiasm, and the camaraderie shown by the Little League kids who play in it. It is especially gratifying to see how the kids from the various teams get along so well with one another. I think it epitomizes the best that there is in sports. Fellow ESPN commentator Karl Ravech, who has covered the LLWS since 2011, told me that I’d love covering, and boy was he right.”

He added, “I think that Williamsport is a wonderful and charming place. I never realized what a rich baseball history it has.”

On the subject of the recent Hall of Fame election, Kurkjian said that Rolen was “very deserving of induction” but was disappointed that Todd Helton and Jeff Kent did not make it this time around.

He believes that Negro Leaguers are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame.

“The guys that played in the Negro Leagues were great players, and they are underappreciated by many people, and I believe that there is room for more of them to be inducted at Cooperstown,” Kurkjian said.

The emotional highlight of the evening may have been the induction of the Crosscutters “Director of Smiles,” Rhashan West-Bey, into the Bowman Field Hall of Fame. There has perhaps been no more a beloved figure in the history of Bowman Field than Rhashan, whose infectious smile and cheerfulness can lift any otherwise gloomy day. He was quite humbled by the honor and thanked his Crosscutters family and the Crosscutters staff profusely.

Another induction also took place — that of Chevy Troutman into the Lycoming County Sports Walk of Fame. Troutman is the most prolific basketball scorer in the history of Lycoming County high schools, scoring more than 1,500 points. He graduated from Williamsport High School in 2000 and went on to excel at the University of Pittsburgh, and later went on to play professional basketball in Europe.

The Crosscutters open their 2023 season on June 1 against the State College Spikes.