30 Seasons on City Island: The 1987 Senators
This content was originally found in Issue No. 12 of this year’s Senators Program
“Were you to write a script for fiction, you couldn’t write one any better than how the Senators’ season unfolded.” – – Harrisburg mayor Stephen Reed
Construction began on RiverSide Stadium in August 1986 and work on the ballpark continued all the way up to first pitch in early April. A month before, Pittsburgh’s minor league players assembled at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., for spring training. But now, the night before Opening Day the team sent to Harrisburg to represent the Pirates’ Class AA franchise were guests of honor at a welcome dinner hosted at Villa Leo.
Overseeing the 25-man roster was manager Dave Trembley who used his baseball knowledge to teach and his sports psychology background to motivate. His philosophy “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, and get ‘em in” kept the Senators’ heads above water when they were floundering in the early season. Rock bottom record-wise was June 16 as the Senators were a full 10 games under .500 at 25-35
“We had some guys that I had to convince that they were pretty good. Other guys we had to convince they were better than they were,” the 34-year-old skipper said. “After the all-star game, everything on the team started to really come together.”
What started out as a clunky motor gasping to turn over in the cold had become a well-oiled machine on the diamond when the weather turned warmer. Starting with a 26-9 rout of Albany on June 17, the Senators won 52 of the remaining 80 games in the regular season to finish second during the regular season and qualify for the postseason.
Harrisburg overcame a two games to one deficit in their best-of-five series with Reading in the first round of the playoffs. Down to their final out and trailing by a run, catcher Tom Prince put on the Superman cape and delivered a game-tying home run. The Senators pulled that game out with two runs in extra innings to head to the championship series against a well-rested Vermont team.
Harrisburg had to bus 11 hours overnight to Burlington, Vt. to open the series on the road. The Senators played tired in Game 1 and it showed in their 3-2 loss to Vermont. But that was the only game the Reds would win as the Senators’ pitching handled Vermont’s offense easily as they managed to score only nine runs in the four game set.
Harrisburg was 1987 Eastern League champions despite not existing the previous year, having a first-time professional manager, and being dead last as late in the season as June 5. The Senators proved that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that baseball was a success on City Island thanks to a team effort from everyone from the players to the staff.
“In years to come, Harrisburg’s first professional baseball team in 35 years will be remembered for coming rags-to-riches and worst-to-first. Perhaps its most telling legacy, however, will be the 1987 team’s will to win.” – – Nick Horvath Jr.
TOP GAMES OF THE 1987 SEASON
April 11: Vermont 11, Harrisburg 5
The grand opening of the Senators’ modern era begins at 2:09 p.m. when Jim Neidlinger delivers the first pitch to John Bryant only after helicopters hover over the outfield to dry the wet grounds. 4,083 fans are present at the just completed RiverSide Stadium to see the Reds spoil opening day despite Harrisburg home runs from Crash Brown and Tom Prince.
May 14: Harrisburg 7, Williamsport 2
The Senators topped the Bills to break their early season 11-game losing streak. The team returned from a disappointing road trip to an editorial cartoon in The Patriot-News imploring them to “Beat Somebody”. The Senators took the RiverSide Stadium field to an enthusiastic crowd of 3,112 welcoming fans that players credited with setting the championship wheels in motion.
June 6: Harrisburg 5-10, Glens Falls 1-3
The Senators swept a doubleheader in upstate New York to leave last place for good in the Eastern League standings after residing there for the last 29 days.
June 17: Harrisburg 26, Albany 9
Two eight-run innings highlighted the game which included five-hit performances from Tommy Gregg and Dimas Gutierrez. But the real star for Harrisburg was Ron Johns who was playing only his second game in a Senators’ uniform. From the cleanup spot in the order, Johns was 6-for-6 and drove in nine runs with three home runs in consecutive innings.
June 25: Harrisburg 7, New Britain 2
Many observers point to this game as the one that turned the Senators’ season around. A five-run explosion in the 12th inning made winners out of Harrisburg in the series leading into the All-Star break. “This just might have been the best game we’ve played all season,” said manager Dave Trembley.
July 15: Harrisburg 4, Pittsfield 2
The Senators climb into fourth place with a victory over the Cubs to become legitimate playoff contenders. After two consecutive losses, they return to the first division permanently two days later following a 9-3 win over Williamsport.
August 27: Harrisburg 2, New Britain 1
The Senators clinched a playoff berth when Kyle Todd dropped down a textbook squeeze bunt in the 10th inning to drive in the winning run.
September 2: Williamsport 5, Reading 3
The Bills edged the Phillies for their fourth win in five games to close out the season. The victory assured the Senators a runner-up finish in the regular season and Reading was left to settle for third place. The change in standings came into play a week later when Harrisburg hosted the R-Phils in the deciding fifth game.
September 10: Harrisburg 5, Reading 3
With a dramatic home run that will only be topped in Senators’ lore 12 years later, Tom Prince hit a two out homer in the bottom of the ninth inning off Reading reliever Todd Frohwirth to tie the determining game of their best-of-five series. Harrisburg went on to win the game in the 13th inning to take the rain-delayed semifinal and send the Senators to the championship to take on the Vermont Reds.
September 13: Harrisburg 3-5, Vermont 2-1
The Senators clinched the Eastern League championship in their first season of existence since 1952. Harrisburg swept a day-night doubleheader as Rich Sauveur and Clay Daniel took care of business from the mound in the first game and Tommy Gregg’s two-run homer was all that was needed in the nightcap. Larry Melton picked up the win for Harrisburg and Randy Kramer struck out the side in the ninth inning to secure the victory.
“There might have been 4,000 plus fans in the stands, but for all I know it was probably 40,000. They screamed on every strike. My adrenalin was flowing.” – – Pitcher Randy Kramer on recording the final outs
Awards & Accolades
- In his first stint as a skipper in a major league-affiliated organization, Dave Trembley was named the Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America
- Tommy Gregg, Tom Prince, and Rich Sauveur were named to the season-ending Eastern League All-Star team in a vote by the players and Trembley was awarded the Manager of the Year
- Tommy Gregg won the Eastern League batting title with a .371 average that is still a modern day record for the Senators
- Sauveur led the league with 160 strikeouts in 195 innings over 30 appearances
- Despite being a mid-May addition to the team, Jim Reboulet still stole 52 bases which to this day remains a team record
- Reboulet also hit safely in 32 straight games until his streak was stopped when he was ejected in the third inning after arguing a pickoff call
- Felix Fermin was the league’s top defensive shortstop with a .968 fielding percentage
- General Manager Rick Redd was named the Eastern League Executive of the Year
- The Senators drew 212,141 fans to RiverSide Stadium