Allen McDill Remembers the 1995-96 Arecibo Lobos (Wolves) in Puerto Rico

Allen McDill

Allen McDill was born on this day—August 23, 1971—in Greenville, Mississippi; Greenville had the closest hospital (at the time) to his Lake Village, Arkansas home. McDill went on to attend and graduate from Lake Hamilton High School in Pearcy, Arkansas, three decades ago, Class of 1989. He was a four-year letterman in baseball and Conference MVP for the Lake Hamilton Wolves.  The 6-foot LHP was listed at 6’0,” and 155 pounds; considered small. He pitched for the 1997-98 Kansas City Royals, 2000 Detroit Tigers and 2001 Boston Red Sox.

After a year at two junior colleges, he settled in at Arkansas Tech, in Russellville, then an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) school. McDill was 6-3 with three SHO and one save for the Wonder Boys, still the nickname for their men’s athletic teams. (The ladies’ athletic teams are the Golden Suns.) McDill’s 1.08 ERA in 74.2 IP, with 77 strikeouts and 25 walks drew the attention of MLB scouts. “I was small, but the second-lowest ERA in the nation (1.08) in 1991 got me noticed,” said McDill. “A Detroit Tigers scout called me and helped find a slot in the Cape Cod League. We played at night and worked during the day; stayed with Massachusetts families. Only two of us made it to the big leagues on that Cape Cod team.”

McDill went 5-3 for the 1992 Wonder Boys in 78.1 IP, but his ERA jumped to 4.71. His 79 strikeouts-to-35 walks was a good ratio, and Larry Chase—a New York Mets scout from Pearcy, Arkansas—was impressed with the lefty’s pitching and hitting ability. Chase once stated: “Allen was the best hitter I ever saw.” Chase covered six states for the Mets: Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. McDill’s collegiate totals at Arkansas Tech were: 11-6 W-L, 2.94 ERA, 22 starts, five relief appearances, 12 CG, one save, three SHO, 153 IP, 115 hits, 156 stikeouts-60 walks, 1.1438 WHIP.

The New York Mets selected McDill in the 20th round (553rd overall) in the 1992 MLB draft, one featuring Derek Jeter as the sixth overall pick by the New York Yankees; Paul Shuey, second overall by Cleveland; and AJ Hinch in the second round, 62nd pick. Hinch opted to attend Stanford University. José Vidro, 155th overall, sixth round, was one of the talented players from Puerto Rico chosen. John Pricher out of the University of Florida in the 22nd round (608 overall); and Mike Lowell, #1,352 overall, out of Coral Gables High School, were selected. (Lowell, like Hinch, went on to college, and was drafted later.) Pricher provided insights on what a 20th to 22nd round draft pick might get in bonus money, June 1992. “I did not have an agent,” said Pricher, via e-mail, August 12, 2019. “Tom Kotchman—Angels scout that signed me—gave me a second [phone] call on [me] getting an additional $500 in signing bonus, raising it to $1,500, for not having an agent.”  Pricher had to live on an $850 per month starting Rookie League salary!

From 1992-to-1994, McDill pitched for the 1992 Gulf Coast Mets (3-4, 2.70 ERA, 60 strikeouts-to-15 walks in 53.1 IP); 1992 Kingsport Mets (one appearance); 1993 Kingsport Mets—nine starts, 5-2 record, 2.19 ERA; 1993 Pittsfield Mets ( five starts, 2-3, 5.40 ERA); and the 1994 Capital City Bombers, Class A, South Atlantic League. McDill was 9-6, 3.55 ERA in 19 starts for the Bombers, managed by Ron Washington; with 111.2 IP and 102 strikeouts-to-38 walks. Dudley Jackson, a baseball fan from Columbia, South Carolina—was in high school 1988-1992, and a fan of the Atlanta Braves. He went to a handful of Bombers games in the 1990s, and recalled the Bomber/Capital City Stadium that McDill pitched in during 1994: “It had a very old-fashioned feel and reminded me of a high-school baseball stadium—bare bones concrete and very basic seating,” per Jackson’s August 5, 2019 e-mail. “You could hear the players’ voices pretty clearly. In the 1990s, chain link fences were not up yet, and foul balls could zip in the bleachers…remember that Tom Glavine pitched a game there against the Bombers…”

McDill’s travels took him from Columbia, South Carolina to Melbourne, Australia, for the 1994-95 Winter League. He pitched a no-hitter for the 27-36 Melbourne Monarchs, in a six-team league, managed by Jon Deeble. “They used both wood and aluminum bats,” said McDill. “There were young and old prospects and four imports/team. I played a lot of golf; they drive on the wrong side of the road.” McDill’s seven-inning gem versus the Gold Coast Cougars was only the second no-hitter in league history. “My third baseman dove and caught a grounder; threw him out in my last start…flew home after four months; had two weeks before spring training.”

Allen McDill

McDill was a starter for the 1995 Class AA Binghamton Mets, posting 3-5 record, 4.56 ERA, when the Mets traded him with Jason Jacome to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Derek Wallace, Eugenio Morones and a player-to-be-named later (John Carter) on July 21, 1995. And McDill was assigned to Wichita, “dry and flat,” per McDill, who bonded with Gary Lance, Wichita’s pitching coach. “Gary was a nice guy,” recalled McDill. “He was a big believer in winter ball…one of the reasons I went to Puerto Rico (1995-96) to face better competition. Gary was an awesome guy; he cared—about people and mechanics…did not talk much about his career.” Ron Johnson, Wichita’s barrel-chested skipper, told McDill that “he was going to the bullpen” after his only start with the Wranglers. The move worked—McDill (1-0, 2.11 ERA) fanned 20 in 21.1 IP, with only five walks. He then played winter ball in Puerto Rico.

The 1995-96 winter season for McDill was special, living in Dorado Beach, playing golf and pitching well. Arecibo had the same nickname (Wolves) as his high school. Arecibo’s catcher was Mike Matheny, someone McDill trusted and enjoyed working with. “I was lucky to throw to him [Matheny] in Puerto Rico,” said McDill. “Mike Matheny was serious, took care of business and played the game hard.” Bernie Williams, coming off a fine season with the 1995 New York Yankees, was the Arecibo’s star CF, and “talked to me every day,” noted McDill. Pat Kelly, Arecibo’s skipper, managed the 1991-92 Mayagüez Indios to the Puerto Rico Winter League title and the February 1992 Caribbean Series crown. Kelly managed Harrisburg in the 1995 Eastern League, and saw McDill pitch for Binghamton. He needed a lefty reliever with Arecibo. Kelly texted the author on August 5, 2019, stating “Allen was a young, lanky left-hander that we used out of the bullpen to bridge to our late-inning guys. He did a great job pitching to some of the best hitters in the league, especially the left-handed and switch-hitters.”

McDill was impressed with the quality of play on the Island. “Puerto Rico was like another major league with big league teams, pressure and competition,” claimed McDill. “I made the [Island] All-Star Team [Arecibo-Mayagüez-Ponce players] against the Metros [Caguas-San Juan-Santurce players]…was All-Star Game MVP—three strikeouts, one inning.” This was the January 6, 1996 All-Star Game, played on Three Kings Day, a Puerto Rico holiday. Bernie Williams was the hitting star in the Island team’s 6-2 win; and, McDill took pitching honors. San Juan’s Roberto Alomar (.362 BA) was the league batting champion, followed by Santurce’s Rey Ordoñez (.351). Next were Arecibo’s Héctor Vargas (.336), Ponce’s Billy McMillon (.333) and Mayagüez’s Doug Glanville (325). Héctor Villanueva’s eight HR led the league, followed by teammate Melvin Nieves and San Juan’s Carlos Delgado, with seven HR apiece. Top two league closers were Arecibo’s José Alberro and San Juan’s Paul Shuey, with 13 saves each. Arecibo’s Ricky Otero led the league with 17 SB. Three starters had six wins including Angel Miranda (Arecibo), Bronswell Patrick (Santurce) and Julio Valera (Mayagüez).

Hitters McDill faced in Puerto Rico included switch-hitter Rubén Sierra and Darryl Strawberry with the Santurce Crabbers; previously mentioned switch-hitter Roberto Alomar and Carlos Delgado (San Juan); Glanville and Alex Díaz with Mayagüez; McMillon, a tough out with the Ponce Lions; and Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez and Darren Bragg, with the Caguas Criollos. McDill came through for Pat Kelly with a 2-1 record, 2.10 ERA, 30 IP, 23 hits allowed, with 25 strikeouts-to-13 walks, 1.20 WHIP. McDill pitched in 25 of his team’s 49 games, equivalent of 83 in a 162-game season. Arecibo (27-22) finished second to 28-21 Mayagüez. Third-place Santurce (26-24) was followed by San Juan (26-25), Ponce (25-26) and Caguas (18-32). Arecibo faced off versus Santurce in one semi-finals; Mayagüez and San Juan were in the other semis.

Mike García, who grew up in the municipality of Hatillo, Puerto Rico, near Arecibo, was a huge Arecibo Lobos fan, who also followed (and still follows) the Kansas City Royals. One day he had McDill’s minor-league baseball card autographed in Arecibo. “McDill was a very quiet kind of shy guy when he came up with Arecibo,” said García via twitter, August 6, 2019. “I remember asking him for an autograph and he was very nice to sign. I do remember that [Arecibo] team well. It had Rico Rossy as an unsung hero facing Julio “Tato” Valera in the finals.”

The Lobos bested the Crabbers, four games-to-two, when Arecibo scored 11 runs in the final two innings of Game Six, to win that semi-final contest, 16-4. Arecibo deciphered the pitches of Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, Santurce’s starter, in the first-inning, before breaking the game open. McDill pitched in two games, hurling three scoreless innings, fanning two and walking one. Then Arecibo won a best-of-nine finals with Mayagüez, five games-to-three. McDilll had four appearances in the finals and a 0-1 record in 3.1 IP. Arecibo’s royal blue (top) home uniforms featured Banco Popular—a corporate sponsor. The Mayagüez burgundy and gray uniforms had Medalla (beer) on their back. This you tube link provides exciting series highlights, including interviews with Josué Vega, Arecibo team owner; José “Che” Conde, Arecibo’s GM; and Iván Méndez, owner of the Mayagüez Indios. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3kwG87ShjA

Milton Segarra, current Executive Director of Coastal Mississippi, a tourism entity comprising three counties, grew up in Puerto Rico as a rabid fan of the Mayagüez Indios. Segarra recalled this final series: “I remember that final series, my friend, it was a good one,” affirmed Segarra. “I can’t get out of my mind [the old] striking yellow, Ron Llave (a rum company based in Arecibo) sponsored uniforms [1970s and 1980s] from the Lobos!!” When Arecibo won their first Puerto Rico title—1982-83—they, indeed, wore those mustard-color uniforms. Gary Lance—one of many Arecibo players with a Kansas City Royals connection—was an Arecibo starter. Candy Maldonado played CF for the 1982-83 Lobos, a team which won the 1983 Caribbean Series.

McDill and Mike Matheny opted to return to the States and get ready for February 1996 spring training. Arecibo reinforced itself for the February 1996 Caribbean Series with catcher Pudge Rodríguez (Caguas), 2B Roberto Alomar (San Juan) and 3B Leo Gómez (Santurce). The Lobos finished second (4-2) behind the 5-1 Culiacán Tomateros (Tomato Growers). The third-place Aguilas Cibaeñas (2-4) from the host country (Dominican Republic) were managed by Terry Francona. Venezuela’s Magallanes Navigators (1-5) finished fourth in this round-robin.

McDill’s MLB debut came with the 1997 Kansas City Royals. George Brett, a team official, enjoyed kidding around with McDill in spring training and called him “McFly,” from Back to the Future movies. The highlight of his MLB career came on Sunday, June 11, 2000, top of the second inning, in Detroit. He relieved Dave Mlicki after a three-run HR by Jim Edmonds, followed by Mark McGwire’s double. McDill proceeded to retire eight straight Cardinals, four by strikeout. Mike Matheny was one victim, looking at a called third strike in the third. Ray Lankford, Shawon Dunston and Jim Edmonds also fanned. McDill did not face McGwire.

Allen McDill

On a road trip with Boston in 2001, McDill recalled Manny Ramírez was shouting “Coca-Cola” over and over again, at the team hotel’s vending machine. The machine asked for an extra dime (10 cents), but Ramírez translated “dime” as “tell me.” On September 9, 2001, McDill pitched in the seventh at Yankee Stadium, striking out Dave Justice; walking Jorge Posada; and getting Nick Johnson to fly out. The Monday night, September 10, 2001 Red Sox-Yankee game was rained out, depriving Roger Clemens of a chance to win his 20th game that season versus his ex-team. McDill remembers arriving in Tampa, Florida, between 2 and 3 a.m. on September 11, and being stuck at a Tampa hotel for a time, after the September 11 tragedy.

McDill pitched in 38 MLB games with Kansas City, Detroit and Boston, with no decisions. He struck out 28 and walked 18 in 34.2 IP. His MLB ERA was 7.79. In 11 minor-league seasons, McDill was 46-46, with a 3.74 ERA. His 392 games included 68 starts, three (3) CG, two (2) SHO and 42 saves, 18 with the 1999 Oklahoma City Red Hawks. His 787 minor-league IP featured 680 strikeouts and 290 walks. He allowed 759 hits, resulting in a 1.333 WHIP.

Allen McDill was honored in Lake Hamilton’s first Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Friday, February 15, 2019. He was one of the 14 inductees. On August 3, 2019, he was the guest speaker at the Brooks Robinson-George Kell SABR Chapter meeting, Dickey-Stephens Stadium, North Little Rock, Arkansas. McDill shared some stories and answered questions. His quotes for this blog came from his presentation and subsequent texts. He is, officially, the second Arkansas Tech baseball player to play MLB. Bill Fincher, who pitched 21 innings for the 1916 St. Louis Browns, was the first. At that time, Arkansas Tech was called 2nd District Agricultural School.

With appreciation to Allen McDill for sharing his baseball experiences, August 2019. Thanks to Jorge Colón Delgado for providing McDill’s regular and post-season stats in Puerto Rico. Paul T. Smith, Director of Athletic Communications/Associate Athletic Director, Arkansas Tech University, furnished McDill’s collegiate pitching record. Mike García, Dudley Jackson and Milton Segarra shared valuable insights as fans in Puerto Rico and South Carolina. Jim Yeager, member of the Robinson-Kell SABR Chapter, confirmed Bill Fincher played on the Arkansas Tech baseball team prior to his (Fincher) playing for the 1916 St. Louis Browns. Thanks to John Pricher.

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