Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium recalled by Chad Ogea, Charles Nagy
CANTON — On their way to pitching in some of the biggest games in Cleveland baseball history, Chad Ogea and Charles Nagy warmed up in Canton.
They smile when they hear Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium is enjoying a new day in the sun amid a $5 million renovation.
“I knew when I got there it was named after Thurman Munson, and I knew why,” Ogea says 30 years after his stop in Canton. “The stadium looked like an erector set outside. Inside it was my kind of setting, a quaint place with the fans very close to you. It gave you the feeling of stepping back in time.”
Ogea, 51, lives in Louisiana, where he has spent most of his life, including when he pitched for powerhouse LSU teams. He and his wife, Anne, operate a landscaping business in his home state.
Ogea likely would have been MVP of the 1997 World Series had Cleveland hung on to a ninth-inning lead in Game 7. He was the winning pitcher in Games 2 and 6 against Florida, posting a 1.54 earned run average. The biggest hit in Cleveland’s Game 6 win was Ogea’s bases-loaded single.
Ogea’s first year as a pro was 1992, which he began at Class A Kinston before a promotion to Class AA Canton-Akron. His combined record, 19-4, was the talk of the organization. His first start for Canton was at Binghamton, which happened to have been Munson’s first pro team out of Kent State.
“After going to Binghamton, our team came back to Canton,” Ogea said. “One of the first people I met in Canton was a guy named Brian. As the weeks passed, I found he was around the team on the field and the dugout all the time. My name was Super Juice. The entire time I was in Canton, Brian called me Super Juice.
“The jump to Double-A was pretty big. I found that a lot of players from the SEC were in that league, and I saw that I could compete.
“The people in Canton were friendly. A lot of the same people would come to the games.”
Ogea didn’t get a real chance in Cleveland until 1995, when he went 8-3 on a loaded team that won the American League East by 30 games. In 1997, he beat Marlins ace Kevin Brown in two World Series games.
Nagy spent time in Canton in 1989 and ’90, the team’s first two seasons in the city and the ballpark. The big-league club was in a decades-long slump that included 100-loss seasons in 1987 and 1991. Nagy was an early ray of hope for Cleveland in 1992, when he went 17-10.
“I wasn’t even thinking about Cleveland when I first got to Canton in ’89,” he said. “Whether I over-analyzed things or made it harder than it was, it took me a little while to get that comfortable feeling.
“I lived in a small apartment close to Belden Village. I was engaged. My fiancee and I got married that winter, and I was back in Canton to start the 1990 season.
“We did the things there were to do in Canton. We went to the Hall of Fame. We went to Thurman Munson’s house. Mrs. Munson had a party for the team. I remember a chair that was a giant baseball glove.
“The stadium was made out of metal. There was a lot of foot-stomping. It was a very loud stadium in that regard.”
Nagy went 4-5 for Canton in 1989 and 13-5 in 1990 before an August call-up to Cleveland.
Canton embraced the Double-A team from the start. Outfielder Beau Allred became a favorite fan in 1989, when he was among six Eastern League players to hit above .300.
It turned out to be his year in the sun. Baseball Reference records show that he hit .274 in 792 minor-league games and .230 in 65 games with Cleveland.
“My year in Canton was the team’s first year in Canton,” Allred, 56, said from his home in Safford, Arizona. “People were excited.
“The stadium was loud when fans stomped on the decking. We definitely heard it. Our dugout was right underneath.
“The stadium was new and clean. People appreciated the team. And it was a good team.
“I was in a two-bedroom apartment with Rob Swain and Ever Magallanes. We met a lot of people in town. Scott Parks — helluva guy — befriended us our first day. He and his wife, Pat, took care of us, showed us around town.”
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Parks, a lifelong Canton resident, recalls the day he met Allred.
“We saw an article in the Repository asking people to take players around and check out apartments,” Parks said. “Pat and I volunteered. We took Beau, Ever and Rob in our van to the Wendy apartments on Cleveland Avenue. They spent the season there.
“We took them down to Amish country. We had them over to the house. We had more than a few postgame drinks with them.
“When Canton’s season ended, Beau got called up to Cleveland, and when that season ended he stayed with us for a few days. Pat packed him a basket of food, and he drove back to Arizona.”
Some players were in Canton for two months. Some stayed for two years. Parks got to know quite a few.
“We wound up with tickets to all the games,” he said. “In 1990 we took a family vacation, and on the way home detoured to Williamsport, where Canton was playing.
“After a game, Charles Nagy, Bruce Egloff, Greg Roscoe and Jeff Fasero were in my van, going to some places with Charles as the designated driver.
“For a diehard baseball fan like me, it truly was a dream.”
Freeway Tavern, about a mile from the stadium, became a regular hang-out. Last call was 1996.The team moved to Akron in 1997.
By then Allred was back home in Arizona. His last hurrah with Cleveland came on May 27, 1991, when the 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup were Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle and a guy named Beau. Allred broke a 2-2 tie with a home run that beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-2.
It was his last big-league blast. He spent the next three years in Triple-A.
“I got married at the end of my baseball career,” Allred said. “We had one daughter and two grandkids. I went to work for my dad in 1995. Dad had an insurance and cotton business. Five years later I bought it from him and here I still am.
“My wife and I both grew up on a ranch. We do a lot of outdoor stuff. We play golf.
“The guys from the Canton team … we all went our own ways. There weren’t cell phones to stay in touch then.
“I enjoyed my time in Canton. We were all pretty good friends.”
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