9 Noteworthy Minor League Debuts

Jackie Robinson grounding ball at first base.
Jackie Robinson grounding ball at first base.
Hulton, Getty Images

On Sunday, Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg will make his minor league debut for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators against the Altoona (Pa.) Curve. Just how big is the hype surrounding the No. 1 overall pick of last year's amateur draft? ESPNEWS has announced it will broadcast every half-inning that Strasburg pitches. As the former San Diego State star prepares for his big day, here's a look back at nine other hype-worthy minor league debuts.

1. Jackie Robinson

Perhaps no minor league debut was as significant as Jackie Robinson's. Signed by Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey in 1945, Robinson appeared in several exhibition games during spring training and made his minor league debut with the International League's Montreal Royals on April 18, 1946. Playing in front of a capacity crowd at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., Robinson had four hits in five at-bats, including a three-run home run, to lead the Royals to a 14-1 win. "Eloquent as they were, the cold figures of the box score do not tell the whole story," Joseph Sheehan wrote in The New York Times. "He looked as well as acted the part of a real ball-player and on the base paths was a positive demon."

Jersey City's fans greeted Robinson warmly, but the reaction in other cities wasn't always so positive. Robinson, who attracted large crowds throughout the season, led the league in hitting and fielding percentage and was named MVP. He broke the major league color barrier the following season.

2. Michael Jordan

What does the world's greatest basketball player do when winning a championship becomes a bore? He takes up baseball. After winning three straight NBA Finals MVP awards during the Chicago Bulls' first three-peat, His Airness announced his retirement from basketball in October 1993 and signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox a few months later. Jordan made his minor league debut on April 8, 1994, with the Birmingham Barons, Chicago's Double-A affiliate. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the Barons' 10-3 loss. More than 10,000 fans and 150 media members, including television crews from across the world, attended the game. "They told me that there would be nights like this," Jordan told reporters after his debut. "But what I learned in basketball was that you have to have resiliency. Every great athlete has had one bad day, or two, or three or more. How you bounce back determines what kind of person you are."

Jordan hit .202 with three home runs, 51 RBI, and 30 stolen bases that season. He officially quit baseball in March 1995 and returned to the Bulls—and winning championships.

3. Bo Jackson

A baseball and football star at Auburn, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1985, Bo Jackson was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the first pick of the 1986 NFL draft. Jackson decided to pursue a professional baseball career instead and signed with the Kansas City Royals, who assigned him to their Double-A affiliate, the Memphis Chicks. Jackson made his minor league debut on June 30, 1986, before a less-than-capacity home crowd of 7026. "I feel great," Jackson said during a news conference before the game. "There's some people nervous but I'll let them worry. I'm just going to go out there and play baseball." Jackson hit an RBI single in his first at-bat and finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Chicks' 9-5 loss to the Columbus Astros. The Memphis fans, many of whom came early to watch Jackson take batting practice, gave the rookie a standing ovation before his first at-bat and again after his professional hit. Jackson hit seven home runs in 53 games for the Chicks and became a regular with the Royals the following season. That year, the Los Angeles Raiders drafted Jackson in the seventh round and he joined the team when the baseball season ended.

4. Willie Mays

Willie Mays made his minor league debut with the Trenton Giants on June 24, 1950, at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, Md., home of the Hagerstown Suns. Mays' line that day was forgettable—he went hitless—but the hateful atmosphere he endured was not. Fans yelled racial epithets at the outfielder, who was the first black player to play a minor league game in Hagerstown and was forced to stay at an all-black hotel. Mays hit .353 with four home runs in 81 games for Trenton that season. In 2004, the Suns invited Mays back to Hagerstown and he accepted, announcing that all was forgiven.

5. Todd Van Poppel

A can't-miss prospect, or so most people thought, Van Poppel was drafted 14th overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 1990 amateur draft. The only reason the Texas high schooler, who turned down a scholarship to the University of Texas to go pro, wasn't drafted higher was because teams were afraid of his contract demands. After receiving a $600,000 signing bonus from the A's, Van Poppel made his minor league debut for the Southern Oregon A's, Oakland's Single-A affiliate, on July 23, 1990, in front of 4,600 fans. Van Poppel didn't disappoint, allowing one hit and striking out five in three-plus innings against the Bend Ducks. Held to a 60-pitch limit in 100-degree heat, Van Poppel's best fastball was clocked at 94 mph and he left with a 6-0 lead. "It felt cooler than Texas to me," Van Poppel said afterward. "It was still hot, but not as hot as I'm used to." The phenom moved quickly through the minor leagues but never lived up to the hype in the majors.

6. Ken Griffey, Jr.

After he batted .478 with seven home runs as a senior at Cincinnati's Moeller High School, the Seattle Mariners selected Ken Griffey Jr. with the first pick in the 1987 amateur draft and assigned him to their rookie league affiliate in Bellingham, Washington. Griffey made his minor league debut on June 16, 1987, and went 0-for-3 in a 5-4 loss to the Everett Giants. Incidentally, left-handed pitcher Eric Gunderson, the No. 2 pick in the 1987 draft, made his professional debut in the same game. Griffey received a huge ovation during pregame introductions. "I wasn't expecting all of that," Griffey told reporters after the game. "I was expecting maybe a few people (would cheer), but not that many. That helps knowing you have the fans behind you." The future star hit a three-run home run for his first professional hit in the Mariners' next game.

7. Darryl Strawberry

The No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 amateur draft, Darryl Strawberry made his minor league debut for the New York Mets' Single-A affiliate in Kingsport, Tenn., on July 14, 1980. Strawberry went 1-for-4 with a single in a 9-3 loss to the Paintsville (Ky.) Yankees. The fanfare that followed his debut was a baseball promoter's dream, as teams throughout the Appalachian League capitalized on Strawberry's celebrity and recognizable name. According to a New York Times article, promoters in Elizabethtown, Tenn., sold old-fashioned strawberry sundaes when Kingsport visited. Paintsville offered free admission to anyone holding a strawberry, dropped strawberries from a helicopter, named the area beyond right field the "Strawberry Patch," and served only strawberry soda at the concession stands. "I enjoy it," Strawberry said of the hype. "I know people are aware of my name, and I think that's going to help me throughout my career."

8. Ben McDonald

The Baltimore Orioles selected Big Ben out of LSU with the first pick in the 1989 amateur draft. After 10 weeks of contract negotiations, McDonald was signed and sent to Baltimore's Single-A affiliate, the Frederick Keys. McDonald made his minor league debut on August 23 against the Winston-Salem Spirits in front of a sellout crowd of more than 5,000. The lanky right-hander, who led the United States to a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics, allowed five hits and one run over three innings. His only strikeout came against the first batter of the game.

"I think I could have done a little better," said McDonald, who balked, threw a wild pitch, and was the beneficiary of a triple play. "But I was reasonably pleased." McDonald made his major league debut two weeks later.

9. Roger Clemens

Okay, so we're cheating a little with this one. The Rocket made his official minor league debut for Winter Haven back in 1983, but his first appearance with the Lexington Legends after coming out of retirement for a third time in 2006 was more memorable. Adding to the intrigue of Clemens' return to the Houston Astros was the fact that his oldest son, Koby, was a third baseman for the Legends, Houston's Single-A affiliate. Koby Clemens had an RBI double, while his dad allowed one run in three innings and walked off the field to a standing ovation. More than 9000 fans packed the stadium—3000 more than the listed capacity—and 120 media credentials were issued for Clemens' first start in Lexington. Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane and president of baseball operations Tal Smith both attended the game, for which ESPN provided live look-ins.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Fast Facts About Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Robert Riger/Getty Images

Wilma Rudolph made history as a Black female athlete at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. The 20-year-old Tennessee State University sprinter was the first American woman to win three gold medals at one Olympics. Rudolph’s heroics in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4 x 100-meter events only lasted seconds, but her legend persists decades later, despite her untimely 1994 death from cancer at age 54. Here are some facts about this U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member.

1. Wilma Rudolph faced poverty and polio as a child.

When Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tennessee, she weighed just 4.5 pounds. Olympic dreams seemed impossible for Rudolph, whose impoverished family included 21 other siblings. Among other maladies, she had measles, mumps, and pneumonia by age 4. Most devastatingly, polio twisted her left leg, and she wore leg braces until she was 9.

2. Wilma Rudolph originally wanted to play basketball.

The Tennessee Tigerbelles. From left to right: Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Wilma Rudolph, and Barbara Jones.Central Press/Getty Images

At Clarksville’s Burt High School, Rudolph flourished on the basketball court. Nearly 6 feet tall, she studied the game, and ran track to keep in shape. However, while competing in the state basketball championship in Nashville, the 14-year-old speedster met a referee named Ed Temple, who doubled as the acclaimed coach of the Tennessee State Tigerbelles track team. Temple, who would coach at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, recruited Rudolph.

3. Wilma Rudolph made her Olympic debut as a teenager.

Rudolph hit the limelight at 16, earning a bronze medal in the 4 x 100-meter relay at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. But that didn’t compare to the media hype when she won three gold medals in 1960. French journalists called her “The Black Pearl,” the Italian press hailed “The Black Gazelle,” and in America, Rudolph was “The Tornado.”

4. After her gold medals, Wilma Rudolph insisted on a racially integrated homecoming.

Tennessee governor Buford Ellington, who supported racial segregation, intended to oversee the Clarksville celebrations when Rudolph returned from Rome. However, she refused to attend her parade or victory banquet unless both were open to Black and white people. Rudolph got her wish, resulting in the first integrated events in the city’s history.

5. Muhammad Ali had a crush on Wilma Rudolph.

Ali—known as Cassius Clay when he won the 1960 Olympic light heavyweight boxing title—befriended Rudolph in Rome. That fall, the 18-year-old boxer invited Rudolph to his native Louisville, Kentucky. He drove her around in a pink Cadillac convertible.

6. John F. Kennedy literally fell over when he invited Wilma Rudolph to the White House.

President Kennedy, Wilma Rudolph, Rudolph’s mother Blanche Rudolph, and Vice President Johnson in the Oval Office.Abbie Rowe/White House Photographs/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum // Public Domain

In 1961, Rudolph met JFK in the Oval Office. After getting some photos taken together, the President attempted to sit down in his rocking chair and tumbled to the floor. Kennedy quipped: “It’s not every day that I get to meet an Olympic champion.” They chatted for about 30 minutes.

7. Wilma Rudolph held three world records when she retired.

Rudolph chose to go out on top and retired in 1962 at just 22 years old. Her 100-meter (11.2 seconds), 200-meter (22.9 seconds), and 4 x 100-meter relay (44.3 seconds) world records all lasted several years.

8. Wilma Rudolph visited West African countries as a goodwill ambassador.

The U.S. State Department sent Rudolph to the 1963 Friendship Games in Dakar, Senegal. According to Penn State professor Amira Rose Davis, while there, Rudolph independently met with future Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s Young Pioneers, a nationalist youth movement. She visited Mali, Guinea, and the Republic of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) as well.

9. Denzel Washington made his TV debut in a movie about Wilma Rudolph.

Before his Oscar-winning performances in Glory (1989) and Training Day (2001), a 22-year-old Denzel Washington portrayed Robert Eldridge, Rudolph’s second husband, in Wilma (1977). The film also starred Cicely Tyson as Rudolph’s mother Blanche.

10. Schools, stamps, and statues commemorate Wilma Rudolph’s legacy.

Berlin, Germany, has a high school named after Rudolph. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp celebrating her in 2004. Clarksville features a bronze statue by the Cumberland River, the 1000-capacity Wilma Rudolph Event Center, and Wilma Rudolph Boulevard. In Tennessee, June 23 is Wilma Rudolph Day.