Old Faces, New Places

(FORT MILL, S.C.) — Spring is in the air, the weather is heating up around the ballpark, and it’s starting to feel like baseball season is nearby.

White Sox pitchers and catchers have already reported to camp in Arizona, and before you know it, the 2012 baseball season will be in full-swing.

It’s been a long offseason – one which saw many former Charlotte Knights make headlines around the baseball world. One former Knights player even became the club’s new manager!

Let’s take a look at some of the former Knights making headlines as we approach the start of the 2012 season.

Joel Skinner Named Manager of Charlotte Knights
On November 14, 2011, the Charlotte Knights announced a new manager to lead them through the 2012 season — Joel Skinner.

Skinner, a former Major League backstop, who spent parts of nine years behind the plate for the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and Cleveland Indians, returns to Charlotte after spending the 2011 season on the Oakland A’s coaching staff.

The La Jolla, CA native is no stranger to Charlotte baseball. In 1994, his last season as a professional player, Skinner found himself behind the plate for the Charlotte Knights. He appeared in six games that season for the Knights, before switching roles and becoming a manager a year later with Watertown (A).

Since then, Skinner has become a successful manager at the Minor League level. He holds a record of 448-333 (.574) in the Minors, and is back in the International League for the first time since 2000, when he managed Buffalo to an 86-59 record. It should be a good year on the field for the Knights with Joel Skinner at the helm.

Livan HernandezSigned a Minor League contract with Houston Astros
There may not have been a more hyped pitcher in the Minors in 1996 and 1997 than Livan Hernandez.

A crafty right-handed pitcher from Cuba, Hernandez, who was just 21 years old at the time, spent parts of both the 1996 and 1997 season as a starter for the Charlotte Knights. While he had his share of struggles early-on, it was with the Knights that Hernandez began his rise to Major League superstardom.

After posting a 5-3 mark with a 3.98 ERA in 14 games for the Knights in 1997, he was promoted to the Majors and never returned. In fact, he excelled – finishing second in the National League’s Rookie of the Year voting.

In 17 starts for the Fish that year, Hernandez posted a 9-3 record and a 3.18 ERA. More importantly, he helped lead the club into the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Hernandez was sharp in the 1997 postseason, especially in the World Series — winning both Game 1 and Game 5. His solid pitching helped give the Marlins a World Series win over the Cleveland Indians. For his efforts, Hernandez was named World Series MVP.

Now, the 37-year-old veteran will go to camp with the Houston Astros and try to add to his 174-176 record over his 16-year Major League career. He will bring a veteran leadership to a team that is expected to struggle in 2012. If anything, he will bring with him a lifetime of success, which began right here with the Knights way back when.

Jim ThomeSigned a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies
Although he did appear for the Knights in five games on rehab assignment in 2007, it’s been quite a few years since Jim Thome donned a Charlotte Knights uniform on a daily basis – 19 years to be exact.

In 1993, Thome enjoyed a monster season at the dish for the Knights. The Peoria, Illinois native hit an impressive .332 with 25 home runs and 102 RBIs for manager Charlie Manuel. Thome was named as the International League’s MVP that season, and along with Manny Ramirez, Sam Horn, and Beau Allred, helped the Knights win the Governor’s Cup championship – a franchise first.

For Thome, it was the start of an unbelievable rise through the Majors, and potentially into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame someday.

For his career, James Howard Thome is one of just eight players in Major League history to have over 600 career home runs (604).

This offseason, the 41-year-old slugger signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, reuniting with his manager from his days in Charlotte – Charlie Manuel. He also returns to the City of Brotherly Love, where he spent three seasons (2003-2005).

After all of these seasons, Thome is still remarkable to watch. Despite all of his impressive seasons as the Major League level, the sweet-swinging left-handed masher has never won an MVP. His only one to this day has come while he was with the Knights.

Other former players of note (alphabetical order):

Brad Eldred (2008) Signed a Minor League contract with the Detroit Tigers
Scott Podsednik (1998) – Signed a Minor League contract with the Philadelphia Phillies
Manny Ramirez (1993)
Signed a Minor League contract with the Oakland A’s
Jon Rauch (2001-2004) –
Signed a one-year, $3.25 contract with the New York Mets
Andres Torres (2004)
Traded from the San Francisco Giants to the New York Mets

Keep an eye out for a new Knight Fever blog throughout the season. Knights Media Relations Director Tommy Viola’s Knight Fever blog features alumni reports, news, notes, interviews, and more.

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