First-game flashback: The Loons hit the ground running in their ’07 debut
South Bend, after all, is home of Notre Dame University and its rich football tradition. And the Loons inaugural game on April 5, 2007, was played in football weather – November football weather.
“It was unbelievably cold,” said Loons play-by-play broadcaster Brad Golder.
So cold, says Golder, that Loons leadoff hitter Trayvon Robinson stepped to the plate wearing a ski mask. Then Robinson added to the surreal nature of things by dropping a drag bunt on the first pitch and legging it out for a single.
With that, the Loons were off and running, literally and figuratively.
The Loons have played nearly 1,000 games since, but the first one will always remain a cornerstone of franchise history. For the record, the Loons beat South Bend’s Silver Hawks that day, 10-3, under the guidance of manager Lance Parrish – a former Detroit Tigers star.
The Loons starting pitcher was a highly-touted lefthander from Texas named Clayton Kershaw. He was opposed by another talented Texan, Brett Anderson. Neither pitcher fared well in the bitter cold, however.
“Kershaw wasn’t very good at all, but neither was Anderson,” says Golder. “It was so cold, though, it wasn’t fair to judge either pitcher.”
Kershaw pitched two innings and walked six batters. It was hardly a sign of things to come, seeing how he’s gone on to become a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner and the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.
Anderson has had better days, too, as his five years of MLB experience with the Oakland Athletics would attest. He hasn’t enjoyed Kershaw-like success, mind you, but few have.
Robinson would finish the Loons Inaugural with two hits, as did Matt Berezay, Josh Bell and Carlos Santana. Berezay, Bell and Australian David Sutherland each drove in two runs. Doug Brooks, one of four Loons pitchers called to action, pitched 3.2 innings of scoreless relief and got the win.
The Loons lineup, meanwhile, included four players who would eventually play in the MLB: Kershaw, Santana, Bell and Robinson. Not in the lineup were backup catcher Kenley Jansen – who switched to pitching a couple of years later and is now the Dodgers closer – and outfielder Scott Van Slyke and pitcher Steve Johnson, two additional Loons who reached the majors.
But in looking at the Loons 1st game lineup – and pitchers used – it reveals varying degrees of success of those involved. Kershaw, as mentioned, has reached the mountaintop of professional baseball careers. Others have gone on to entirely different professions.
Here’s a look at that first lineup and what road each has traveled since the Loons first flight:
Trayvon Robinson, CF
The Loons leadoff man provided speed at the top of the lineup and a defensive presence in centerfield. He played the entire 2007 season with Great Lakes, batting .253 with two home runs and 31 RBIs. A 10th round pick of the Dodgers in 2005 – and a Los Angeles native – Robinson was eventually traded to Seattle and made his big league debut with the Marines on Aug. 5, 2011.
He’s played in 90 MLB games, compiling a .215 batting average and .314 on-base percentage. He was traded by the Mariners to Baltimore in 2013, but is back in the Dodgers organization after signing a free agent deal this winter.
Preston Mattingly, SS
The son of MLB legend and current Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, Preston played two full seasons with the Loons and part of another. The first-round pick of the Dodgers in the 2006 MLB draft, he played six minor league seasons in all, never advancing beyond the high Single-A level. He had a .232 career MILB batting average, with 25 home runs and 75 stolen bases.
He’s now a freshman at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and a member of the basketball team.
Matt Berezay, LF
Berezay, a University of Pacific standout, was one of the more productive offensive players for the Loons in their first season. He appeared in 116 games in ’07, and batted .276 with 13 home runs, 64 RBIs and a .344 OBP. He advanced to Double-A Jacksonville in 2008 and batted .128 in 33 games. That was Berezay’s last professional season.
Josh Bell, 3B
Bell was one of the Loons more highly-touted players at the time, as he’d been ranked as the 37th overall prospect by Baseball America. He did nothing to tarnish that reputation with the Loons, as he batted .289 with 15 homers, 62 RBIs and an OBP of .354.
Yet Bell’s career seemed to stall after making his MLB debut in 2010 with the Orioles. He played parts of three seasons with Baltimore and Arizona, compiling a .195 batting average in 100 overall games. He then signed free agent contracts with the White Sox and Yankees, before the Dodgers re-signed him this winter. But Bell opted out of the deal, choosing instead to sign with the LG Twins of the Korean Baseball Organization.Carlos Santana, C
Santana put up mediocre offensive numbers for the Loons in 2007, but caught fire the next season when he hit .326 with 21 HRs and 117 RBIs for three minor league teams. By then, he was part of the Cleveland Indians organization and his career path was following a fast lane to the MLB.
Santana is now a fixture in the Cleveland lineup. He has a career .367 OBP and hit 27 home runs in the 2011 season. His first grand slam was a walk-off shot against the Detroit Tigers in April of 2011. Like Kershaw and Jansen, Santana has carved out a very nice MLB career.
David Sutherland, 1B
A native of Brisbane, Australia, the 6-foot-6 Sutherland played five minor league seasons in the states. Had very modest offensive production with the Loons – in his last season in the U.S. – but his career MILB average was a respectable .274.
Sutherland now plays with the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League, where he’s maintained his childhood nickname of “Goofy” (because of his awkward play as a kid). He’s worked for Alderley Hire, an equipment and party hiring service in Brisbane.
Eduardo Perez, DH
Perez played two seasons with the Loons, and was one of the team’s most consistent hitters in 2007 when he batted .311 with 14 HRs, 60 RBIs and a .362 OBP. He was a Midwest League All-Star that season along with teammates Kershaw, Francisco Lizarraga and Miguel Ramirez.
The Venezuela native made it as high as Double-A in both 2009 and 2010, but was a corner infielder without typical corner infielder power numbers. He’s played his last two seasons in the independent Atlantic League.
Justin Fuller, 2B
Fuller will always be able to tell his grandchildren that he was traded straight up for a potential Hall of Famer. On Aug. 31, 2009, Fuller was traded to the White Sox in a deal which brought slugger Jim Thome to the Dodgers.
Fuller, a native of Alaska, never made it to the big leagues, climbing only as high as Double-A in 2010 with the Birmingham Barons. He played in 45 total games for the Loons over parts of two seasons. He was selected by Baseball America as the best defensive player in the 2006 Dodgers draft class.
Clayton Kershaw, LHP
Kershaw averaged 11.3 strikeouts and had a 1.121 WHIP in a brief minor league career before the Dodgers brought him on board in May of 2008 (at age 20). Since then, all he’s done is win two National League Cy Young Awards and three consecutive ERA titles, while leading the league in K’s twice.
Kershaw’s current contract pays him $30.7 million per season. Enough said.
Doug Brooks, RHP
Brooks, a home state product who prepped at Taylor Kennedy High School, pitched in 75 minor league games but never advanced further than Single-A. His victory in South Bend was his only win with the Loons. Brooks – who has been out of professional baseball since 2009 – had an 8-11 career MILB mark with a 5.68 ERA.