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Hale, Melvin fondly recall time in Arizona Fall League

PHOENIX -- Chip Hale remembers the birth of the Arizona Fall League like yesterday.

The year was 1992, and the A's bench coach was then a Triple-A player assigned to the Grand Canyon Rafters. Grady Little was the manager there, and Terry Francona served as the hitting coach.

The Rafters played their games at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson back then, during the same time the Spring Training park was being redone for the Rockies.

"So we couldn't use any of the clubhouses or dugouts," Hale said. "They had all that fenced off, and we had benches on the field. It was so cold, and they had these big metal garbage cans near the benches, so when a guy broke a bat, we'd put it on fire in the cans and it was like a heater for us."

Plenty of fires were lit that year, since teams played all the way into December. Now, the AFL season ends by mid-November.

"I was a guy who had been in Triple-A for two or three years at that point," Hale said. "Now, it's much younger. Every team these days has six players participate, but at that point, there were no Rockies or Marlins or Diamondbacks or Rays.

"During our year, the Expansion Draft took place. We were playing a game in Sun City, and they were doing the [Expansion] Draft and announcing each pick as the game went on, in case one of those guys chosen was playing in the game. Can you imagine that happening now?"

Hale returned to the league in 2007 to manage the Tucson club. He started late, since the D-backs -- for whom he served as a bench coach under Bob Melvin -- went all the way to the National League Championship Series.

Hale arrived in the desert to a grim scene. His club was 0-7 under substitute manager Matt Williams.

"We went 0-9 before we got a win," Hale said, "and we ended up at .500, so I was really proud of that.

"When you have to get to .500, you realize how little games you have. It was way too long when I played in it, and it's almost too short now. There's just not enough pitching these days."

Melvin has his own ties to the Arizona Fall League, having managed the league's Maryvale Saguaros in 1999 -- the very first managerial experience for the former catcher who had retired only five years earlier.

In November, Melvin was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.

"You were always aware of being watched," Melvin said. "And in talking with the general managers from the different organizations at the time, you realized those conversations had an impact in getting you on the map."

Jane Lee is a reporter for

Oakland Athletics