#TBT: Cards, Padres meet in Hawaii

Three-game 'Paradise Series' a hit with players, fans in Aloha State in '97

June 30th, 2016

It was still America's national pastime because it was still technically America.
But when the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres traversed the Pacific to play three regular-season games in beautiful sun-splashed, laid-back Hawaii on April 19-20, 1997, it was anything but a normal land-locked Major League road trip.
It was dubbed the "Paradise Series," and it included just about everything you might expect from a typical Hawaiian vacation: sun, sand, saltwater and the temptation for serious distraction.
"Once I heard about it, I couldn't wait," said then-Cardinals outfielder Ron Gant, who's now an anchor on FOX 5's "Good Day Atlanta" program. "I'd never been to Hawaii. That definitely made the 162-game schedule a lot more interesting."
The three games come to mind on another Throwback Thursday as MLB is set to honor our military this Fourth of July weekend with the Fort Bragg Game between the Braves and Marlins (Sunday on ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The game, which is the first-ever regular-season matchup between teams of any major sport on an active armed forces base, will be played in a new 12,500-seat ballpark in front of a packed crowd limited to military personnel.

Nineteen years ago, MLB was already thinking outside the box -- and continent -- when it came to bringing aboard new fans. The stage was set at Aloha Stadium in a suburb of Honolulu on the island of Oahu. The artificial-turf-covered home of University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football is also known for having hosted Hula Bowls and NFL Pro Bowls throughout the years, the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders from 1976-87 and the last concert by the rock band The Police on their 1984 American tour.
Tickets were priced as low as $8 and as high as $20 for a twilight doubleheader on Saturday and a single, nationally televised afternoon game on Sunday.
Large crowds came to the park over the course of the two days, with 37,382 taking in the twin bill and another 40,050 watching the Sunday game.
But some of the most memorable parts of the experience happened before the first pitch was even thrown.
Take, for example, the travel logistics involved. The Padres had played their last game in Pittsburgh that Wednesday and had to stop in San Diego on what ended up being more than a 12-hour trip.
"It seemed like we picked up half of San Diego on our plane and another plane," said Bruce Bochy, the manager of the Padres at the time and now the skipper of the San Francisco Giants.
But once they got to the islands, they had two days off. That was a great thing for most of the players. Maybe it wasn't the best thing for pitcher Joey Hamilton, who got so sunburned that Bochy said he would have scratched him if it were his turn to pitch.
And when Bochy saw his former player, the late slugger Ken Caminiti, show up for batting practice in nothing but shorts, he told him, "You've got to put some clothes on."
"It was different," said Detroit Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner, then a Padres outfielder. "Who doesn't like to go there, right?"
The Cardinals certainly didn't have any problems with the arrangement. Gant recalls a magical off-day before the games started in which he and a few teammates, including Tom Lampkin, rolled around the city on rented mopeds, hung out at the beach, having authentic Hawaiian leis around their necks and watching the sun fall into the mighty Pacific.
"We might have had one or two tropical beverages, too," Gant said.
Gant also managed to make history. After the Cardinals swept the Saturday doubleheader, with future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley nailing down the save in a 1-0 victory in Game 1 and St. Louis starter Alan Benes going the distance in a 2-1 win in Game 2, the Padres came back with an 8-2 triumph in the Sunday game.
But the most memorable play came in the fourth inning, with two out and Gant at the plate facing Padres starter Andy Ashby. Gant hit a long fly ball to left-center and future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, manning center field for San Diego, chased it down, lunged and dove into the wall to try to catch it. He didn't, the ball caromed back into center on the hard turf, Gant never stopped running, and by the time the relay throw arrived at the plate, Gant had already slid in safely headfirst.

"It's the only inside-the-park homer hit in Hawaii in Major League history," Gant said with a laugh. "I read that somewhere."
The players look back on the trip now with good memories. It was an adventure and it was baseball in front of appreciative fans in a beautiful locale.
But it was also serious business and no leisurely vacation. These were three regular-season games, after all.
"We knew it was going to be a fun trip, but we were still trying to win," Gant said. "Our manager was Tony La Russa, and he was intense. He was one of those type of guys that didn't want any distractions.
"Then again, he likes the record books and he likes history. I'm sure he liked the fact that we were playing in Hawaii."