OHS graduate Bellinger out, at home
Owner of three World Series rings no longer playing baseball; Connolly brothers start season in Double-A
MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
By P.J. Harmer
There were no press conferences or farewell tours for Clay Bellinger, just a quiet exit from baseball.
Oneonta High graduate Bellinger ended a 16-year professional baseball career this season, just months after taking time off from his Triple-A schedule with the Ottawa Lynx to compete for the Greek Olympic Baseball Team during the 2004 Summer Games.
"I just kind of felt it was time to do something else," Bellinger said this week via his home phone in Chandler, Ariz. "Sixteen years it was a great time. I experienced a lot of things. Last year in Ottawa was tough playing th[an error occurred while processing this directive]ere."
Bellinger, who signed a one-year free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles last season, said he received no offers this season to continue a career he started in 1989 as a second-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants.
"It made it easier (to step away) because nobody called and there wasn’t a lot of interest," said Bellinger, the 1986 Daily Star Player of the Year. "If someone calls you never know. I think some people look at the age and think I can’t do it."
Bellinger, 36, earned two World Series rings with the New York Yankees in 1999 and 2000, and a third with the Anaheim Angels in 2002. Bellinger said Wednesday he’s working in real estate and may take an Emergency Medical Technician test needed to become a firefighter.
Bellinger ended his career with the Lynx, the Triple-A affiliate of Baltimore. He appeared in 67 games, batting .229 (50-for-218) with 15 doubles, eight home runs, 27 RBIs and 29 runs.
"It was the whole Ottawa thing," Bellinger said. "Another country, the weather wasn’t that great and the field wasn’t that great. We didn’t play in front of a lot of fans. That’s the minor leagues for you. I only got to see my family a couple of times. It was a tough way to go out."
Still, Bellinger managed to find a bright spot in August 2004 with his first appearance in the Olympics.
"It’s pretty sweet to experience the whole thing," said Bellinger, who has Greek roots. "The neatest thing was playing in the games. The Greek people got into it and supported us. We were pretty much in the games, give or take a few innings. It was positive note to go out on."
Bellinger, a career-long utility player, batted .193 (60-for-311) in 183 major-league games. He had 12 homers, 11 doubles and three triples, along with 35 RBIs and 57 runs in a career highlighted by appearances in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 major league playoffs.
Although he wasn’t on the Yankees’ roster for the 1999 World Series, Bellinger played in 32 regular-season and four postseason games to get his first ring. His second came in 2000, when he appeared in four World Series games to help the Yankees beat the New York Mets, four games to one. In 2002, Bellinger played two regular-season games for Anaheim, which went on to beat San Francisco in the World Series.
"You always dream about getting one (ring)," Bellinger said. "I don’t know about three, especially two being with the Yankees."
Bellinger spent 10 seasons in the minor leagues before making his major-league debut with the Yankees on April 9, 1999. His best major-league season came in 2000, when Bellinger batted .207 (38-184) with six homers, eight doubles and 21 RBIs in 98 games.
"Great memories and great experiences," Bellinger said. "I got to see the United States. I got to play in Yankee Stadium in October and November."
Bellinger is one of six former Oneonta High players coached by Joe Hughes to be drafted by a professional baseball team. The others are Tim Christman, Mike Connolly, Jon Connolly, Craig Hurba and Ron Thomas. Bellinger and Thomas are the only ones no longer playing pro ball.
"It’s awesome, especially being from a smaller town," Bellinger said. "Anybody from our neck of the woods making it is awesome. You only play so much there, so you have to be decent to be noticed."Jon Connolly
Jon Connolly finally caught up with his older brother.
Connolly, 21, was promoted to the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, a Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
Older brother Mike, 22, started his third season at Double-A Altoona, an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Lefty Jon Connolly has started one game this season for the Diamond Jaxx, allowing three runs (all earned) on six hits in a five-inning outing against the Chattanooga Lookouts on Sunday.
Connolly gave up two homers, struck out four and walked two. He also batted twice, going 0-for-2.
Connolly finished 11-7 last season with the Daytona Cuba and Lakeland Tigers, striking out 109 in 153 innings. Drafted by Detroit in the 28th round of the 2001 draft, Connolly was traded by Detroit to Chicago on April 29, 2004.Mike Connolly
Mother Nature rained on Connolly’s parade early this season.
The Curve slated lefty Connolly as their opening-day starter April 7, and he walked the first Reading Phillies batter he faced before rain suspended the game in the bottom of the first. The game resumed April 8 with a new pitcher for Altoona, but the batter who walked the day before scored. Reading won, 5-4, and Connolly took the loss as a result.
Connolly pitched five innings Monday and left with the score tied at 0. He struck out seven and walked none in Altoona’s 4-1 loss to Trenton.
Connolly, The Daily Star Player of the Year in 1999 and 2000, finished 8-6 for Altoona in 2004, striking out 102 in 111 innings. He was selected by Pittsburgh in the 19th round of the 2000 draft.Craig Hurba
Catcher Hurba, 23, earned a promotion this season to the Bakersfield Blazers, the high Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.
Hurba, the 1998 Daily Star Player of the Year, is 4-for-8 in two games as of Tuesday. He has a .625 slugging percentage and a run scored for the Blaze, who play in the California League.
Hurba played last season in the rookie Arizona League and hit .263 (26-for-69) in 32 games with the Rangers. He had six triples, five doubles and one homer. He also had a .422 on base percentage.Tim Christman
Lefty Christman, The Daily Star Player of the year in 1992 and ’93, will join the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League for the third time in his career. The Saints open their season May 7.
Christman pitched in 30 games last season for the Tacoma Rainers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. He was 2-0 with a 4.58 ERA and had two saves.
P.J. Harmer can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 229.