PEELER: A Long, Strange Trip For Strange
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. – Strange? That only begins to describe the play that landed a freshman shortstop from NC State's baseball team on the pages of Sports Illustrated during the spring of 1983.
It was a sunny afternoon in March at Doak Field, and the NC State student body was trickling back to campus from spring break. Most of them came back to school early so they could watch television coverage of the ACC Basketball Tournament Championship game between NC State and Virginia, which tipped off at 1 p.m. down in Atlanta.
If the Wolfpack won, the students would be within easy reach of Hillsborough Street, where they would spend the rest of the afternoon and event celebrating.
A few devoted fans came out to see a baseball double-header between the Wolfpack and UNC-Charlotte at Doak Field. All-America pitcher Dan Plesac was on the mound in the first game of a doubleheader and had a comfortable 7-2 lead.
There was a man on first in the top of the seventh and final inning, and Plesac was one out away from another win when a 49er batter hit a grounder to freshman shortstop Doug Strange.
Instead of tossing the ball to second for the final out, Strange threw to first base. But just as he was ready to release the ball, the Wolfpack basketball team capped off its upset of Ralph Sampson-led Virginia down in the Omni. Fans listening to their radios in the bleachers and students in the Lee and Sullivan dormitories just beyond the outfield fences at Doak let out yell, causing Strange to become a little distracted.
"I caught the ball and did a little crop-hop and the next thing I know there is this big roar," Strange said. "I threw the ball against the press-box wall. Here I am a greenhorn from South Carolina and Plesac is out there trying to impress the major league scouts.
"I look over at [Coach Sam] Esposito in the dugout and I don't even want to think about what he is going to say to me."
The 49ers took advantage of the mistake, coming back to tie the game and winning in extra innings. Worse yet, Strange's roommate took the loss.
To add to the humiliation, Sports Illustrated called the next day to ask about what happened.
"So not only did everybody at school and in Raleigh find out what I did, but everybody back home in [Greenville, S.C.] found out about it too."
But, nearly three decades later, it makes for a good banquet story, so Strange told it as he, Plesac and Steve Martin were inducted into the NC State Baseball Hall of Fame Saturday night during the First Pitch Banquet at the Raleigh City Center Marriott. After everything that happened the rest of that spring, Strange really doesn't mind that he and his teammates sacrificed a baseball win for a celebration of a basketball game some 350 miles away.
"I am not sure exactly what Plesac said to me after that game, but I know he gave me a couple of dirty looks," Strange said. "If that had been my last game, I am sure I would be pretty bitter about it, but looking back on it, I think it's funny as hell.
"The good part about that is after everybody realized the basketball team won, I don't think they cared that I threw the ball away."
Strange spent the next three years playing for the Wolfpack and was selected in the seventh round of the 1985 draft by the Detroit Tigers. The switch-hitting utilityman played for six different teams in his nine-year major league career. His longest stint with any team was 218 games with the Texas Rangers in 1993-94.
He retired after spending the 1998 season as Pittsburgh's starting third baseman.
In 707 career games, he had an overall batting average of .233 with 31 home runs and 211 RBI.
After two years as a scout for the Florida Marlins, Strange has spent the last seven years as a member of Pirates baseball operations staff. His current title is special assistant to the general manager.
Like former NC State quarterback Johnny Evans, Strange is the proud parent of a set of quadruplets: 11-year-old sons Joseph, Jackson, Jake and daughter Logan. He and his wife Holli also have a six-year-old daughter Lauren.
Strange and his three sons went all out to make sure he could share that story with more than 200 Rally Club members and former NC State baseball players at Saturday night's banquet. They left Pittsburgh early Friday morning and drove through more than 18 inches of snow to get to Raleigh.
But, like that E-6 so many years ago, it was totally worth it.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.