Years from now, if Andrew Benintendi and Dansby Swanson have become superstars, teams like New New York, West Atlanta, Tatooine, Applegate, Savannah and Dyersville will look back at The Trade That Changed Everything the day before the draft. And either thank their lucky stars or wonder what might have been.
West Atlanta manager Jeff Richards and Tatooine manager Nick Calderon, early arrivals to the 38th annual I-75 League convention, were enjoying an Atlanta-Boston exhibition game where hotshot Red Sox prospect Benintendi was in the midst of a 4-for-4 day that featured two doubles, an RBI single and a solo homer that prompted a standing ovation in the Braves’ home park.
At that point, Tatooine owned the second overall pick, and was thought to be interested in Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer as its choice, with New New York counting on taking Braves shortstop Swanson with the third pick, and Applegate playing its cards close to the vest, but secretly intending to take Benintendi.
But Tatooine was hurting for pitching. West Atlanta was enamored with Swanson. The sun was blazing down on the seats on the third-base side of the field, and West Atlanta had a hot idea: White Sox lefty ace Chris Sale for Tatooine’s No. 2 pick overall. Calderon pondered, then pounced, knowing there were no established starting pitchers the likes of Sale available in the draft.
The reverberations began almost immediately, as text messages flew fast and furious across the country. Most impacted: New New York’s Jason Renbarger, who was devoid of shortstops and had traded up to the No. 3 pick in the hope of landing Swanson, believing catcher Gary Sanchez would go No. 1 to Margaritaville and a starting pitcher No. 2 to Tatooine.
But the Trade Changed Everything. Now after Sanchez and Swanson, a lot of unknowns. What would New New York do? It still had a hole at shortstop, and Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story was an option, as well as Fulmer, and Benintendi. Benintendi was secretly coveted by Applegate at No. 4 and openly by Savannah at No. 5, and the Scorpions cooked up a contingency deal with Dyersville that had originally seemed like a sure thing — it would go through as long as Benintendi and Fulmer were taken or about to be taken, and Contreras was available — and suddenly was up in the air.
When the draft commenced, Sanchez and Swanson came off the board as anticipated, and then the Hypnotoads grabbed Benintendi, puncturing Applegate’s hopes and Savannah’s hearts. The Paperclips’ contingency plan: Cubs catcher/1B/OF Willson Contreras, much to the disappointment of Dyersville manager Ryan Renbarger. Savannah settled for Fulmer, completing the falling of the dominoes.
After a record 225 players were chosen, including the league’s first-ever expansion era 15th round to give clubs a starting roster of 33 for the firs time, the 38th annual draft was in the books and the season was ready to start.
The convention had other highlights:
- Awarding of plaques to 2016 division champions and World Series champion Mike Renbarger.
- Ballgames virtually every day, with picture perfect mild weather.
- Ten of 15 managers drafting on-site.
- Comfortable accommodations at Windsor Palms.
- A reunion with league original Larry Pittman, as five of the managers who started this whole thing back in 1980 came together for a Yankees-Pirates game in Tampa.
The season began shortly after, with Margaritaville, defending champ Superior, Springfield and Boulder among the clubs forecasted to be some of the strongest teams.