Designated Hitter: Wahconah Park's sun delay always sticks out for players

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There have been Hall of Famers and other great baseball players who played on the field at Wahconah Park over the past century. The first thing anyone still thinks of when the old ballpark comes up is — you guessed it — the famous sun delay.

How do I know?

Last Monday, I was covering the Suns' game with Bristol and wrote on Twitter that I was shocked that there was no sun delay, for which the park on Wahconah Street is famous for.

It prompted an immediate response that read: "I remember those. They were the worst."

The writer was Rex Rundgren, who played for the New York-Penn League's Utica Blue Sox in 2001. He would have come to Wahconah Park to play against the Pittsfield Astros.

Rundgren is the son of rock musician Todd Rundgren ("Hello, It's Me"). Rex was a 11th-round pick of the Florida Marlins in 2001, but never made it to the big leagues. He did get to experience sun delays at Wahconah Park.

So did Darrin Jackson.

For two years, Jackson — a member of the Chicago White Sox radio broadcast crew — played for the Pittsfield Cubs. So, in 1985 and 1986, he experienced his share of delays.

"The first one I ever had was in Bakersfield, California," Jackson told me on Thursday night at Fenway Park.

That's right, Wahconah is not the only park with sun delays. Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield is like Wahconah Park in that it was built facing west. Both were built long before lights lined fields, which is why they face west.

In 1983, Jackson played for Salinas in the Class A California League, and the Cubs affiliate would visit Bakersfield.

"I was shocked to see it and deal with it," he said. "But it was a visiting place. To come to Pittsfield and actually have that happen really every single day, to where you had to wait in that 20-minute window or whatever it was, for the sun to set and for you to continue was the craziest thing I experienced in professional baseball."

Jackson went on from Pittsfield to play 12 seasons in the majors, four of them with the Chicago Cubs. In 12 years, he hit .257 and played for seven different clubs, including the team he broadcasts for now.

Sun delays are no fun for pitchers. But according to Jackson, sometimes the sun delay wasn't too bad for hitters.

"At the same time, trust me, there were times when you were struggling that you looked forward to it," Jackson said with a laugh. "It was like 'when's that delay going to hit? Maybe things will be different after the break.'

"It was definitely one of the unique things you were going to do in baseball."

So Jackson is part of a very rare fraternity, as he played in both parks that are oriented to the west. That fraternity was, however, a bit larger than I thought.

Jackson's broadcast partner is former Major League pitcher Ed Farmer. Farmer, who played for eight teams in 11 big league seasons, actually participated in the same daily double.

Farmer played part of the 1968 season with the Cleveland Indians' Eastern League team in Waterbury, Conn.

Playing in Waterbury in 1968, and again in 1969, meant that Farmer had to make stops in Pittsfield to play the Pittsfield Red Sox.

"Oh yes, in Pittsfield? Absolutely," said Farmer.

Farmer's 1968 Waterbury Indians finished last in the six-team Eastern League, 32 1/2 games behind the Pittsfield Red Sox. That team had Billy Conigliaro and the late Paul Dowd on it. The 1968 Waterbury Indians had former Cleveland outfielder John Lowenstein and ex-Yankee player and broadcaster Fran Healy. The next year, the Red Sox finished in fourth, 21 1/2 games behind the York Pirates. Waterbury was again last, 42 games back.

That 1969 Pittsfield team had Carl Boteze, Carlton Fisk and Bill "The Spaceman" Lee on it.

"I didn't know what was going on" at the first delay in Pittsfield, said Farmer. "Then I got sent to A ball and it happened in Bakersfield. I said 'this happens in the minor leagues evidently, in different cities.' It's ridiculous.

"Then I found out that nobody could see. I said 'let me pitch the third.' Unbelievable."

As we have found out over the years, not so unbelievable.

Reach sports columnist Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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