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Looking Back: Former Sound Brian Dayett

April 18, 2011
Former Nashville Sounds third baseman/outfielder Brian Dayett's contribution to baseball inspired the small town of Deep River, Conn., to name their Little League Baseball program for him. Dayett was born in New London, Conn., but raised in Deep River. He attended Valley Regional High School and played baseball for Saint Leo College (Fla.).

After Dayett's junior year, he was selected by the New York Yankees in the 16th round (416th overall) of the 1978 amateur baseball draft. At this time in his young career, Dayett was playing third base. The Yankees sent him to Oneonta, NY (Single-A) in the New York/Penn League. The 21-year-old appeared in 68 games, batted .309 (79-for-256) with one home run.

"I was feeling pretty good after that first year of professional ball," Dayett said recently from his Tennessee home. "I got a bat contract from Louisville Slugger and the Yankees moved me up from rookie ball to Double-A (West Haven--Eastern League). "I skipped over the lower leagues. That was an honor.

"We did well that season. We had some No. 1 picks on that team. To skip classes was unheard of at the time with the Yankees, because they usually made you go through every level and work your way up. Today, they spend money and rush kids up to the big leagues when they are not ready. I ended up playing four years of Double-A though."

Dayett, 54, appeared with three minor league teams in 1980: Ft. Lauderdale (Florida State League), Alexandria (Carolina League) and Nashville (Southern League). His total stats for all three teams include a .264 average (322 at-bats) with seven home runs and 23 doubles. Dayett was the starting third baseman for the Sounds on opening day 1980.

"I started out in Nashville and got hit in the face with a ball in Birmingham," Dayett said. "They sent me to a co-op team in Alexandria, a place where a bunch of guys with different teams go. Then when they found a spot for me on the roster in Ft. Lauderdale, the Yankees Class-A team. I finished the season there.

"I did appear in 34 games for Sounds and was having fun until I got hit in the face. We had a lot of big players that developed into very good major league players. I got off to a bad start that year. I was like 22-for-100, hitting .220. They sent me back which was disappointing, but I battled my way back."

Being in the Yankees' organization, which was known for its overwhelming talent, there was tough competition to advance. The right-handed hitter knew he couldn't let up on his determination.

"It was difficult," Dayett said. "You have to play hard, put up good numbers, believe in yourself and hope somebody likes you. In Nashville we had Don Mattingly, Steve Balboni, Buck Showalter, Willie McGee, Max Winters and Rex Hudler. In those first two years in Nashville, Stump Merrill was our manager. Stump was a tough guy. He expected hard play. I don't know what kind of reports he wrote on me.

"Stump had been in the Yankees organization for quite a few years and came out of the University of Maine. He was a tough New Englander. He had an assistant, Ed Napoleon, who I thought was great coach. Stump was a simple man. He was not difficult and stood by his word. You had to bear down with him. Some managers you like a lot, and some you don't care for as much. But they are still good teachers. Sometimes the guys you don't like the most are the ones you learn the most."

In 1981, Dayett was the everyday third baseman for the Sounds. The 24-year old batted .269 (91-for-338) with 62 RBIs in 112 games. Dayett's home run total of 18 led the Sounds that season. These were his best minor league numbers at the time. Dayett was pleased with his progression.

"With the college kids like me, they pretty much give you three years to get to the big leagues,' said Dayett. With high school kids, it seems they give you five to six years before they make a decision on you. I felt like I was progressing well. I was getting better and better each year.

"You have to be in the lineup regularly in baseball to improve. You can't be sitting on the bench or platoon; it is much harder. You need to play everyday."

Dayett was very much impressed with some of his Nashville teammates.

"Willie McGee was so quick and had such a strong arm," Dayett said. "Otis Nixon was a speedster. You knew his speed was going to get him to the big leagues. Mattingly was a self-made player who got himself stronger and a better hitter. He worked very hard everyday with a great work ethic.

"A lot of us Yankee players were hoping to get to major league caliber and get picked up my other teams. It seemed like the Yankees put the most kids in the big leagues, but it was with other organizations."

Dayett would have a memorable year in 1982 as a Sounds outfielder putting up remarkable numbers. First, Dayett had to learn a new position, which helped him to a breakout season.

"Ed Napoleon thought it would be good idea to move me to the outfield," said Dayett. " Sometimes I would play in the outfield when someone was injured. I got some good jumps and looked pretty good out there. I had a good throwing arm. Ed thought I might be a better hitter if I was playing in the outfield instead of third base.

"I guess I worried about my defense too much which might have taken away from my hitting skills. They sent me to the Instructional League at the end of 1981 to learn the outfield position. That's where I ended up and my hitting numbers came up."

In 1982, Dayett would slam 34 home runs, a single-season Sounds record tied with Balboni. Dayett also became the Southern League's MVP while batting .280 (150-for-537) in 144 games and 96 RBIs.

The 1982 Sounds, led my manager Johnny Oates, would win the Southern League Western Division playoff final by defeating Knoxville 3-1. In the SL finals against Jacksonville, Nashville held a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. The fourth game was played in Nashville and Dayett would hit one of the Sounds and Greer Stadium's most historic home runs.

In the bottom of the 13th inning the game was tied, 3-3 with two outs and Showalter on base. Dayett smashed a home run over the double-wall in left-center field in front of 4, 106 fans to win the Southern League championship.

"When I am at-bat, I just try to hit the ball hard into the allies, and if I got under it a little bit, I knew I had the swing and power to get it out of the park," said Dayett.

"When you have the ability to drive the ball out of the park, I think the coaches like to see you give it a shot with the first two strikes and after that just try to make contact. That year put the frosting on the cake. Getting into the playoffs and hitting a walk-off home run to win the championship topped off my entire year. It got me moved up to Triple-A where I got into the big leagues."

That magical 1982 season might not have existed for both Dayett and the Sounds. In 1981, when Dayett was off to a slow start and recovering from his hit to the face, the Yankees and Sounds were ready to release him. This is a story that Dayett did not know about himself until three years ago.

"Stump was releasing him, and I was told to do the paper work," said Farrell Owens the Sounds general manager from 1978-82. "I hated it because I knew Brian had not been given a fair shake. I knew this would be the end of his pro career. In 1980, Brian had been sent back to Single-A ball from Nashville, but on this occasion he was being sent outright.

"Luckily, we were pounding Knoxville on this particular night and they decided to put him in. Brian batted twice and hit home runs both times. Stump was in a pickle. He told me to save the paperwork for a day or so. Brian started the next night and got two more hits. He was looking good and Stump knew he was wrong in his evaluation of Brian's talents. So he stayed with us. Life can take funny turns at times."

Dayett was promoted that next season to the Yankees Triple-A club in Columbus. He put up even better numbers when he slugged 35 home runs, 108 RBIs, while batting .288 (138-for-479) in 128 games. Those solid back-to-back seasons earned Dayett a trip to the big leagues. Dayett was called up to the Yankees in September 1983.

"There were three or four of us that got called up," said Dayett. "I was very happy and excited. I had worked from little league, college and six years in the minor leagues. Getting called up was a great honor. Any kid would dream about it and would have liked to be in my shoes at the time. To wear the pinstripes for an historical team that won so many championships was such an experience.

"It was really exciting to walk out of Yankee Stadium. I wore No. 62 and when I went into the outfield a fan yelled, 'hey Dayett! What kind of number is 62? Are you a pulling guard for the New York Giants football team?' I didn't care. I would have worn any number. I was just happy to be there."

Dayett vividly remembers that first major league at-bat when he pinched-hit for Omar Moreno.

"I got a hit in my first at-bat," said Dayett. "Mike Flanagan of the Orioles had a 0-2 count on me. I battled back and got a hit up the middle past Cal Ripken, Jr. It was a doubleheader with about 55, 000 fans there. We were four games out of first place with 20 to go. We loss all four games to the Orioles in Yankee Stadium and wound up eight out with 16 to go. We couldn't make a final run for the American League playoffs."

Dayett would play in 11 games that month batting .207 (6-for-29) with five RBIs. He felt good about his prospects with the Yankees when spring camp opened in 1984.

"I was going to make the team, but I had a hip flexor problem," Dayett said. "Lou Piniella was going to retire, and he decided to hang on until I recovered from the injury. When I was over the injury, I went to Triple-A for about a month and came up in June. Then Lou Pinellia retired and I took his place. He became my hitting coach then. I was in a platoon situation. I was hitting against left-handers. Against righties they used Ken Griffey, Sr. and Steve Kemp who they had gotten from the Detroit Tigers."

Dayett did play in 64 games batting .244 (31-for-127), four home runs and 23 RBIs. He remembers his first major league dinger and another pair that were career highlights. Dayett slugged 14 career home runs wearing a major league uniform.

"It was against Mike Flanagan again in Baltimore," Dayett said about his first home run. "My parents and some relatives were there. I got my first home run over the bullpen and bleachers in left-center field in the old stadium [Memorial Stadium]. Another home run was a highlight when I hit a pitch-hit grand slam. I was with the Cubs and Tom Browning, who won 20 games that year with Cincinnati, was one of only three 20-game winners that year. I hit a pinch-hit grand slam to win a game for us. It was on the first pitch and such a thrill.

"Then I hit another grand slam off Bob Knepper of the Houston Astros. That was a game where I was batting fourth and Andre Dawson was batting in front of me. We were losing 3-0 in the first inning when I hit it. That put us ahead 4-3. It was one of those high scoring games at Wrigley like 16-14 and we ended up winning."

While with the Yankees, Dayett would be managed by two New York legends in Billy Martin and Yogi Berra.

"Billy was towards the end of his career," said Dayett. "He had a lot of help with Lee Walls and his bench coaches. He fought very hard for his players and stayed on umpires pretty good. Yogi was a little bit different, funnier. He was serious about winning, and did a lot of kidding up and down the bench. Yogi was a good guy and told some good jokes.

In December 1984, Dayett was traded by the Yankees with Ray Fontenot to the Chicago Cubs for Porfi Altamirano, Rich Bordi, Henry Cotto and Ron Hassey. Dayett looked as this as an opportunity.

"I was happy with the trade because I wasn't playing everyday and I thought I should have been," Dayett said. "Wrigley Field was a lot smaller and you could hit more home runs there. I thought they [Cubs] really liked me and were going to use me a lot. I wound up platooning over there also. It's hard when you play one day and sit for three or four games.

"I was projected to be the starting right-fielder in 1987, but they signed Andre Dawson. He wanted to play for a team with a grass field because his knees were killing him. Dawson ended up hitting 49 home runs that year and was named the league MVP. I had to tip my hat to him. He was an outstanding player. After my third year with the Cubs, I ended up signing a contract to play in Japan."

Dayett played four years (1988-91) with the Nippon Ham Fighters. The Japanese baseball fans would idolize the American players and expected them to produce a winning record for their home team.

"In Japanese baseball, the first guy would get on base," said Dayett. "The second guy would bunt and first base would be open. Then the Americans would come up at three and four in the order. They either walked you or pitched around you. For the American players the strike zones are huge. They expect the Americans to hit 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and bat over .300.

"They had huge expectations for us. If you didn't live up to them, they frowned on you. They play a lot of small ball. Living in Japan was tough. You had to get around by learning the trains and subways. You had an interpreter and he helped you for a while until you got your feet under you. The transit systems run on time. I had a bicycle during that last year and got around that way. I'd hit the sushi shops.

Japan was the last stop for Dayett in his professional baseball-playing career. Dayett was 35 years old and his playing abilities were slowed. In his career, Dayett went through two ankle surgeries and one hip operation. Dayett knew it was time to leave the game so he retired.

Dayett began a coaching career in 1997 with an independent team in Illinois. In 2002, he coached the Salem Wart Hogs in the Carolina League and became the Houston Astros minor league hitting coach. Since 2005 and into 2011, Dayett is a minor league hitting/bench for the Astros. He will coach the Spokane Indians after the June amateur draft and work with the rookies.

Dayett's major league totals include a .258 (110-for-426) batting average in 218 games. He collected 14 home runs with 68 RBIs. In the field, Dayett committed just one error for a fielding average of .995

Dayett lives in Winchester, Tennessee with his wife and two sons. He likes to work with the Franklin County High School's baseball team when time permits. Dayett was asked to sum up his baseball career.

"I came from a small town," said Dayett. "I'm not a very big guy just 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. I worked my tail off. I was a walk-on in college, a 16th round draft pick and didn't get much money to sign. My first contract called for me to receive a pair of spikes and a glove. They took that out in the second year. It's the type of game where a small guy can make it. If a kid really wants to make it, his has to be determined and have the desire. He can do whatever he wants."

Traughber's Tidbit: Last week, Koby Clemens, son of seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, played first base for Oklahoma City while playing the Sounds at Herschel Greer Stadium. He recorded one home run in the series.

In 1998, Pete Rose, Jr., son of baseball's all-time hits leader, played part of the 1998 season wearing a Nashville Sounds uniform. The Sounds were the Triple-A affiliate of the Pirates at the time. The Baltimore Orioles selected Rose in the 12th round of the 1988 amateur draft. In 21 years, he played in the minors with five different organizations including independent leagues.

Rose appeared in 28 games for the Sounds, batted .208 (15-72), one home run and 12 RBIs. His career minor league batting average was .271 and he retired in 2009. In 1997, the Reds promoted him to Cincinnati where he was 2-for-14 (.143) in 11 games in his only major league stint. Rose, in 2011, is the manager for the White Sox short-season Bristol team of the Appalachian League.

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