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Trash Pandas Celebrate Black History Month

February 1, 2022

In celebration of Black History Month throughout the month of February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club. While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious careers in the big

In celebration of Black History Month throughout the month of February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.

While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious careers in the big leagues, others had a great Minor League career, or in some cases, one incredible season that went down as a year for the ages.

Here is a look back at the five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for North Alabama's team.

Prince Fielder

The seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft was destined for stardom from a young age. The son of World Series Champion and All-Star Cecil Fielder, Prince began his professional career in 2002 in the Milwaukee Brewers system.

After finishing 2003 in Low-A, Fielder skipped High-A in 2004 and went straight to Double-A Huntsville as a 20-year-old for his third professional season. Despite being one of the youngest players in the Southern League, Fielder had an impressive season, batting .272 with 23 home runs, 78 RBI, 70 runs, 29 doubles, and 11 stolen bases over 135 games for the Stars. Those totals ranked among the Southern League leaders in numerous categories including home runs (T-2nd), RBI (T-4th), and hits (T-5th, 135), That summer, Fielder launched a home run at the Southern League All-Star Game and played for Team USA at the All-Star Futures Game in Houston.

The next season, Fielder made his MLB debut for the Brewers and never looked back, playing over 1,600 big leagues games between the Brewers, Detroit Tigers, and Texas Rangers. He ended a 12-year big league career in 2016 with six All-Star selections, three Silver Slugger Awards, and was eventually named to the Milwaukee Brewers Wall of Honor.

Rickie Weeks

Another member of the 2004 Huntsville Stars proved to be one of the franchise’s best. Rickie Weeks took an interesting path to North Alabama, winning the Golden Spikes Award for Southern University in 2003 and making his MLB debut for the Brewers later that season after being selected second overall in the draft.

In his first full professional season, the 21-year-old Weeks joined the Stars in 2004 and spent the entire season in Huntsville.

Over 133 games, Weeks batted .259 with eight home runs, 42 RBI, 35 doubles, 57 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases while ranked as the Brewers’ top prospect. His 35 doubles led the Southern League and he joined Fielder on the American squad for the All-Star Futures Game in Houston.

That 2004 season was Weeks’ only at the Double-A level. He became a mainstay in the Brewers’ lineup in 2005 and spent more than a decade in the big leagues, mainly with Milwaukee. In 2011, he earned his first and only All-Star selection and is also enshrined on the Milwaukee Brewers Wall of Honor.

Lorenzo Cain

It took a little while for Lorenzo Cain to reach Double-A, and just a bit longer to reach the big leagues. But once he got there, he never looked back.

Drafted by the Brewers in the 17th round of the 2004 draft, Cain first arrived in Huntsville late in the 2008 season and hit .277 over 40 games in his Double-A debut following a strong start with High-A Brevard County. The next year, he returned to Huntsville, but his average dipped to .214. In 2010, Cain, but it all together and hit .324 with 21 stolen bases over 62 games for the Stars to be named a Southern League Mid-Season All-Star.

He made his MLB debut for the Brewers later that season before an offseason trade sent him to the Kansas City Royals. He became a regular in the Kansas City lineup in 2013 and worked his way to stardom over the next couple seasons. He earned ALCS MVP honors in 2014 as the Royals reached the World Series for the first time since 1985. The next year, he earned his first All-Star selection and drove in three runs in the decisive Game 5 of the World Series to lead Kansas City to the title.

Cain returned to the Brewers as a free agent in 2018, earning his second All-Star selection that season. A strong defensive center fielder, Cain earned his first Gold Glove Award in 2019. Now 36 years old, Cain is still on the Milwaukee roster heading in to the 2022 season.

Gary Jones

Although Gary Jones never played in a Major League game, his contributions to the Huntsville Stars rank him among the greats in franchise history. In 1986, Jones arrived to North Alabama for the first time and hit .311 with two home runs, 49 RBI, 34 stolen bases, and led the league with both 116 runs scored and 128 walks for a dominant Stars squad that went 78-63 before ultimately falling in the Southern League Championship Series.

Three years later, Jones returned to Huntsville for the second time as a 28-year-old player/coach and hit .275 with 16 stolen bases, 67 runs, and 45 RBI over 96 games in what proved to be his final season as a player. His 235 career walks and .486 on-base percentage for the Stars are both franchise records.

Jones became a full-time coach the next season and quickly worked his way back to Huntsville in 1994. In his only season at the helm for the Stars, he earned Southern League Manager of the Year honors after guiding the club to an 81-57 record, the best winning percentage in Stars history. In the playoffs, the Stars swept Chattanooga before defeating Carolina in four games to win the second Southern League title in franchise history.

Jones has been coaching ever since; leading affiliates from a number of different organizations. From 2014-17, he was the third base coach for the Chicago Cubs, including their World Series winning club in 2016. Most recently, he managed Triple-A Lehigh Valley from 2018-21 and will be back in the big leagues as the first base coach for the Detroit Tigers in 2022.

Torii Hunter Jr.

A fan favorite with a contagious energy both on and off the diamond, Torii Hunter Jr. was a mainstay in the Rocket City Trash Pandas’ lineup during the inaugural 2021 season

Constantly dancing in the dugout and making friends along the railing before the game, Hunter dazzled on the field with spectacular defense in the outfield and speed on the bases, with his 12 stolen bases tying for 16th in Double-A South.

On June 15, he became the first player in Trash Pandas history to record a steal of home plate as a part of a delayed double steal against Biloxi. He ended his first season at the Double-A level at the top of his game, hitting .333 with six doubles and eight runs scored over 12 September games.

Although Hunter Jr.’s long-term legacy in the Rocket City is still to be written, his impact in the team’s first season ranks him among the favorites.