CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Eric Krupa, President of the South Atlantic League, has announced the members of the Class of 2017 for the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame. The three new inductees will be honored as part of the festivities surrounding the 58th Annual South Atlantic League All-Star Game, scheduled to be played on June 20, 2017, at Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies.
This year's class includes an owner, along with a former executive and a former coach. Lakewood BlueClaws owner Joe Finley, former Savannah Sand Gnats VP/COO Ken Shepard and former Columbus RedStixx and Rome Braves Bullpen Coach Tim Straus will be inducted.
Joe Finley led the ownership group that purchased the Cape Fear Crocs in 1999 and moved the team to Lakewood, New Jersey for the 2001 season. The Lakewood BlueClaws led the SAL in average attendance in each of their first 16 years of existence and won Minor League Baseball's prestigious Larry McPhail award for excellence in marketing and promotions in 2002. Beyond club ownership, Joe has contributed to the SAL and Minor League Baseball through his service on the SAL Executive Committee since 2001 and his service on Minor League Baseball's Board of Trustees since 1997 (with one term as BOT Chairman from 2006-2008.) Finley is also co-owner of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA-International League) and the Trenton Thunder (AA-Eastern League).
Ken Shepard's career spanned 20+ years, including stints as the GM of the Geneva (NY) Cubs, GM of the Prince William Cannons, Vice President of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, and GM/Chief Operating Officer of the Savannah Sand Gnats. When Ken was named General Manager of the Geneva Cubs in 1988 at the age of 23, he was the youngest GM in pro baseball. During that season, the team was on a six-game losing streak, so Ken vowed to sleep in the ballpark's press box until the skid was snapped. He ended up staying there for nearly two weeks. The story became national news and led to a 36% gain in attendance over the prior season. Ken was constantly thinking of creative ideas. He was even married at Home Plate in 1994 right before a Wilmington Blue Rock game - the event was magical, with antique cars, fireworks, the bridal party emerging from the dugout with white Sunday game caps and tuxedoes, and skydivers delivering the wedding bands. While Ken was in Wilmington, the Blue Rocks won the 1998 Larry McPhail award, given to a club each season that demonstrates best promotional efforts in Minor League Baseball. Ken preached and lived the philosophy that "you can't sell fun if you don't have fun," and Ken always encouraged his staff to be life-long learners. Ken Shepard went to be with his Lord and Savior on September 5, 2014 after a valiant battle with kidney cancer.
Tim Strauss served as a bullpen coach for the Columbus RedStixx (1993-2002), Greenville Braves (2003-2004) and the Rome Braves (2005-2015). Known for his optimistic demeanor and his encyclopedic baseball knowledge, Tim was a friend, mentor, comedian, and most importantly, a role-model. A true servant leader, his devotion to the physical, mental, and spiritual development of young men has shaped the minds, attitudes, and perspectives of thousands of young players on- and off-the-field for the past 25 years. By way of example, Tim set the tone for professionalism and playing the game with conviction, humility, and with fervor. Tim Straus cleverly used the game of baseball to build men - strong, yet humble men - capable of leading their families, serving their communities, and inspiring the next generation of ball players.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony is one of several events scheduled in conjunction with the 58th SAL All-Star Game in Columbia. The inductions will take place during the Monday Night Party at Music Farm in downtown Columbia, which will be held on Monday, June 19th. A Fan Fest will start at 3:00pm on Tuesday, June 20th at the stadium. The 58th Annual South Atlantic League All-Star Game at Spirit Communications Park on Tuesday, June 20th is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm. More information can be found at www.columbiafireflies.com.