Saturday, February 6, 2016

TOT - Curtis Pride's Year in Atlanta

Transaction of Today...February 6, 1998 - The Atlanta Braves signed Curtis Pride as a free agent.

The story of Pride deserves so much digital ink. Born deaf as a result of rubella, Pride was still able to excel as a three-sport start at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. He started at point guard for William and Mary, played soccer as a member of the National Team in the FIFA U-16 Championships, and was a tenth round draft pick in 1986 by the New York Mets. And I sometimes think I don't have the energy to take the trash out.

Andy Lyons | Getty
It took Pride a few years to get moving in his minor league career, but after his third year of rookie ball in 1988, he began to make steady progress and reached AA in 1992. After that season, he joined the Expos on a minor league contract and had a breakout campaign. Beginning the year in AA with Harrisburg, Pride slashed .356/.404/.672 over 50 games with 15 homeruns. That last total was five more than he had ever hit in a single season. He also stole 21 bases - just three off the pace of his career best. But his season was just starting. He headed north of the border to Ottawa next. In 69 games there, he continued to excel, slashing .302/.388/.443 with 6 more homers and 29 steals. Overall, you are looking at an age-24 season where Pride hit .324/.394/.536 with 21 HR and 50 steals. But...again...his season wasn't over yet. He received a ten game cup of coffee with the Expos. As I wrote during a recent article about Marquis Grissom, it was tough to find time in the outfield that was so rich with talent and Pride was arriving to the bigs with Cliff Floyd and Rondell White, but the Silver Springs product still appeared in ten games mostly as a pinch hitter. In his second at-bat, he doubled in a pair of runners against Bobby Thigpen of the Expos to cut a Phillies lead to just one run. Grissom would later single him in to tie the score 7-7. The 'Spos won it in the 12th. His next hit was an RBI Triple off Greg McMichael of the Braves. His biggest knock came on September 30, 1993 against the Marlins. With the score tied at 3, Pride pinch-hit for Jeff Shaw with two outs and White on first after an error. He made the Marlins pay dearly with a 2-0, 2-run homerun that gave them the edge in a 5-3 win in Miami. As cup of coffees go, Pride's was excellent with 4 hits in 9 AB, including a double, a triple, and a homer. He also swiped a base.

Montreal's deep outfield and the Strike limited Pride's opportunities in 1994, but he appeared in 48 games the following season. However, he struggled badly and the Expos let him go after the season. Pride would have his best year for a very bad Tigers team in 1996. Detroit lost 109 games that season behind a 6.38 team ERA and the third worst scoring offense in the AL, but Pride was a bit of a bright spot. He slashed .300/.372/.513 with 10 HR and 11 steals while receiving time as a platoon option against righties. Counted on to continue his success, Pride returned to Detroit in 1997, but just as quickly as he became a surprise bat for the Tigers, he disappeared into mediocrity. After being cut in August, he appeared in a pair of games for the Red Sox before being non-tendered.

That brought him to the Braves in 1998. With Andruw Jones moving to a starting position in center field and left-handed outfielders like Ryan Klesko and Michael Tucker, Pride wasn't likely going to receive much playing time especially with Gerald Williams playing the fourth outfielder role. However, Bobby Cox liked Pride's patient approach as a pinch hitter. Of his 70 games, more than half came in a pinch hitting role. He struggled with this early, hitting .200/.265/.267 through his first 33 games, but would OPS nearly .900 the rest of the way. That included a pinch-hit homer off Rod Beck that saved Tom Glavine from a loss against the Cubs (John Rocker later lost it in the 11th). Pride scored four runs during a start on July 19th while also hitting a homer in a Braves 11-6 win against the Brewers. A few days later, he followed up a Javy Lopez homer with one of his own, which would provide the edge in a 3-2 win. Pride played excellent ball throughout July, but excellent play doesn't always keep you on the roster. He was demoted at the end of the month to make room for the newly acquired Greg Colbrunn.

Pride returned to AAA and played everyday until a return at the end of August so that the Braves could keep him in their postseason plans. Pride only managed two hits during September and went hitless in his PH appearances. At the end of the year, his slash was .252/.325/.411 with 3 HR and 4 steals. He would not appear in either the NLDS against the Cubs or the NLCS vs. the Padres and the Braves non-tendered him rather than pay him an increased salary in arbitration.

Pride would play for Nashua in the Atlantic League during 1999 after being oddly shut out despite what looked like a productive season in 1998. He made it back to the Red Sox in 2000 for nine games and the Espos for 36 games in 2001, but would never again play a significant role in the majors. After three years with the Angels where he made cameos each year through 2006, Pride's career ended with one more turn in the minors for the Angels before a year in the Atlantic League with his home state Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

Since 2008, Pride has been the baseball head coach at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C where he was named the 2013 NEAC Coach of the Year. He's also been named to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition along with being named an MLB Ambassador on Inclusion. Seriously, not enough can ever be written about Curtis Pride.

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