Trappers who beat Champion Howell have fond recollections of their time in Edmonton
EDMONTON – It’s been 30 years since Jack Howell last stepped in the Batter’s Box for the Edmonton Trappers, but the retired major league veteran still has fond memories of his time in Alberta.
“I thought it might be cold. Cold but beautiful, ”said Howell, 58, from his home in Arizona. “But it was a very fun place to play.”
Howell spent parts of the 1985, 1986 and 1990 seasons with the Trappers as part of the California Angels Organization and played mainly at third base.
In Edmonton, he played alongside future Big Leagues Wally Joyner, Mark McLemore and Devon White for his first two seasons and is the franchise’s all-time bating champion with an average of .363.
Decades later, he remembers Edmonton as a welcoming city where he honed his skills before embarking on a long professional baseball career.
“I remember the long trip up there, but when my wife and family got there we really enjoyed it.”
Howell joined the Trappers in 1985 for 79 games, two years after joining the Angels organization as an undrafter player from the University of Arizona.
But he soon learned that the source in Alberta was much more volatile than in his home state.
“We’re starting the season against Tucson and we’ve got snow, you know, Plane from the field,” he recalled. “It’s just an absolute ton of snow and it won’t stop”
He says the teams flipped the series and the Trappers flew to Arizona to start the season.
“It was great for me to be my hometown and everything,” he said of the move.
Edmonton was more than a place to play; it was also the home of his wife and young family.
He recalls visiting West Edmonton Mall in 1985 shortly after the phase three expansion.
“Just that big,” he remembers. “You could spend most of the day there. Just a good way to get away. “
Howell also witnessed one of Edmonton’s more notorious athletic moments: Steve Smith’s own goal in Game 7 of the 1986 Smythe Division Final against the Calgary Flames.
“I’m not a big hockey guy,” he said. “But that was the series. That was it.”
He came into closer contact with Edmonton, who was royalty on more familiar ground, when Wayne Gretzky stopped by the ballpark for punch practice.
“He came down a few times and hit us,” he said of Gretzky. “He wasn’t the big one yet, but he was on his way.”
LEAGUE OF THE PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE
City aside, Howell is reminiscent of the now demolished John Ducey Park, which was the home of the Trappers until the end of the 1994 season.
“The ballpark was really unique. I remember it was right over the bridge, right on the water, ”he said of John Ducey Park.
He still remembers the park’s short left fence and even compares it to Fenway Park’s famous Green Monster.
“I remember that good in left field was similar to Boston,” he said. “One of the reasons I was successful there is to teach myself to pepper that wall.”
Howell appeared in 143 games for the Trappers, with his early appearances sparking a 15-year professional career including 11 seasons with three Major League Baseball teams.
He also spent four seasons in Japan, where he was named the League’s Most Valuable Player in 1992.
He’s also known for baffling longtime broadcaster Vin Scully with a broken bat homerun at Yankee Stadium in 1987, one of 108 he hit in the majors.
After retiring in 1999, he worked as a trainer and manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels.
Today he is the manager of the Burlington Bees, an Angels Class A team in the Midwest League, and shares his lifelong baseball experience with the next generation of talent.
John Ducey Park has long been gone, but it took a trip back to his former home stadium to refresh memories of his time in Edmonton.
“I remember seeing all the posters up there and it was actually a poster of mine,” he said when he returned to what was then Telus Field in the early 2000s while working for the Diamondbacks.
“It said that I had the hitting record and that it only became clear to me at that point.”