MOOSIC, Pa. -- April 26, 1989 was an auspicious day for northeast Pennsylvania baseball fans, as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons played their first home game at Lackawanna County Multi-Purpose Stadium. This marked the return of Minor League Baseball to the region after a 35-year absence, and 11,000 fans packed the
MOOSIC, Pa. -- April 26, 1989 was an auspicious day for northeast Pennsylvania baseball fans, as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons played their first home game at Lackawanna County Multi-Purpose Stadium. This marked the return of Minor League Baseball to the region after a 35-year absence, and 11,000 fans packed the ballpark to witness the occasion. The Red Barons -- Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies -- lost that game to the Tidewater Tides, but this paled in significance to the fact that it had happened at all. A new era had begun.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre still has a Triple-A team, but a lot has changed over the past 34 years. The Red Barons era ended after the 2006 season, when the International League franchise switched affiliations and became the Yankees. That relationship remains, but in 2013 the team rebranded as the RailRiders. This name change was part of an extreme makeover, as Lackawanna County Multi-Purpose Stadium -- a hulking edifice built to resemble Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium -- was torn down and replaced, at the same location, with PNC Field.
On a recent Thursday at PNC Field, John Davies, a man who bridges the gap between the two eras of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise, could be found in the press box. He was the original PA announcer at Lackawanna County Multi-Purpose Stadium, and went on to serve in that role for over 25 years. On this evening he was doing color commentary, sharing the broadcast booth with play-by-play man Adam Marco. Davies' connection to the Red Barons era is apparent, as he was proudly wearing one of his old staff shirts.
Davies was born in New York City but raised in Carbondale, Pa., approximately 21 miles north of PNC Field (located in Moosic, Pa.). A self-described "kid with a big imagination," he grew up listening to, and imitating, Marv Albert calling New York Knicks games. He didn't have any professional experience behind a microphone prior to getting a job with the Red Barons, however.
"When I heard the franchise was moving here, and they were building a ballpark, I went to one of the local county commissioners that I know and said 'I'd like to audition to do the PA. I know I'm not good enough," he said. "I got one of the 13 auditions. I was kind of lucky, they ended up liking me enough even though I had no experience except on a playground ... I wound up making a career out of it. I was here all the Red Barons years, which is 18, and seven with the Yankees. With the Red Barons I did it all the time, I think I missed, my goodness, eight games. I would live for this job."
One of Davies' biggest regrets regarding the Red Barons era is that the team never won a championship, although they made it to the International League's Governors' Cup finals in 1992, 2000 and 2001 (that year, the series was canceled after one game due to the events of September 11 and Louisville was awarded the title).
"1992 was almost our equivalent of the '69 Mets, because we came out of the gates with not a lot of well-known names," Davies said. "We weren't expected to do much but all of a sudden we found ourselves winning the division. We beat Pawtucket in the first round, and then we played the Columbus Clippers who won 100 games. We won 84. And [the Clippers] were loaded -- J.T. Snow, Hensley Meulens -- and we thought, 'Well, at least we made it to the Governors' Cup Finals. Well, we wound up in [deciding] Game 5, a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth at [Columbus's] Cooper Stadium. We were three outs from winning it all. Couldn't do it. Brutal ... It was the first time I ever saw grown men cry in a clubhouse, and I could understand that because it affected me the same way it affected them. Though I was just the public address announcer you kind of seem as if you're a part of the team."
Davies shares his Red Barons memories whenever he joins Marco in the broadcast booth, providing anecdotes related to the 400 or so men who wore the uniform. One of his fondest memories, and of more recent vintage, occurred in 2019 when the RailRiders staged an elaborate Red Barons tribute night.
"To me it was like going back in time and loving every minute of it. Seeing Floyd Rayford, Mickey Morandini and John Zuber -- Zuuuu-ber - as I used to refer to him," Daies said. "We all appreciated that very much, just a wonderful, wonderful experience."
And while he's not the day-in and day-out regular he used to be, Davies still relishes the opportunity to come to the ballpark.
"The nicest thing about it is that people still remember you," he said. "Which is nice, because I started here the day after my 35th birthday. To me, that's one of the nicest presents I've ever had in my life, being here for those 20-some years."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.