(Editor’s Note: Following the recent cancellation of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season, the Hickory Crawdads won’t take the field again until next spring. Consequently, the Hickory Daily Record has decided to introduce a new feature called “Throwback Thursday,” where we will briefly revisit some of the major events in the history of the Crawdads once a week for the foreseeable future.)
In their 28-year history, the Hickory Crawdads have had nearly 180 former players reach the major leagues, including 40 active big leaguers. After initially being affiliated with the Chicago White Sox from 1993-98, the Crawdads were a minor league team in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization from 1999-2008 before becoming the Class A affiliate of the Texas Rangers in 2009.
Chris Tremie became the first former Hickory farmhand to reach the big leagues when he debuted for the White Sox on July 1, 1995. Additionally, after Steve Sparks became the first former Crawdad to make his major league debut under the Pirates banner (Major League Baseball debut: July 19, 2000), Josh Lueke was the first Hickory alumnus in the Rangers era to reach the majors (MLB debut: April 3, 2011).
Here’s a brief look at how all three players performed for the Crawdads, how they did in the major leagues and (if applicable) what they’re currently up to:
A native of Houston, Texas, Tremie played for the Crawdads during their inaugural season in 1993. In 49 games, the 23-year-old had 29 hits including six doubles, a home run and a triple while driving in 17 runs and crossing the plate on seven occasions.
Ultimately, Tremie appeared in just 22 MLB games from 1995-2004, spending most of his professional career in the minor leagues. He had six hits in 46 career plate appearances and in addition to his time with the White Sox, also had major league stints with the Rangers, Pirates and Houston Astros.
After completing his playing career, Tremie found success as a minor league manager, compiling an 852-809 record while managing various teams in the Cleveland Indians organization from 2006-18. Since late 2018, the 50-year-old has been the minor league field coordinator for the Cincinnati Reds.
Not to be confused with a former knuckleball pitcher of the same name who had stints with the MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers, Anaheim Angels, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics and Arizona Diamondbacks, Sparks was another right-handed hurler who had a much briefer major league career. In fact, the extent of his MLB tenure came in 2000, when he made his first big league appearance with the Pirates on July 19 and his final appearance on Aug. 2.
In total, Sparks appeared in three games and pitched four innings. He struck out two batters, but walked five and gave up three runs before being sent back down to the minor leagues. Sparks retired in 2005 after playing for several minor league teams.
Prior to his two-week stay in the major leagues in 2000, Sparks was a member of the Crawdads’ pitching staff in 1999. In 25 outings (12 starts) spanning 88 2/3 innings, the 24-year-old from Mobile, Alabama, compiled a record of 4-6 and an ERA of 4.47 while striking out 72 batters and pitching one complete game.
The most recent Crawdad of the three, Lueke was a righty who pitched out of Hickory’s bullpen in 2010. In 17 appearances, the 25-year-old from Covington, Kentucky, earned 10 saves with a 2-1 record and a 0.46 ERA in 19 2/3 innings. Furthermore, Lueke struck out 36 batters and issued just five walks, but was one of three minor league prospects traded from the Rangers to the Seattle Mariners as part of a deal for ace pitcher Cliff Lee on July 9, 2010.
Lueke ended up making his MLB debut for the Mariners the following season and was called on to pitch 25 times, but was part of another trade in November of 2011 that sent him to the Tampa Bay Rays. Following 72 total major league appearances in which he registered 75 strikeouts and a 2-5 record in 87 2/3 innings of relief, Lueke joined the Delfines del Carmen of the Mexican League in 2015.
Most of Lueke’s subsequent baseball career has taken place overseas, and the 35-year-old is currently a member of the Leones de Yucatán of the Mexican League, although he has yet to play a game for the squad and won’t until at least next year after the 2020 season was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hickory Daily Record sports department can be reached at email@example.com.
Josh McKinney is the sports editor for the Hickory Daily Record.