The Foxes are not all that mad at the White Sox. "They've been very good to us for 21 years," says club vice-president Milt Drier. And vice versa. Appleton is generally acknowledged to be the best town in the Midwest League, and it should have little trouble attracting another club.
One of the charms of baseball in Appleton is Goodland Field, which sounds like something Garrison Keillor made up. The name is certainly fitting, though the ballpark was actually named for former Appleton mayor John Goodland. The field is one of the best in the league. Shrubs and trees fringe the park, and the brick grandstand at Spencer and South Outagamie streets is a classic. You can always get good seats behind home plate, although on a warm summer evening the bleachers behind the home dugout are the best place to sit. Popcorn is 50 cents, beer is $1 and a cheese brat is $1.25.
Another nice thing about the club is that it's publicly owned. For $5, anyone can buy a voting share of stock in the Foxes. The club is governed by its officers and a board of directors, who hire a general manager. Larry Dawson, who once worked on the Goodland Field grounds crew, now runs the club. His predecessor, Bill Smith, left last March to take a job in the Minnesota Twins farm department. Smith not only gained invaluable experience from Appleton, but also a wife, Milt Drier's daughter Becky.
Attendance is off slightly from last year, when the team drew 76,860, or 1,147 per date. But this club isn't as good as last year's, which had the best regular-season record in the league. In 1986 the Foxes are third in their four-team division, 45-64, 23 games behind the first-place Madison Muskies. The big reason for their decline is the White Sox's decision to stock their other Class A club, in Peninsula, Va., with the better prospects. The Foxes have improved, though, since Petrocelli took over the team in mid-June. Their first manager was Duke Sims, but when Tom Haller was promoted from Double A manager at Birmingham to Chicago general manager, everybody below him moved up one spot. Petrocelli, who was a roving infield instructor in the White Sox farm system, decided to try managing.
Petrocelli played short and third in Boston for 13 years but had been out of uniform nine years when White Sox VP Ken Harrelson called him at his Lynn-field, Mass., cleaning service last winter. "I didn't think I missed it," says Petrocelli, "until I went to this dinner for Jim Nance, the old Patriot fullback who had had a stroke a few years ago. I felt the camaraderie again, and I realized that I wanted to get back into baseball."
Sims was, to put it politely, overbearing. He would fine players for petty offenses. Petrocelli, on the other hand, is a gentle, fatherly figure, sort of like Perry Como. When the Appleton second baseman, Billy Eveline, returned to the team after a family tragedy, Petrocelli took him aside and offered him understanding. "We love playing for Rico," says in-fielder Tim Haller, son of Tom. And Petrocelli loves what he's doing. "He's got a gleam in his eye," says his wife, Elsie, "that I haven't seen for nine years."
The 1986 Foxes may not have the talent of the '60 Foxes, but they're an interesting club, nonetheless. Mark Davis, the leftfielder and brother of Oakland's Mike Davis, just graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics, which undoubtedly helps him live on his $700-a-month salary. Stein, the no-hit pitcher, is the ace of the staff and a Class A version of Steve Carlton. After his no-hitter he refused to talk to Gary Shriver of the Appleton Post-Crescent because of what he viewed as negative coverage of the team.
Three Foxes made the North Division All-Star team: relief pitchers John Boling and Dave Reynolds and catcher Eric Milholland. Boling was recently cited in Baseball America as having the best pickoff move in the Midwest League, which came as something of a surprise to him. "I haven't picked anyone off all year," Boling says. Reynolds, a Horneresque Texan, is a converted third baseman who didn't know he was a pitcher until the White Sox told him so this spring. Milholland guns down opposing base-runners with regularity.
The class clown is Tim Haller, whose pride in his voice elicited a dare from teammates that he sing the national anthem. Outfielder-first baseman-pitcher Ron Scruggs, the home run leader on the team, also has a touch of whimsy. "When they told me they were sending me to Appleton," says Californian Scruggs, "I said, 'Where's that?' They said, 'Wisconsin.' I said, 'Where's that?' "
The one shared ambition among the Foxes is making the majors. "The other night the bus took us past County Stadium in Milwaukee," says Petrocelli. "The lights were on in the park, and you could just feel the excitement in the bus."