Saturday, February 25, 2012

R.I.P., Dave Bigham

Dave Bigham — Mankato native, junior hockey player, left-handed minor league pitcher, real estate brokerdied Wednesday. He was 41.

I didn't know him well; indeed, I barely knew him at all. I had just one encounter with him that I can recall, but it was good enough to justify a post.

Dave Bigham as a
Kenosha Twin.

It was the summer of 1991. Bigham was in his third season in the Twins system, pitching for their Kenosha affiliate in the Midwest League. Jim Rueda of the Free Press sports staff (now our sports editor) and I took something of a busman's holiday — Milwaukee, Kenosha, Chicago, Madison — to see games in those parks. I planned to write about the fan experience; Jim planned stories on Bigham, a Mankato West grad, and Todd Revenig, who had pitched for Mankato State and was then in the Oakland system and pitching for the Madison Muskies.

We had a breakfast appointment with Bigham at a restaurant near the Kenosha park the morning before a day game. He was amusing and chatty.

More than 20 years later, I remember his story about Midre Cummings, a talented outfield prospect who gave less than optimal effort. Joel Lepel, the Kenosha manager (and another MSU grad, now the Twins minor league field coordinator) installed the "Midre-meter" in the clubhouse, a dial on which the other players could predict how hard Cummings would play that day. The Midre-meter was off the charts the day Rick Sutcliffe made a rehab start against the K-Twins, Bigham told us, and Cummings hit a long homer off the major leaguer.

At some point during our breakfast, Bigham pointed out the window at a young man walking toward the park. "There goes the next shortstop for the Minnesota Twins," Bigham said. As it turned out, Denny Hocking never got the job, but he did have the longest major league career (13 seasons) of anybody on the 1991 Kenosha Twins (although Damien Miller wound up with more career at-bats).

Bigham himself never reached the majors, never even got out of A ball. My recollection is that he was never able to find an arm angle from which he could throw both a reliable breaking ball and get fastball movement. He was, in effect, tipping his pitches with his basic delivery, a flaw that higher-level hitters were bound to exploit. He spent eight seasons chasing the baseball dream, then went on to other things, which included years of amateur ball.

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