by Scott Kindberg
August 27, 2014
Lifelong Love Lost
In it, are Joe Napoli, the president of the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, and Al Kaline, who played his entire 19-year career with the Tigers before being ushered into Cooperstown in 1980. Together, the men are watching batting practice before the Tigers-Mud Hens exhibition game at Fifth Third Field in the spring of 2012.
There is little conversation.
What there is, comes from the guy standing between Napoli and Kaline. It figures.
Dan Lunetta, Detroit's director of minor league operations, is a man comfortable in his own skin, as likely to strike up a conversation with one of his countless friends in his native Jamestown as he is to chat with a legendary Hall-of-Famer or a front-office mover and shaker.
Lunetta has never forgotten his hometown or Chautauqua County as he's quietly become one of the Tigers' most respected voices.
In a career that began in 1979 as a groundskeeper at the former College Stadium, Lunetta, 59, has taken his considerable skills to Montreal, Cincinnati, Florida and Detroit in the Major Leagues; made his mark in minor-league stops in Jamestown, Buffalo and Rochester; and made favorable impressions on just about everyone along the way.
So when he was asked if he would pose with his son, Sammy, for a photograph on the patio of Lakewood resident and longtime friend Greg Peterson's home in the summer of 2013, Lunetta, not surprisingly, agreed.
As father and son looked into the camera and smiled, Lunetta held a jewelry box, tilting it just right so its contents would be visible. Inside were three enormous rings, the kind of "bling" that only signifies - in the sports world - one thing: championships.
Lunetta knows a thing or two about those. In a line of work in which only a small percentage of people reach the pinnacle, the 1973 Jamestown High School graduate is the proud owner of a World Series championship ring (Florida Marlins, 1997) and two American League championship rings (2006 and 2012).
Are more on the way?
The Tigers, as has been the case for much of the last decade, are in the hunt for a division crown and maybe beyond. Yet for all Detroit's success at the highest level, Lunetta remains deeply connected to his baseball roots. That's why when he learned that Rich Baseball Operations is moving its short-season Class A New York-Penn League franchise from Jamestown to Morgantown, W.Va., he had two reactions:
"I was not surprised," he said Tuesday morning, "but it was still a punch in the gut."
He continued: "For me, my memories date back to when I was a kid growing up and going down to the stadium in the summertime to see the Falcons play and seeing Jamestown High School football (games in the fall). Now, that's going back to the 1960s, and those memories are so vivid."
But while the stadium, which bears the name of Russ Diethrick, will be void of professional baseball, and the great Red Raider football program hasn't played there in 35 years, Lunetta will always have a soft place in his heart for the Falconer Street ballpark.
"It's become such an important part of my life," Lunetta said.
In the summer of 1982, I was between my junior and senior years at Point Park (Pa.) University. I also, thanks to Lunetta, served as the Jamestown Expos' assistant general manager. That title sounds impressive until you realize that back in those days there was only one other member of the front office - Lunetta - and he carried the GM title.
The reality was Lunetta did all the figurative "heavy lifting'' and I was learning on the fly. Such was life in the administration of a Class A, short-season team more than 30 years ago. Looking back, it was the best summer of my life. Sixteen-hour days weren't uncommon. Flooded offices - a heavy overnight rain leaked through the ceiling and warped shut my wooden desk - weren't either, but I wouldn't have traded anything for the opportunity to be part of a minor league baseball operation.
Neither would Lunetta.
During his time in Jamestown in the early to mid-1980s, Lunetta saw Randy Johnson pitch and Andres Galarraga hit. The first player he ever met - Dave Barnett - remains a friend to this day and is now the head coach at Flagler (Fla.) College while another player, the late Roy Johnson, still holds a soft spot in Lunetta's heart.
"A vivid memory for me was the night Roy hit a towering home run to the top of the right-field light tower," Lunetta recalled. "I had never seen a ball hit that far and that hard. ... Unfortunately for Roy, he never had sustained success in the Major Leagues."
But others did. In addition to future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson and the powerful Galarraga, Lunetta established friendships with Frank Wren, who was then a Jamestown coach, but is now the general manager of the Atlanta Braves. He also remembers fondly former manager Pat Daugherty and the friendships he forged with Peterson, a local attorney, and former concessionaire Rich Ruggerio, another Jamestown resident.
Without minor league baseball in Jamestown, those relationships would likely never have developed.
Among Lunetta's stops in his baseball odyssey was in Buffalo where he worked for the Buffalo Bisons, who are owned by the Rich family.
"(Jamestown) could not have had a better ownership group than Bob and Mindy Rich," Lunetta said. "I am certain that this has been a very difficult decision for them also. I know they take these matters very personally and take them to the heart, and I hope that those who have been most loyal to baseball in Jamestown won't hold any ill will toward the Rich family.
"Unfortunately, we fell behind the times. That doesn't mean it happened out of negligence, because every effort was made within reason to be able to keep Jamestown baseball afloat. It's a business and, fundamentally, the business of the game has changed. Ultimately that is what precipitated this move to West Virginia."
Lunetta noted that other NY-P League teams could be subject to relocation down the road, but "it happened to fall on Jamestown first."
"I have to commend (Mayor) Sam Teresi. I know that he has done everything in his power to make this work and, unfortunately, we just weren't able to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak."