Last Sunday Dayton Dragons pitcher Drew Cisco was sitting in the visitor’s dugout at the West Michigan ball park outside Grand Rapids when he said he got a message from Larry Parrish, the White Caps manager and former big league ball player:
“Our pitching coach Tony (Fossas) comes up to me and says, ‘Their manager said he wants you to tell your grandpa ‘Hey’ for him. He (Parrish) said my grandpa was his pitching coach when he played for Montreal … and that my grandpa was a good man.”
This exchange played out a day after Cisco had shown he’s a pretty good man, too.
The night before he had beaten the White Caps, throwing six innings of three-hit, one-run baseball and striking out eight in the 8-3 Dragons’ victory.
In doing so, the kid had shown he’s carrying the family name pretty well these days and around here, especially, that means something.
Drive into the town of St. Marys from about any direction and you see the green signs posted along the roadway. They’re adorned with a white baseball and a salute Drew’s grandpa:
“Home of Galen Cisco … Baseball Pro.”
Go over to Ohio State and you find similar recognition. Galen Cisco is in the Buckeyes Athletic Hall of Fame for baseball AND football.
After graduating from St. Marys Memorial in 1954, Galen went to OSU as a two-sport athlete. He was a two-way starter for Woody Hayes, playing fullback and linebacker and also serving as co-captain of the 1957 Bucks’ team that beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl and was crowned national champion.
“Woody didn’t care much for his football players playing baseball,” Galen, now 77 and retired in St. Marys, said with a chuckle. “He told me he’d let me play baseball under one condition. I had to be good enough to play first team. If I wasn’t I couldn’t play. That was our deal.”
Galen more than handled his end of it. His senior season, he won All-Big Ten and All America honors and then was signed by the Boston Red Sox.
A right-handed curveball pitcher, he would play seven major league seasons with Boston, the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals and then would go on to a 31-year career as one of big league baseball’s best pitching coaches. He mentored the staffs at Kansas City, Montreal, San Diego, Toronto — where the Blue Jays won back to back World Series in 1992 and 1993 — and finally Philadelphia.
Galen’s son Jeff — who is Drew’s dad — played minor league baseball as well and Drew’s older brother, Mike, is now a pitcher for the Arkansas Travelers , a AA farm club of the Los Angeles Angels.
With all these family ties, Drew — who’ll return to the mound Saturday as the Dragons host Great Lakes at Fifth Third Field — admits he probably has a baseball story like no one else in the Dragons clubhouse.
In the genes
Before we go any further, though, he makes sure you hear a part of the story that rarely gets told.
With all the talk about the Cisco side of the family, you tend to overlook the contribution of his mom, Janet.
“I’ll bet she’s the only mom who gets up in the living room and gives her son pitching lessons at night,” Drew laughed. “Now she’s a competitor.”
His mom went to North Carolina on a college basketball scholarship and one day a fellow Tar Heel freshman asked her to play one-on-one
That’s the day she beat Michael Jordan.
The way she tells the story, she got the ball first, bounced the ball between the startled Jordan’s legs, then made the lay-up. Ahead 1-0, she quit.
She would later transfer to Winthrop and play there. Jeff, who had transferred from OSU, was playing baseball there and that’s how they met. Later, they settled in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
“My dad has a Honey Baked Ham store there,” Drew said. “When me and my two brothers were kids, I remember we’d get in dad’s white ham van, we’d put futons in the back and we’d make the road trip to St. Marys.
“I can remember the first times coming into town and seeing those signs with my grandpa’s name on them. It was like ‘Wow!’ I was shocked. I didn’t know how big of deal he was in St. Marys.”
Although he was too young to be around for most of his grandpa’s baseball exploits, Drew did get to join him at Veterans Stadium in the summers when Galen was the Phillies’ pitching coach.
“I remember being on the field for batting practice and being in the dugout,” Drew said Thursday as he sat in the Dragons dugout. “Terry Francona was the manager and the big-name pitchers were guys like Curt Schilling and Paul Byrd. Those were great times. You’d think it might be hard for big leaguers with little ones running around the dugout, but a lot of those guys were real nice and took us in.
“And when we weren’t with my grandpa, I can remember wearing my uniform around the house just to feel like a ball player. And in our backyard my brothers and I would each build our ballparks. I’d turn it into Veterans Stadium and my brothers would make it Turner Field or Yankee Stadium.”
By his teen years those big league fantasies were replaced by the realities of his own budding baseball career. He became a star pitcher at Wando High in Mount Pleasant, and though he had committed to the University of Georgia, he signed with the Cincinnati Reds when he was the 187th overall player selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft.
Then out of the blue, he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow during an extended spring training game in 2011, had Tommy John surgery and missed the season.
“In my day you’d go home; after that your baseball would have been done,” Galen said. “That’s one of the biggest differences today. With the medical advancements, you can pitch well again.”
Drew was 4-1 last season in Rookie Ball at Billings. He threw 58.1 innings had a 3.39 earned run average and Baseball America selected him as having the “best control” in the Reds farm system.
With the promotion to Dayton, it means the Cisco clan from St. Marys will get see plenty of Drew this season. Looking at it as a baseball man, as much as a grandpa, Galen sees both sides of the stop in Dayton.
“I hope he moves up the ladder,’ he said, “but while he’s here we want to enjoy it as much as we can.”
Galen said he’ll make the trip from St. Marys as often as possible, and of course that will mean driving past those green signs on the way in and out of town.
“Certainly they’re an honor, but they’ve been up there so long that after a while I don’t think anybody sees them anymore,” he said with a laugh. “All that’s pretty much forgotten.”
Until now, when the Cisco name is again being carried quite nicely by a kid in a Dayton Dragons’ uniform.