Ron Agostini

Hynick not Modesto's first ace

Before there was Brandon Hynick, there was Mark Ferguson.

If you follow today's Modesto Nuts, you know about Hynick, who opened the 2007 season by pitching 39ª scoreless innings. But if you're stepping into middle age, you also remember the pitcher Modesto Athletics fans fondly called "Fergie."

Both come from Ohio. Both are right-handers. And if you believe the baseball gods enjoy throwing an occasional change of pace, you'll buy into the idea that Hynick is the reincarnation of Ferguson.

See, Fergie performed a Hynick-like maneuver in Modesto 25 years ago.

"I couldn't overpower anyone. But that year, I threw strikes," Ferguson remembered. "If I needed a double play, I got one. It was magic."

Ferguson, 46, still looks more like a beach boy than an Ohio boy. He weighs a trim 193 pounds, two pounds lighter than his days in the minors.

What makes him noteworthy breaks down to three points:

He starred on arguably one of the best starting rotations in Modesto franchise history.

Hynick has turned in the best full-season performance by a Modesto pitcher since Ferguson and his mates.

Ferguson married the former Cyndi McKim of Ceres.

"I liked Cyndi, of course, and I liked the weather," Ferguson said. "The sun shines here all the time. I couldn't even imagine going back home."

Ferguson pitched in Modesto and essentially never left. He and Cyndi raised two daughters, one of them a Ceres High pitcher (Brianne) who became the 2001 Stanislaus County Prep Athlete of the Year.

And, yes, it now gets a little eerie:

Ferguson was raised in Zanesville, Ohio, east of Columbus. Hynick resides in North Royalton in the upper reaches of the state near Cleveland.

Ferguson went 17-6 in 1982, and his 1.77 ERA -- the lowest in the Cal League in 27 years -- remains the team record. Hynick was 16-5 and, for a while, was on pace with Ferguson's ERA before he finished with a better-than-good 2.52.

Ferguson dominated in July and August with 11 consecutive complete games (21 overall) and four consecutive shutouts (a league record eight overall). Hynick owned April.

Back then, the Oakland pitchers were instructed to go as long as they can and to pitch out of their own jams. Which, by the way, is the 180-degree flip from today's pitch-counts and bullpen specialists. Ferguson, whose career ended in 1985 after he reached the Double-A level, once tossed 176 pitches in a single game.

It was a different time, a fact underscored by Modesto's manager in 1982, the unforgettable Pete Whisenant.

Whisenant, a journeyman major league outfielder in the 1950s, was a friend of Billy Martin, the Oakland manager who orchestrated "Billyball" in the early 80s. Whisenant had drifted out of baseball for 20 years before Martin steered him toward Modesto. Both could drink, both could tell a story and both would steamroll their grandmother at the plate to win a game.

Predictably, the '82 Modesto A's virtually brawled through the first two months as Whisenant ordered stolen bases with 9-1 leads and other violations of baseball protocol.

"It was a year you couldn't believe. We started 9-9 and then everything just clicked and Pete was Pete. He did some off-the-wall stuff," Ferguson said. "He would tell the hitters what was coming, and they'd look at him, and they would swing and miss. He played with the other team's heads, and it worked."

Meanwhile, Ferguson mowed down batters along with other starters Curt Young (15-8), Tim Conroy (15-4) and Mike Warren (19-4), with help later from Rick Rodriguez (8-2). Modesto led the league in pitching and defense and supplemented enough timely hitting to go 45-25 in the first half and a filthy 49-21 in the second.

You'd have to be a Nut to match the '82 A's.

Hynick will start tonight for the Nuts to start the 2007 Cal League playoffs. Their opponents are the Visalia Oaks, who lost to Modesto in the league championship series 25 years ago Tuesday.

Let the games play out. Wait a few years. If Hynick marries and plants roots here, we've got a TV series.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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