It’s the dream of many young boys who carry their dusty hand-me-down glove to the ballpark on the hot summer days. They dream of running onto a major league field and getting their chance to shine. Ravenswood’s Paul Fletcher met that dream head on in front of 42,000 screaming Philly fans at Veterans Stadium on July 11, 1993.
Fletcher will be inducted in the Mid Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday in Marietta Ohio. He will go in with another Ravenswood High standout athlete, Todd Ritchie. The ceremony will take place June 9 at Marietta’s Comfort Inn with the Enshrinement the following day Vienna’s Grand Central Mall. The MOV Hall includes seven counties (Jackson, Wood, Wirt, Ritchie and Pleasants in West Virginia along with Washington and Noble in Ohio).
While Fletcher was born in Gallipolis Ohio in 1967, he was raised in Ravenswood and spent much of his youth playing sports. Fletcher credits Red Devil baseball coach Doug Parrish for lighting his competitive fire and igniting his passion for baseball..
While earning First Team All-State as a defensive back on the gridiron, it was the diamond that spoke to Fletcher’s heart.
“I just knew early on what I wanted to do. Baseball was always it for me and I knew that I had to go after it,” said Fletcher.
That didn’t keep the football recruiters from knocking on the Red Devil’s door. Ohio University and Appalachian State were among the suitors pursuing the 6-1 185 pound senior.
Fletcher graduated from Ravenswood High in 1985. After accepting a baseball scholarship to The University of South Carolina Aiken, he played there for two years and found himself transferring to West Virginia State to play for Coach Cal Bailey after having labrum and hand surgery on his pitching arm.
“It was a tough time (surgery) but I worked through them and stayed focused,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher was drafted in the 40th round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1988 and began his journey as a professional athlete.
After reporting to the Rollie DeArmas managed Martinsville Phillies, Fletcher rose relatively fast through the Philly minor league system.
In 1991 while pitching for Reading (AA) Fletcher had an experience that he cherishes to this day.
The major league club brought the organizations top pitching prospects up for a spring training game against the big boys. Fletcher was standing in the outfield (possible shagging some fly balls) when a friendly man appeared and stuck out his hand and introduced himself.
To Fletcher’s surprise, it was two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy. The All Star outfielder’s career was winding down at the time after starring for the Atlanta Braves from 1977-1990. He had signed with the Phillies the previous year.
“I was able to spend the day with Dale. He was so genuine and shared a lot of knowledge. He wanted to know where I was from and what I threw. He taught me a few things about tipping pitches and what hitters look for. It was an experience I will never forget.”
Fletcher faced Murphy twice that day in a scrimmage game.
“I really had my stuff working and tailing inside and I was able to jam him. He broke two bats against me. I somehow managed to get him out both times,” added Fletcher.
Coincidentally, Fletcher’s best statistical year as a professional was the following season at (Reading) when he went 9-4 with a 2,83 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 127 innings. He issued only 47 walks.
The one experience that tops them all for Fletcher is the day he took the mound at Veterans Stadium for his Major League debut in July of 1993.
“It was a feeling I can’t describe. Curt Schilling had started the game. The energy of 42,000 fans is pretty amazing,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher’s Big League career lasted three seasons. He pitched in relief for a career high ten games in 1995 and earned his lone Major League victory in a 3-2 decision over the Houston Astros that summer.
After signing with the Oakland A’s as a free agent in 1996, Fletcher hung on for two more seasons at AAA Iowa (1997) and Syracuse (1998) looking for his opportunity to shine for the west coast organization before his worst pitching nightmare occurred.
Fletcher tore the Ulnar Collateral ligament (elbow) that required what is now referred to in baseball circles as “Tommy John surgery.” The procedure was named after the pitcher of the same name who was the very first major leaguer to have the procedure done in 1974..
“You have guys returning from the surgery in less than a year now but then it was often a career ender,” added Fletcher.
Famed baseball surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who has a client list that includes Albert Pujols and John Smoltz, performed the surgery on Fletcher.
Unfortunately, while the surgery was a success Fletcher was 32 and unable to return to form and he retired from professional baseball.
The athletic gene has passed on.
Fletcher’s son Matt, 15 will be a integral part of coach Mick Price’s hoops squad next season and showed athletic promise for the junior varsity squad in the 2011-2012 campaign. Matt also plans to play baseball next season. Brooke, 9 lives with her mother outside of Philadelphia.
“Matt has a chance to be a much better athlete than I was,” said the proud father.
Looking back, Fletcher is at peace with all of the ups and downs that come along with participating in sports.
“To be honest, it was really a nice surprise to be selected and I am honored and humbled by it. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.”