It took a rain delay to end the 108-year World Series drought for the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night.
In the process, Warren County was showered with what is believed to be its first-ever World Series champion as McMinnville native Lester Strode is a member of the Cubs as the team’s bullpen coach.
“I can’t wait to see that big, ol’ ring on my finger,” said Strode in an interview with the Standard on Thursday. “Winning the World Series, it was wild and crazy. When that last pitch was thrown and that last out was recorded and you realize you won the championship, I just remember running from the bullpen to get out there to celebrate with everyone else. It was crazy.”
County historian Jimmy Haley says he doesn’t have a record of anyone else from Warren County winning a World Series title. Local sports authority Bobby Newby, who has written three books, doesn’t think anyone else from Warren County has won a World Series.
Jamie “Cat” Walker pitched in the 2006 World Series as a member of the Detroit Tigers. However, the St. Louis Cardinals won that series, 4-1.
“To be the first person from Warren County, it’s like anything else with this championship, it’s just awesome,” said Strode.
Strode continued, “I know there’s been a lot of good athletes come through McMinnville and I’ve played with a lot of good players. This is a proud moment for me and my family.”
In his honor, Mayor Jimmy Haley proclaimed Friday, Nov. 4, as Lester Strode Day in McMinnville.
Strode, 58, remembers playing on Dottie West Field at the Civic Center. A left-hander, he started his baseball career at age 9 and played all the outfield positions, first base, catcher and shortstop. He’s a member of the WCHS class of 1976.
So how does a guy make it from the McMinnville youth leagues to coach for a World Series champion? Strode says it was a long process that started in 1980 when he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals. Playing professional baseball got him in “the circle” and led to his eventual coaching career.
Strode had just been released from the Baltimore Orioles organization when the Cubs took a chance on him and signed him to play in their farm system with the Iowa Cubs. It was while he was in Iowa that Strode taught a teammate how to throw an effective slider and that caught the attention of coaches there.
“I got called into a meeting with their pitching coordinator, Jim Corborn, and I thought I was going to get in trouble for over-stepping my bounds and working on his pitching mechanics,” said Strode. “He jumped up and said, ‘That’s perfect. That’s the pitch I’ve been trying to teach him to throw for four years.’ That’s when he asked me if I might be interested in a career in coaching.”
At 28 and with injuries starting to take their toll, Strode said he gave the offer serious contemplation. He agreed to coach and started his coaching career in 1989 in the rookie league with a Cubs team in Wytheville, Va.
“Hanging up my cleats, that was a tough thing to do,” said Strode. “But the way I had to look at it was I was going downhill on the playing side and this was an opportunity I should take.”
Strode was named the Chicago Cubs bullpen coach in 2007 by then-manager Lou Pinniela.
In his role as bullpen coach, Strode works with relief pitchers such as flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, who played a major role in the World Series with five appearances in seven games. He doesn’t work much with the starters as he says that’s the job of pitching coach Chris Bosio.
“Being a coach is like being a teacher,” said Strode when asked how he approaches coaching superstars. “You have to know your field, you have to bond with the guys, and then you have to get them to trust what you know. Once they trust you, then it’s not hard working with them.”
In the deciding Game 7, the Cubs built a 5-1 lead before watching Cleveland rally back to force extra innings. Chicago won in the 10th inning, 8-7.
It marked the first time a team had come back from a 3-1 World Series deficit, and won Game 6 and Game 7 on their oppo-nent’s home field, since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite the intense drama, Strode says he was able to remain calm.
“I wasn’t really nervous, I was excited,” said Strode. “There’s a saying I’ve used for years that pressure happens if you’re not prepared. I knew we had the team. I knew we had the ability. You can’t let your emotions take over.”
Strode says he makes trips to McMinnville during the offseason to visit his mother and other family members who live here. He didn’t have a definite date on Thursday about when his next trip to McMinnville would be.
Before traveling to McMinnville, Strode might be headed to the White House as President Obama has invited the Cubs for a visit.
The World Series title ends the longest drought in the Major Leagues – 108 years. Lovable losers and perennial underachiev-ers, the Cubs have finally shed the Billy Goat Curse and ended years of frustration.
The Indians now own the longest World Series drought in the majors at 68 years. In the Indians' previous World Series ap-pearance, they were two outs from winning the 1997 title before losing Game 7 in 11 innings to the Marlins.