by Chris Larick
Baseball players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte became household-name multi-millionaires. New York Yankee farmclub teammates like Brian Turner rode old buses across the countyrside, made perhaps $1,500 a month and ate soup for lunch.
The path to a professional baseball career wasn’t always obvious for Turner, a three-sport standout at Grand Valley. Turner, a 1989 graduate will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame at the Conneaut Human Resources Center on Sunday.
He was the Mustangs’ quarterback in football, a shooting guard in basketball and a hard-hitting outielder in baseball. In football, Turner didn’t get to play much as a freshman, a season in Grand Valley made the playoffs for the first time before being beaten by a Hawken team led by future NFL wide receiver O.J. McDufie.
During Turner’s years with the Mustangs, he was coached by Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Famer Jim Henson and played with standouts like his brother, Dale, Jimmy Henson, Jeff Takacs, Brian Snowberger and Tom Boiarski, in addition to classmates Chad Fernandez and Kevin White. “My class had a real good year, going 8-2 and losing only to Canton Central Catholic and Steubenville Central Catholic,” Turner said. “I got hurt my senior year and played only four games. I still feel that a little today in my right shoulder.” In basketball ,Turner, the son of Perry and Virginia Turner, was coached by Tom Henson, Jim’s brother, and a future Ashtabula County Touchdown Club and ACBF Hall of Famer.
Teammates included Steve Oman, Bobby Winield, Dominic DeLucca, Carl McElroy and David Christ. When Turner was a senior, the Mustangs made it to the district inals, before falling to Warren JFK at Warren Western Reserve. “We jumped out to a 12-2 lead, but they chipped away,” Turner said. “I thought we were the better team.” As a senior, Turner averaged about 20 points and nine rebounds per game. His best sport, however, was baseball.
He was named Ashtabula County Player of the Year as a junior and senior, batting around .450 to .480. Turner may have been able to play basketball in college at the Division III or possibly Division II level. But his height (6-foot-2) pretty much ruled out playing shooting guard at the Division I level. He did, however, receive a scholarship offer from Ohio State, making that discussion moot. And, when the New York Yankees drafted him in the baseball draft, Turner jumped at the chance. “I regret (not going to college) somewhat, for the education,” he said. “But I got to play with all those great teammates and other great players who were bitter rivals.
It was an awesome experience.” Turner was on Yankee farm teams with Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte. He even roomed with Pettitte for a year. But minor league baseball was no dream job. He was always on the move, starting with rookie ball in Sarasota, Fla. in 1990.
From there it was on to Greensboro, North Carolina; Onenta, New York; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; San Bernardino, California; Albany, New York; Tampa, Florida and Norwich, Connecticut. “The money was terrible,” Turner said. “I lived with four guys, trying to ball bills. But the dream (of making the Major Leagues) is what it’s all about.” The “perks” of playing in the minor leagues could be nightmarish, however. “I got drafted at $850 a month,” Turner said. “Later, it was $1,000-$1,500 a month. They paid for dinner, but it wasn’t much. At lunch you ate soup and crackers in Florida, where it was hot. Later we got a per diem (per day) for food, of $12 to $15.” Then there were the long, boring bus rides during which players amused themselves playing cards. At times some of them found themselves losing their per diem money while playing. “We never lew,” Turner said. “I think our longest trip was from Portland, Maine, to Akron. (Professional baseball) was not as glamorous as it seems.” Turner met his wife, Christy, while playing at Greensboro, North Carolina, in his fourth year. After seven years in the Yankees’ farm system, the last at Norwich, the Yankees cut him.
He signed with the Mets and played for a while with the Binghamton, New York team. After being released by the Mets, Turner gave it a inal shot with the Minnesota Twins, but he was cut. “I had had enough,” he said. “It was getting pretty tough on our inances. I was kind of lost, with no education. I started in construction and did a couple of other things. After a while, I started working for the postal service (in Champion, Ohio, near Warren) and have done that for 16 years.” The Turners have two children at Champion High School — Michael, a senior and Megan, a junior. Both have earned scholarships at Kent State — Michael for baseball and Megan for softball. “My whole life I’ve coached them in baseball and softball, from the age of 5 up,” Turner said. “I still love to coach. I tried to be the head coach (at Champion), but they didn’t want fathers involved in it.”