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The 1985 Kinston Blue Jays baseball card set from TCMA Ltd. Depicted are the baseball cards of Glenallen Hill, Geronimo Berroa, Grady Little, Tony Castillo, Jose Mesa, and Pat Borders.
The 1985 Kinston Blue Jays baseball card set from TCMA Ltd. Glenallen Hill, Geronimo Berroa, Grady Little, Tony Castillo, Jose Mesa, and Pat Borders.

Exploring the 1985 Kinston Blue Jays team card set: The Pitchers

An exploration of a classic Toronto Blue Jays minor league baseball card set.

The photos were taken in harsh sunlight in front of a cinderblock wall, the players are not centred, the colour is not corrected, but dammit I fell in love with the 1985 Kinston Blue Jays team baseball card set the moment I laid eyes on it. Being stuck at home during the COVID-19-related physical distancing initiatives, I have been doing a more online shopping and one of things I bought on eBay was the full Kinston set, produced by TCMA Ltd.

It looks like these cards were produced with a minimal budget—there aren’t even players’ stats on the back, just their age, height, weight, hometown, and where they played in the previous season. And, all 26 cards in the deck are emblazoned with the name of the sponsor: the Howard and Carter Funeral Home.


Baseball in Kinston

The Eagles name had been linked with Kinston since 1925. The previous iteration of the Kinston Eagles were affiliated with the Pirates, Braves, Yankees, switching their name to the Kinston Expos final season (1974) when Montreal came in as the affiliate.

Four years after the withdrawal of Kinston, The Carolina League re-expanded from four to six teams in 1978 with the introduction of the unaffiliated Alexandria Dukes and Kinston Eagles. The Dukes became affiliated with the Seattle Mariners in 1979 and at the same time Toronto received Kinston as a second high-A affiliate (they kept an affiliation with Dunedin in the Florida State League in the 1979 season).

The Jays’ farm team kept the Eagles name until 1982 when they adopted the “Blue Jays” moniker through the 1985 season. The Blue Jays moved their affiliate from Kinston to Ventura, California for the 1986 season before they landed in Myrtle Beach. The 1986 season saw the return of an unaffiliated Kinston Eagles team. Toronto sent Pat Borders on a loan to the Eagles for 49 games in 1986.

Kinston, North Carolina, is about a 90-minute drive southeast of Raleigh and had a population of around 25,000 in the mid-1980s. All the various professional baseball teams that have played in Kinston since 1949 have played in Grainger Stadium, now home to the Down East Wood Ducks (Texas Rangers affiliate).

1985 Kinston Blue Jays Pitchers

Mark Clemons

Mark Clemons TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Yes
  • Top Level: AAA (1987)

The Blue Jays’ 19th round pick in the 1983 draft out of Coastal Carolina University was assigned to Kinston for the first time in 1984 after a stint in Florence as a 22-year-old. Mark Clemons would spend much of 1985 in Kinston except for a brief promotion to double-A Knoxville. He would leave the Blue Jays organization after that season and next three seasons in the Twins’ and Expos’ farm system.

According to this LinkedIn profile, Clemons is current the president of a Columbia, SC company called New South Transport.

Omar Bencomo

Omar Bencomo TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Yes
  • Top Level: AAA (1988)

Ramon Omar Bencomo from Barinas, Venezuela, started his career with a couple of seasons in the Red Sox organization before arriving in Kinston in 1985. He would also get a brief stint up in double-A later that season. He eventually made it up to triple-A Syracuse in 1988 for six games after missing most of 1986 with shoulder and back issues. He re-appeared in affiliated ball in 1994 when he had six appearances in the Angels’ double-A affiliate. In the interim he pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League. He also spent 1996 and 1997 starting for the Mercuries Tigers in Taiwan’s CPBL.

His son, Omar David Bencomo pitched for the Rays, Twins, and Marlins systems between 2007 and 2018. After a stint in the Mexican League, the younger Bencomo signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters to begin 2020.

Tony Castillo

Tony Castillo TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Yes
  • Top Level: MLB (1988)

Tony Castillo is the first major league player in this deck. The lefty from Venezuela signed with the Blue Jays in 1983 and was assigned to Kinston to begin his third professional season. He would miss all of 1986 but made his major league debut with Toronto on August 14, 1988. A year and ten days after his debut he was traded along with Francisco Cabrera to the Braves for Jim Acker in a waiver trade. Castillo would find his way back to Toronto in 1993, signing as a free agent and appeared in 51 regular season and four postseason games for the eventual World Champions.

Mike Cullen

Mike Cullen TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Yes
  • Top Level: AA (1985)

The Blue Jays selected Mike Cullen as the second pick of the third round of the 1978 draft, immediately after the Braves selected Steve Bedrosian. He returned to Kinston for a second season as a 25-year-old in 1985 but pitched only 24.1 innings there. According to a Twitter account, he has been a groundskeeper at Sun Prairie High School near Madison, Wisconsin, which has four baseball diamonds!

Mark Dickman

Mark Dickman TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Yes
  • Top Level: AA (1985)

A 20th round selection out of the University of Houston in 1983, the righty from Angleton, Texas was assigned to Medicine Hat after the draft. He split 1985 between Kinston and double-A Knoxville and was sent back down to the advanced-A level in 1986 the Jays moved affiliates to Ventura County.

Calling it a career after 44 appearances in Ventura, Dickman entered a career in sales with Nalco in 1987 before moving to ChemTreat in 1997. He worked up the ladder and is now their senior vice president of global sales.

Perry Lychak

Perry Lychak TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Very
  • Top Level: A (1982)

Perry Lychak was a lefty from Edmonton who threw a three-hitter against Cuba in the 1981 Intercontinental Cup. He signed with the Blue Jays and first pitched for the Kinston Blue Jays in 1982, then, he just stayed there for five seasons, even after the Blue Jays ended their affiliation before the 1986 season. Lychak found love in Kinston and still lived there at least three years ago, teaching phys ed and coaching.

Alan McKay

Alan McKay TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Barely
  • Top Level: AAA (1987)

New Year baby Alan McKay was selected in the fifth round of the 1983 draft out of Baylor—four spots ahead of Todd Stottlemyre (who did not sign with the Yankees)—and was assigned to Florence to start his professional career. He split 1984 between Florence and Kinston, and all of 1985, his final season in the organization, in Kinston. McKay signed with the Cubs organization and eventually had four appearances in triple-A Iowa in 1987 before retiring in 1988.

Jose Mesa

Jose Mesa TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Yes
  • Top Level: MLB (1987)

Probably the most well-known player on the 1985 Kinston Blue Jays pitching staff was Jose Mesa, but he had a horrible year there, carrying an ERA north of 6 over 100-plus innings. The starter-turned-closer who spent this best seasons with in Cleveland in the mid-1990s. It was with in Cleveland where he developed his infamous beef with Omar Vizquel—after a perceived slight, Mesa swore to throw at Vizquel every time they faced each other. Mesa never pitched for the Blue Jays (he was traded with Oswaldo Peraza to the Orioles for Mike Flanagan in 1987) but saw major league action with the Orioles, Giants, Mariners, Phillies, Pirates, Rockies, and Tigers in addition to his seven-season tenure in Cleveland.

This is worth a watch

Pablo Reyes

Pablo Reyes TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Yes
  • Top Level: A (1984)

Born just up the road from Jose Mesa, the Azua, Dominican Republic native was born in the same town as Blue Jays fan favourites Socrates Brito and Yennsy Diaz. Unfortunately I can’t find too much information on Pablo Reyes other than that the lefty signed as an international free agent and debuted as an 18-year-old in 1983 for the Gulf Coast Jays. After a year in Florence, Reyes arrived at Kinston and was mostly used as a reliever (who happened to be ineffective). He went to Ventura with the affiliate in 1984 but was even worse. He next appears on the pitching register in 1996 with independent American clubs, a Taiwanese team, and a Mexican team. His last entry came as a 36-year-old in 2001.

José Segura

Jose Segura TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: No
  • Top Level: MLB (1988)

Right-handed José Segura, another Dominican pitcher, was originally signed by the Phillies in 1981 but was snagged by the Blue Jays in the minor league Rule 5 draft in December 1983. He spent time in Kinston and Knoxville in 1984 and was returned to Kinston in 1985, starting 15 of his 34 games. He would make it up to triple-A Syracuse in 1987 before he was declared a minor league free agent and signed with triple-A Vancouver of the White Sox system. He made his MLB debut for Chicago in 1988 and would pitch 11 games for them over two seasons. He appeared in 11 more games in the third and final major league season, this time for the 1991 Giants. He would play a few more seasons in the affiliated minors before heading over to Taiwan for the 1995-1997 seasons, pitching for the Wei Chuan Dragons, the same team Pablo Reyes would pitch for in 1998.

Willie Shanks

Willie Shanks TCMA Ltd
  • Moustache: Yes
  • Top Level: AAA (1984)

Right-Willie Shanks was the Blue Jays’ 23rd round selection in the 1984 draft out of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He pitched in three levels in his first professional season: 12 games with Medicine Hat, nine with Kinston, and an emergency appearance in Syracuse. He would return to Kinston in 1985 but quickly moved up to Knoxville. His professional career ended the next season, spending the bulk of it back in high-A Ventura County. He is currently a manager trainee at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Chesterfield, Missouri just outside of St. Louis.

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