BY CAROLYN LaWELL
LANCASTER, California | John Laferney is still approached in The Hangar and asked for his autograph. The fan usually holds up a bobblehead of Laferney in his Lancaster JetHawks red baseball cap and navy polo shirt with a pen or marker.
Laferney, a quiet man, always says yes, because he’s always honored by the gesture.
The bobblehead dates to the 2010 season when the JetHawks celebrated their 15th anniversary and named Laferney one of their 15 Hangar Heroes. Laferney had already been inducted into the JetHawks Hall of Fame in 2009, his name etched into a bronze plaque on the concourse.
He’s known as JetHawk John, he’s the director of facility and baseball operations and he’s a fixture in the organization.
“There is nothing I wouldn’t do or haven’t done for this organization.” — Lancaster JetHawks director of facility and baseball operations John Laferney.
The first time Laferney showed up at Clear Channel Stadium, the line stretched from the stadium to the hotel parking lot across the street, then wrapped around the building for good measure and more waiting. There were more than 1,000 people in front of him, all of them there for a short interview and the hope of a game day position with the JetHawks, who had just arrived in the city.
Laferney was a former P.E. teacher who discovered teaching wasn’t for him. He worked in the paper business and at a Trader Joe’s in the San Fernando Valley. He joined an organization that offered seminars and advice on how to get a job in sports. He went to the Winter Meetings in Los Angeles, but no one looked at his resume, no one called. The JetHawks were a last-ditch effort, and he wanted one of the 120 jobs that were available.
“I was interested in the merchandise department, but they already had that filled,” Laferney says. “They said, ‘We do have one other position.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what it is, I’ll take it.’”
They sent him to watch the video arcade room.
That first season, 16 years ago now, he oversaw all those games, helped with promotions, worked as an usher, filled in as the mascot. “Whatever they needed, I just did it because I was happy to be here,” he says. “Still am, after 17 years.”
When the season ended, Laferney went back to temporary work until the JetHawks called, saying they were creating a special projects assistant position and they wanted him for the job. He has been in the front office ever since. He worked one year in special projects, the next as the stadium operations manager, then moved up to become the director of stadium operations. Now he’s the director of facility and baseball operations.
Laferney has worked as the clubhouse manager, drags the infield every night, drives players to and from the airport and hotel, and is in charge of — deep breath — first aid, security, parking lot staff, batboys, the clubhouse manager, the manual scoreboard operator and the grounds crew, and is the liaison between coaches, players and the front office. Also, he handles sales.
He has seen 102 JetHawks reach the Majors – most recently, Baltimore Orioles catcher Luis Expositio. He’s the only staff member left from those first seasons.
“There is nothing I wouldn’t do or haven’t done for this organization,” Laferney says. “I’d be happy to do anything.”
Laferney is the JetHawks Gofer. His knowledge of the team’s past and the stadium’s quirks, and his ability and willingness to do the grunt work has earned him that nickname. The bobblehead and his name in the Hall of Fame are the public recognition for all of that work.
“They made me give a speech right down on the field in front of everybody,” Laferney says about his induction. “I told the story about how I got into baseball. Basically, I was just trying to get my foot in the door and I just kicked it in. They haven’t been able to kick me out yet.”
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Time for minor league trivia. Because of the aerospace ties in and around Lancaster — among plenty else, the Milestones of Flight Museum is located in the city and NASA has been in the Antelope Valley for decades — Clear Channel Staidum is referred to by what nickname? (Keep reading for the answer.)
The JetHawks scored in seven of the eight middle innings of a traditional doubleheader and swept the Lake Elsinore Storm, 7-2 and 5-3. Centerfielder George Springer homered in four straight plate appearances — including all three in the second game — to help lead Lancaster to a pair of wins. First baseman Telvin Nash also homered for the JetHawks, who never trailed after the third inning of the first game. Starting pitchers Tyson Perez and Jose Trinidad allowed one earned run over 10 combined innings to earn the wins, and relievers Pat Urckfitz and Brian Streilein each picked up a save.
Springer homered in those four plate appearances just four days after Texas Rangers centerfielder Josh Hamilton hit four in one game. How many times has a player hit four homers in a game? Just 16 times in the Major Leagues and 113 more in the minors, according to SABR founding member Bob McConnell. Surprisingly, the feat has only been accomplished three times in the state of California. Outfielder Ted Beard of the old Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League did it first on April 4, 1953, against the San Diego Padres at Lane Field. The Stars went on to win 6-5. During the 2007 season, JetHawks teammates Aaron Bates and Brad Correll each homered four times in a game 36 days apart with the friendly wind at Clear Channel Stadium. Bates batted 5-for-5 against the Storm, and Correll batted 4-for-5 with eight RBI against the High Desert Mavericks. Springer didn’t have a chance to join the ranks. His teammates left him in the on-deck circle for what could have been a history making at-bat.
Want the answer? The stadium is often called The Hangar. To make the moniker more official, the JetHawks mounted a NASA F/A-18 Hornet at the front entrance.
And in random statistical news, the doubleheader provides double numeral fun. The first game started on time, while the second game started seven minutes late. The first pitch of the first game was a strike, the first pitch of the second was a ball. The first batters struck out looking and grounded out to first. There was only one “Star-Spangled Banner” and it was crooned in 1 minute and 28.7 seconds. We ate enormous helpings of salad with chicken and, during the second game, nullified our nutritious choice by eating Dippin’ Dots and a soft pretzel.
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