The Interview Vault: Ian Gac

gac interview vault.jpgIn the last 20 seasons, no Clinton Baseball record has been more mythologized — or challenged, for that matter — than Dick Kenworthy’s single-season home run record of 22 in 1961.  After slugging corner infielders like Samone Peters, Jonathan Greene and Mauro Gomez and future Major Leaguers like John Mayberry Jr. and Mitch Moreland take runs at the record only to fall short, we finally saw Kenworthy’s mark eclipsed last season by a lanky 19-year-old shortstop with a sweet swing, Nick Franklin.

Franklin’s season was definitely one for the ages, as he belted a Midwest League-best 23 home runs to finally overtake Kenworthy in his final regular-season game as a LumberKing.  Still, it’s not the most impressive power we’ve seen in recent seasons.  Many fans will tell you that the record should not only have been broken — but obliterated — by first-baseman Ian Gac in 2008.

Originally drafted in the 26th round of the 2003 draft out of Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds, Washington, the powerful Gac first came to Clinton in 2005 as a 19-year-old and held his own, hitting a solid .240 with 24 doubles, 12 home runs, 57 RBI and a .717 OPS in 91 games.  Unfortunately, his career would not take off from there.  A promotion to high-A Bakersfield in 2006 yielded a .188 average in 55 games, and he’d hit .197 in the second half of the season back in Clinton after switching places with first-baseman Freddie Thon.

The 2007 season saw Gac start in extended Spring before again joining the LumberKings in late May.  He’d play in just three games, going 1-for-11 with six strikeouts and would finish up the year re-tooling his whole approach under the guidance of Tim Hulett in short-A Spokane.  His .237 average in the Northwest League didn’t turn heads, but a league-high 17 home runs and 45 RBI in 70 games certainly kept Gac on the Rangers’ map.  His renewed value to Texas showed further when they sent him to the Hawaii Winter League, where he’d hit .303 with seven homers and 19 RBI for the Oahu CaneFires.

Despite the ’07 turnaround, Gac still entered 2008 believing it was his last chance to prove himself with the Rangers.  He’d return for a fourth stint with the LumberKings hoping just to cut down on strikeouts and hit his way back to Bakersfield, but he’d do so much more than anyone could predict.

Gac made his opening statement on Opening Night, mashing a three-run homer all the way to the player parking lot for the main highlight in a 10-6 loss to Cedar Rapids.  Just two nights later, he’d record his first multi-homer game, lifting solo blasts to pace a 4-3 win.  Gac closed the four-game series with yet another homer, this time a two-run clout in a 7-6 extra-inning win.

Through just four games, Gac had homered four times to drive in seven runs.  That turned out to be just the beginning of his torrid first month.  The week ending April 20, Gac earned his first Midwest Leage Player of the Week award, hitting .426 with four homers and eight RBI.  By month’s end, he was the league leader in home runs (9), RBI (24), on-base percentage (.485), slugging percentage (.802), extra-base hits (16) and runs scored (23), while also posting the league’s second-best batting average (.395).  All of those statistics made him an easy choice for the Texas Rangers’ Offensive Player of the Month.

Entering an afternoon tilt on May 4 at Kane County, Gac was surprisingly on a seven-game homer drought.  That temporary skid would end with his most impressive offensive display as a LumberKing.  Victimizing Cougars’ right-handers Jamie Richmond and Leonardo Espinal for three-run homers in the third and ninth innings, Gac combined to go 2-for-5 with six RBI in Clinton’s 11-4 beatdown of the Cougars.  We wouldn’t see another LumberKing enjoy a multi-homer, six-RBI game again until Blake Ochoa did it in a seven-RBI performance at Lansing last July.

Today’s edition of “The Interview Vault” revisits my interview with Gac following that game.  We talked about ending the mini slump, what the Rangers’ Player of the Month award meant to him, getting pitched around after the hot start, the lineup around him including Moreland and Tim Smith, his goals for the season and more. 

Ian Gac (following 2 HR, 6 RBI game on 5.4.08).mp3 

Gac’s May and June months wouldn’t be quite as blistering, but he’d continue to hit for power and drive in runs.  He’d go into the All-Star Break with 17 homers and 52 RBI in just 229 at-bats, only five clouts away from tying Kenworthy’s record with a half-season under his belt.  While some minor excitement brewed in Clinton over Gac’s proximity to the record, most hardcore fans realized that his days as a LumberKing were numbered.

After a spectacular performance in the Home Run Derby at Great Lakes in which he hit 16 majestic homers before falling to Fort Wayne’s Felix Carrasco in the finals, Gac returned for one more week with the LumberKings before finally getting the much-deserved call back up to Bakersfield.  He’d finish his final Clinton stint with a .310 average, 19 homers and 60 RBI in just 255 at-bats, taking home the MWL Post-Season All-Star award at DH despite playing in only 67 games.  The 19 blasts are still tied alongside Dale Rohde (1961) and Bobby Smith (1959) for eighth-most in Clinton franchise history, while his 38 career home runs with the LumberKings are most likely amongst the top five in team history.

So what happened to “Gac Blast Fever” following mid-season ’08?  He’d finally have some success in the Cal League in the second half, hitting 13 more homers and driving in 49 RBI while batting .257 for the Blaze.  All told for 2008, Gac hit .284 (142-for-500) with 32 home runs and 109 RBI, leading the entire Rangers’ organization in RBI and finishing second to Nelson Cruz (37) in homers.

Gac hit 22 more roundtrippers for the Blaze in 2009, but reverted to a .238 batting average and drove in just 55 runs in 104 games.  After seven seasons of varying success, none above high-A, the Rangers let him go.  He resurfaced in the Chicago White Sox organization last year, hitting .276 with 20 home runs and an impressive 91 RBI with the Kannapolis Intimidators, a low-A entry in the South Atlantic League.

Now 25 years old and a nine-year veteran of professional baseball, the mighty Gac still hopes to advance to the elusive double-A level.  While he continues to fight for that achievement in his second organization, Clinton fans will not soon forget his four stints as a LumberKing including his legendary 2008 season. 


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