Parrish: It’s ‘out-right’ hard to predict the seasonWritten by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Mud Hens’ season is just about under way, but it’s not too late to get an assessment of the kind of year we can expect from our darling birds.
For that highly classified information, it’s probably best to go directly to the summit and quiz Hens’ manager Larry Parrish.
On second thought, it might actually be too early to get an accurate evaluation, and maybe we shouldn’t be shocked if Parrish were to push aside decorum, obedience and the future of his livelihood for just a few seconds and respond, “What do I look like, some sort of baseball wizard?” or, “What are you asking me for?” or, “Your guess is as good as mine.”
That, of course, won’t happen. Internal reflections are usually not for public consumption, but managers at all levels of minor league sports experience occasional feelings of helplessness when Big Brother comes knocking and the revolving door stays stuck on, “Beware Of Continuous Rotation.”
When the call comes down from the parent Detroit Tigers that they want a particular player, Parrish said his only response might be, “Yes, sir. I’ll get him on his way. We joke and say it takes about an hour to get him up there and about three days to get him back.”
Parrish and administrators like him are sometimes managers of mayhem with players coming and going as quickly as political promises. There’re so many intangibles taking daily batting practice, but that’s what makes the profession so striking.
“At the end of May last season, we were a pretty good ballclub, but then we had some guys start leaving and we weren’t the same team in July and August,” Parrish said.
Patience is a virtue, but in the case of minor league managers, it’s also an absolute necessity. They have to accurately evaluate talent, often on the run, while weighing their requirements and nurturing the needs of the parent club.
Consider this: Last season, the Mud Hens were involved in a 10-year-high 139 transactions that included 61 different players.
There are veterans, rookies, prospects, free agents, players going on and off the disabled list, along with those associated with the temporary Inactive inventory, and who’s that guy over there in the hot tub?
The native language of baseball managers contains such time-worn terms as, “optioned, assigned, recalled, promoted, placed, signed, activated, contracted, released,” and, get this, “out-righted.”
“It’s a challenge, and getting the makeup of the team right is often more important than the actual physical part,” Parrish admitted. “I told Andy Barkett, the manager at Lakeland, that managing the clubhouse with 23 guys is more important than deciding when to bunt or hit and run.”
In 2005, the Hens had only 73 transactions involving 43 players. And, guess what? They won the International League’s Governors’ Cup. Is there a correlation between less player movement and more success? Most certainly. The stability factor is predicated on the requirements of the parent club and how players play.
By comparison, two years ago Toledo Storm coach Nick Vitucci, who will direct the Toledo Walleye in the East Coast Hockey League in the fall, was involved in 71 transactions with 40 players before the team folded at the end of the season.
Every team strives for as much consistency as possible. The Mud Hens certainly have it at the coaching level. Parrish is entering his sixth straight season with the Hens, along with hitting coach Leon (Bull) Durham, who returns for the his ninth consecutive season, along with trainer Matt Rankin.
A total of about 150 players filtered through the Tigers’ training camp in Lakeland, Fla., this spring with 27 sent packing. The others were assigned to Detroit’s various minor league franchises, according to Dan Lunetta, the Tigers’ director of Minor League Operations.
“The more turnover you have, the greater effect it’s going to have on the club’s ability to win games, especially if it’s a good club,” Lunetta added. “But there can be an inverse element to the equation. A club that is not good at the start of the season can find that turning the roster over can upgrade its situation.”
There is also this to consider: While the parent club often raids its top Triple-A affiliate, there’s an updraft. The Hens can call up prospects from the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate, the Erie, Pa., SeaWolves.
But that, too, can have drawbacks.
“We might need someone from Erie, but he might not be ready to come up, and we don’t want to get him in over his head, so sometimes we just have to take it on the chin,” Parrish added. “Or a player might come up and all of a sudden, he’s struggling for the first time in his career; the water has gotten deeper and the game got faster.
“When you’ve got a guy going forward [to Detroit, for instance] he’s fired up and ready to play. When he’s coming back, the opposite is true and you have to coach the mental as well as the physical aspects of the game.”
So, Mr. Parrish, how good are the Mud Hens going to be this season?
“We look pretty good on paper,” he said in a way that denotes wide margins. “We’ve got some guys with a good track record here and we should be sound offensively. Obviously, we’ve got to have pitching and we can’t have guys go down [to injury]. We’ve just got to play and stay healthy. But that could change in a month.”
Why? Because who knows what Big Brother may need, and there’s always the chance that someone might get, “out-righted.”