Sandberg among 2008 AFL coaches
By now most know about how many players go from the Arizona Fall League to the big leagues. For the record, it's over 1,500 and counting, with 410 AFLers on 2008 Major League Baseball Opening Day rosters.
But who are the shepherds of the game's future? They often go unnoticed in the desert each fall, but without the coaching staffs cobbled together from throughout baseball, it's unlikely the league would be able to boast the impressive alumni list it has today.
On Wednesday afternoon, AFL executive director Steve Cobb announced the new crop of managers, pitching coaches, coaches and trainers for the upcoming 2008 season, which begins play on Tuesday, October 7 and concludes with the championship game on Saturday, November 22.
Though the list of teachers who've come through the league over the 16 years of its existence is impressive, it's rare for a Hall of Famer to work an AFL dugout. But such is the case this season, with Cubs great Ryne Sandberg serving as a coach for the Mesa Solar Sox.
"The job was offered to me and I kind of checked it out and thought about it and said, 'Yep, that's something I can do,'" said Sandberg, currently the manager for the Cubs' Class A Midwest League affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs. "I have a home in Arizona, so I think that would be a good experience working with those players, guys from different organizations, older guys, being a coach."
He'll share the Mesa dugout with manager Rocket Wheeler, who manages the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Atlanta Braves' affiliate in the Class A Advanced Carolina League. Wheeler is in his third season as the Pelicans' skipper. He managed the Rome Braves for three years prior to that, guiding the club to a South Atlantic League championship in 2003. Before that season, Wheeler spent 26 seasons in the Blue Jays organization as a player, coach and manager. He and Sandberg will be working with players from the Cubs, Braves, Tigers, Marlins and Phillies.
The Phoenix Desert Dogs will be shooting for their fifth straight AFL title with players from the A's, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Twins and Blue Jays. Stan Cliburn, who's been managing in the Minor Leagues for 20 years, will take the helm of that club. Nine have come in the Twins organization, the last three with Triple-A Rochester, where his twin brother Stu is the pitching coach. Cliburn played professionally for 14 years with the Angels, Pirates and Braves.
2008 AFL Coaching Staffs
Mesa Solar Sox
Manager: Rocket Wheeler (ATL)
Coach: Ryne Sandberg (CHC)
Manager: Daren Brown (SEA)
Pitching Coach: Ted Power (CIN)
Coach: Ozzie Timmons (TB)
Manager: Ron Warner (STL)
Pitching Coach: Wally Whitehurst (SD)
Coach: Rick Eckstein (WAS)
Phoenix Desert Dogs
Manager: Stan Cliburn (MIN)
Pitching Coach: Doug Linton (COL)
Coach: Charles Poe (TOR)
Manager: Shane Turner (SF)
Pitching Coach: Ray Searage (PIT)
Coach: Eric Owens (LAA)
Manager: Gary Allenson (BAL)
Pitching Coach: Rueben Neibla (CLE)
Coach: Terry Bradshaw (KC)
He'll be joined on the Phoenix staff by pitching coach Doug Linton (Rockies) and Charles Poe (Blue Jays). Poe, currently the hitting coach for the Auburn Doubledays, Toronto's short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League, spent time earlier this season working with the Triple-A Syracuse club. He's long wanted to work in the AFL and is thrilled his name was picked for this season.
"Every year, an email comes out and asks if you're interested and of course, most of the guys are interested," said Poe, a sixth-round Draft pick of the White Sox back in 1990 who played Minor League ball through the 1998 season. "I always put my name in without knowing if I can do it because I usually go to instructional league. I don't know why it happened this year, but it's a good opportunity and it's an honor for me to be going there.
"I remember when the league started up, I went to see it. I saw Mike Piazza play and Dusty Baker was managing. It was good baseball back then, and I'm sure it still is. I thought it was one of the best winter/fall leagues baseball has and it's now a special feeling -- I remember watching those guys play back then and now I'm going to be on the field with them this year."
The other Arizona Fall League managers are:
Ron Warner, St. Louis Cardinals: Peoria Saguaros
"Pop" Warner is in his second season managing the Springfield Cardinals, St. Louis' Double-A Texas League affiliate. Prior to that he spent two seasons as the skipper of the Palm Beach club in the Class A Advanced Florida State League after five years as an instructor and manager in the organization. Springfield made the playoffs for the first time in 2007 under Warner's guidance. The Palm Beach Cardinals won the FSL title in 2005 with Warner at the helm.
Originally a 17th-round Draft pick by the Cardinals in 1991, Warner spent nine seasons playing in their farm system. His last season came in 1999, when he hit .290 as a utilityman for Triple-A Memphis. He became a batting practice pitcher for the big-league club in 2000 before making his coaching debut the following season.
Shane Turner, San Francisco Giants: Scottsdale Scorpions
Turner has managed all over the Minor Leagues, compiling a 598-646 record in 10 seasons and spending time at every level from rookie to Triple-A. He led the San Jose Giants to a California League title in 1998. He's now serving as the Giants' Minor League coordinator, taking over from Fred Stanley, now the organization's farm director.
Turner, a sixth-round Draft choice of the Yankees in 1985, had a 10-year playing career which included brief big-league stops in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Seattle. He compiled 110 Major League at-bats, hitting .236. He hit .273 over the course of his Minor League career. He's in his 14th season with the Giants, beginning as a coach for rookie-level Bellingham in 1995.
Daren Brown, Seattle Mariners: Peoria Javelinas
A 29th-round Draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays back in 1989, Brown's father, Paul, pitched in the big leagues in the 1960s. Brown pitched for five years in Toronto's system, then in the Texas-Louisiana League for several years (while doubling as a coach and manager) and compiled a 90-49 overall record as a pro.
He's in his seventh season in the Mariners organization and his second as the skipper of the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle's Triple-A affiliate, after managing Double-A San Antonio in 2006. He managed Inland Empire in the Class A Advanced California League for two seasons, making the playoffs in 2004. Prior to that he worked in the Midwest League, leading the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers to the playoffs in 2003. In 2001 and 2002, he managed the California League club in San Bernardino, reaching the postseason in 2002.
Gary Allenson, Baltimore Orioles: Surprise Rafters
Allenson has seven years as a big-league player under his belt, catching for the Red Sox and Blue Jays. He hit .221 with 19 homers and 131 RBIs over the course of his Major League career. The 1976 ninth-round pick of the Red Sox was named the International League MVP in 1978 after hitting .299 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs for Pawtucket.
After concluding his playing career in 1985, Allenson began managing in 1987 in the Yankees organization, leading the Oneonta Tigers, then the Yanks' New York-Penn League affiliate, to that league's title in his second year. He moved to Lynchburg in the Carolina League in 1989, reaching the postseason in his first year there. From there, he moved to the Red Sox system, first at Double-A New Britain in 1991 and then joining the big-league staff in Boston in 1992. He returned to the Minors in 1996 in Charleston before moving to Double-A Jackson in '97. He's now in his second season as the skipper for the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate. This is his 19th season as a manager or coach