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Fan Favorite P.J. Forbes is managing just fine these days

FAN FAVORITE P.J. FORBES IS MANAGING JUST FINE THESE DAYS

By SCOTT PITONIAK

This feature originally appeared in the 2009 Red Wings yearbook

Managing was something he knew he wanted to do back during his senior season at Wichita State University 20 springs ago while helping the Shockers win the College World Series.

But P.J. Forbes wound up getting a later than expected start on that career goal.

And he has no one to blame but himself.

See, the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Famer wound up having a playing career that exceeded every one’s expectations – including his own.

“I had no idea that my professional playing career was going to last 13 years,’’ said Forbes, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates Class A affiliate in Lynchburg, Va. “Heck, when I was drafted out of college, most people said I’d never make it out of A-ball.’’

What Forbes lacked in talent, he more than made up for in determination and baseball intelligence. He eventually made it not only out of A-ball, but all the way to the big leagues – logging nine games for the Baltimore Orioles in 1998 and three games with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2001.

“I knew I was short on talent – that was no secret to me,’’ he said. “I knew if I was to go anywhere, I’d have to compensate for my shortcomings. That’s why, in everything I ever played, I tried to defeat the game and the opponent by out-thinking them and by out-working them.’’

Those qualities, along with his kindness off the diamond, endeared him to Rochester fans during his days with the Wings in the late 1990s. Peter Joseph Forbes batted .272, .293 and .264 in his three seasons with Rochester. But those respectable-but-not-great statistics don’t measure his true value to those Wings teams, especially the 1997 club that won the Governors’ Cup championship.

Forbes was a fiery competitor who inspired his teammates and fans with his gritty, hustling play. Wings manager Marv Foley also loved Forbes for his versatility, using P.J. at second, short, third, first and even the outfield on various occasions.

Perhaps no play captured Forbes’ essence better than his sprawling catch of Homer Bush’s popped bunt in the bottom of the ninth of the Governors’ Cup clincher against the Columbus Clippers at Frontier a dozen summers ago. Anticipating that Bush might attempt to lay one down, Forbes raced roughly 45 feet and dived to snag the ball in foul territory for the second out of the inning. Reliever Brian Shouse then retired Matt Howard on a fly out to preserve the 4-3 victory and Rochester’s 10 th Cup championship.

“I just had a feeling (Bush) might try to surprise us, and when I saw his hands start to slide down the bat, I tore in and luckily the ball landed in my glove,’’ Forbes said of one of the most significant defensive plays in Wings history.

That combination of anticipation and hustle is something Forbes has attempted to instill in his players during his five seasons managing in the Phillies farm system.

“My job is to prepare these guys to become major-leaguers, and I try to give them every edge possible,’’ said Forbes, who spent the past three seasons managing the Phillies Double-A team in Reading, Pa. “I preach hard work and intelligence out there. You need to be mentally alert at all times. You want to be one step ahead of your opponent.’’

Forbes always was. And it enabled him to prove wrong those naysayers who predicted he would never advance past the lowest rungs of the minors.

“One of the greatest experiences of my life was when Marv Foley pulled me aside (in mid-July, 1997) and told me I was going up to the Orioles,’’ Forbes recalled. “Marv wasn’t a real emotional guy, but he had tears in his eyes and I had tears in my eyes. I don’t know who was more excited – me or him. And I’ve since discovered that’s the greatest feeling you can have as a minor-league manager – telling a guy he’s been promoted to the next level.’’

Forbes, 41, is hopeful someone in a major-league organization gives him that news again down the road. His goal is manage in the big leagues some day, but he realizes that he has a long way to go.

“There are many more dues that need to be paid managing in the minor leagues and coaching in the majors before I can even think about that,’’ he said. “I definitely need more seasoning. I need to continue to grow down here.’’

The Phillies brass was so impressed with the job he did developing players for their 2008 World Series title team that they named him farm system coordinator. While flattered by the promotion, Forbes wasn’t ready to peel off the baseball uniform, so when the Pirates came calling with a managing job, he couldn’t help but return to the dugout.

“I still want to be on the front-line, so to speak,’’ he said. “To me, managing and coaching is still the next best thing to playing.’’

Nationally recognized sports columnist Scott Pitoniak is the author of 10 books, including "Memories of Yankee Stadium," published last spring. You can read more of his work at ScottPitoniak.com.