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Huppert, staff return to Lehigh Valley
12/16/2008 2:20 PM ET
ALLENTOWN, Penn. -- Dave Huppert, who ranks third amongst active Minor League managers in wins and managed the Lehigh Valley IronPigs during their initial campaign, will return for his second season as the club's manager in 2009. In addition to Huppert's return, Pitching Coach Rod Nichols, Hitting Coach Greg Gross and Head Athletic Trainer Jason Kirkman have also been assigned to the IronPigs bench for a second straight season.

Huppert's IronPigs posted a 55-89 record last season and finished in sixth place in the International League's Northern Division. The inaugural version of the IronPigs showed dramatic improvement under Huppert's guidance as the season progressed, going 43-34 during a 77-game stretch following a 5-30 start. The 2008 season marked just the second time in the last seven campaigns that a Huppert-led team did not post a winning record.

The upcoming 2009 season will be the 50-year-old's 22nd as a Minor League manager and his fourth year in the Phillies' farm system. Prior to being named IronPigs skipper, he led the 2007 Clearwater Threshers (Class A Advanced) to an 83-57 record and the club's first Florida State League title since 1993. That followed his first season in the system when he piloted the Lakewood BlueClaws to a South Atlantic League championship (Class A). In all, he has posted a combined managerial record of 1,480-1,303 (.532) and trails just Marc Bombard (1,709) and Tom Kotchman (1,542) amongst active managers in career Minor League victories.

The South Gate, Calif., native has posted many accolades as a manager -- recording winning records 14 times in 21 seasons, earning playoff berths 11 times and capturing three league titles. Since commencing his managerial career with the Helena Gold Sox in 1986 at the age of 29, he has managed in the farm systems of Milwaukee (1986-91), Chicago-AL (1993-1998), Florida (1999-2001), Montreal (2002-2004) and Philadelphia (2006-present).

In his playing career, Huppert reached the Major Leagues as a catcher with the Baltimore Orioles in 1983 and again with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1985. He appeared in a combined 15 games and collected one hit -- a single off Hall-of-Famer Phil Niekro.

Originally signed by Baltimore in 1977, Huppert caught 31 of 33 innings in the longest professional baseball game ever played -- April 18, 1981 -- an International League contest featuring Rochester and Pawtucket at McCoy Stadium.

Rod Nichols, 43, has been at the helm of the pitching staff of Philadelphia's top farm club since 2005 and enters his 10th consecutive season as a coach in the system. Nichols played an important role in the reemergence of Phillies' pitcher Brett Myers in the second half of 2008. Relegated to Triple-A at the season's midway point with a 3-9 record and a 5.84 ERA, Myers regained his form under the tutelage of Nichols -- and, after returning to Philadelphia, went 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA for the remainder of the regular season. In addition, five more IronPigs pitchers -- Joe Bisinius, Fabio Castro, J.A. Happ, R.J. Swindle and Les Walrond -- made the rise from Triple-A to the Major Leagues, while Happ's improvement was so notable that he was selected as winner of the Paul Owens Award -- given annually to the best pitcher in the Phillies Minor League system.

Nichols began his coaching career in 2000 as pitching coach for Piedmont (Class A, South Atlantic League) and quickly advanced through the system, moving to Lakewood in 2001 and to Reading (Double-A) from 2002-04. His advancement to the Triple-A level in 2005 coincided with Rich Dubee's promotion to Charlie Manuel's staff in Philadelphia.

Originally drafted by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 1987 draft, Nichols made his Major League debut with the Indians in 1988. Throughout a 12-year professional career, Nichols appeared at the highest level with Cleveland (1988-93), Los Angeles (1993) and Atlanta (1995) and compiled a career record of 11-31 with a 4.43 ERA in 100 games and 48 starts.

The Burlington, Iowa, native concluded his professional playing career overseas in Japan -- pitching for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in 1997.

Greg Gross, 56, enters his fifth season as a hitting instructor in the organization and was at the helm of an IronPigs unit that hit 90 home runs last season -- the highest total by the Phillies top farm club in four years. A pair of experienced hitters, Andy Tracy and Mike Cervenak, enjoyed prolific performances under Gross, both finishing among the I.L. leaders in numerous offensive categories and receiving Major League promotions. The other two IronPig hitters to reach the Major League last year were outfielders Chris Snelling and T.J. Bohn.

Gross began his post-playing career as a coach for Malvern Prep High School near Philadelphia before joining the Rockies organization as a coach for New Haven (Double-A, Eastern League) from 1995-96 and then as the roving hitting instructor from 1997-2000. He re-joined the Phillies as bench coach in 2001 for manager Larry Bowa and then served as hitting coach from 2002-04 before joining the Phillies' player development staff in 2005.

He played 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, including 10 with the Phillies (1979-88) and played a key role in Philadelphia's first World Championship in 1980. In the 1980 National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, Gross delivered a trio of pinch-hits that helped the Phillies capture the series in a decisive fifth game.

A native of nearby York, Pa., Gross broke into the Majors with Houston in 1973 and captured The Sporting News National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1974 after batting .314 (third in the N.L.). Traded to Chicago in the winter of 1976, the outfielder came to the Phillies alongside Manny Trillo in an eight-player deal in 1979. A lifetime .287 hitter, Gross collected 143 career pinch-hits -- a mark that ranks fourth all-time behind Lenny Harris, Manny Mota and Smoky Burgess.

Jason Kirkman, 35, enters his seventh season in the Phillies organization. The California native was NATABOC certified in May, 2000 after graduating from Boise State University with a Bachelor of Science degree, Athletic Training option. Prior to joining the Phillies, Kirkman served as the assistant athletic trainer for the Idaho Steelheads of the West Coast Hockey League (1997-2000), and head athletic trainer for the Tacoma Sabercats of the West Coast Hockey League (2000-2002) and the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox of the Western Baseball League (2002).

The only member of the staff not returning is strength coach Ryan Driscoll, who has taken a full-time position within the Baltimore Orioles organization. No replacement has yet been made.

In addition to naming Lehigh Valley's 2009 manager and coaches, the Phillies unveiled the staffs for all their Minor League affiliates today. The staffs are listed below:

LEHIGH VALLEY (TRIPLE-A): Dave Huppert (Manager), Rod Nichols (Pitching Coach), Greg Gross (Coach), Jason Kirkman (Athletic Trainer)

READING (DOUBLE-A): Steve Roadcap (Manager), Steve Schrenk (Pitching Coach), Frank Cacciatore (Coach), Chris Mudd (Athletic Trainer)

CLEARWATER (CLASS A ADVANCED): Ernie Whitt (Manager), Dave Lundquist (Pitching Coach), Ramon Henderson (Coach), Kevin Jordan (Coach), Ichiro Kitano (Athletic Trainer)

LAKEWOOD (CLASS A): Dusty Wathan (Manager), Bob Milacki (Pitching Coach), Greg Legg (Coach), Mickey Kozack (Athletic Trainer)

WILLIAMSPORT (CLASS A SHORT-SEASON): Chris Truby (Manager), Tom Filer (Pitching Coach), Eric Valent (Coach), Jon May (Athletic Trainer)

PHILLIES (GCL): Roly deArmas (Manager), Aris Tirado (Pitching Coach), Carlos Arroyo (Pitching Coach), Luis Melendez (Coach), Troy Hoffert (Athletic Trainer)

The returning field staff will lead the IronPigs back into action on April 9, 2009 at Coca-Cola Park against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Season tickets, mini-plans and group tickets for the 2009 season presented by Capital BlueCross are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (610) 841-PIGS or by visiting the Coca-Cola Park ticket office.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.