The Bakersfield Blaze underwent some big changes this offseason, including an affiliation switch from the Texas Rangers to the Cincinnati Reds. As the affiliation changed hands, Reds prospects at the Class A Advanced level gained a new leader when Ken Griffey Sr.
accepted the Blaze's vacant managerial position.
Griffey played 19 seasons in the Majors before becoming a coach, first as a roving hitting instructor for Seattle and then as a hitting coach with the Mariners and the Rockies. This season is Griffey's first at the helm of any team in pro ball and, like his players, he's learning with the job.
"Here in the Minor Leagues, you help with the hitting, you're talking with the pitching coach on how the [pitchers] are doing, you're coaching third base," said Griffey, who last season served as batting coach for the Reds' Class A affiliate in Dayton. "So you have to understand all the offensive and defensive plays."
Griffey sees coaching for development and coaching to win as two sides of the same coin.
"If we're in a situation to win the game, I'm going to manage to win," he said. "The development part comes as you go. Now you're putting kids in situations where you know they may be in the future in the big leagues."
He has seen the future develop before his eyes, not just in his son, Ken Griffey Jr., but in the young players he scouted as a special assistant for Cincinnati in the early 2000s. His job required him to watch players at every level and report back to the general manager.
"I went to see [Tampa Bay Rays shortstop] B.J. Upton when he was in high school," Griffey said of one assignment he had at that job. "At that time I thought he was a better pitcher than a shortstop, because I hadn't seen him play shortstop."
Griffey uses his experiences as a player to impart lessons to his Blaze players, like telling funny stories from his career to keep the kids engaged.
"I spent five years in the Minor Leagues, and I went through every level these kids are going through," he said. "If something funny happened out on the field, I laughed. That keeps you loose."
Now all eyes are on him as the manager. It's a departure from his days on the Big Red Machine, the powerhouse Reds teams of the 1970s. Griffey was the young guy on a roster full of stars and dominating personalities like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan.
"I was always low-key in the Major Leagues," he said. "I was a younger guy on the club, so I kept a low profile and I did my job. Here as a manager, I have to talk all the time."
Hold on to Hogue: The Lancaster JetHawks skidded down the standings after a poor week in which they lost five of seven games, including a 20-7 loss to Bakersfield on Aug. 2. Center fielder Grant Hogue didn't let the losing affect him. He hit safely in four straight games and has scored eight runs since Aug. 1. Hogue had an RBI triple against Inland Empire on Aug. 6 and scored twice.
Buss' big bat: Rancho Cucamonga outfielder Nick Buss blasted the competition last week, going 9-for-29 with two home runs and a triple. He drove in five runs and scored nine times. Buss is hitting .300 with four stolen bases over his last 10 games.
Fight to the finish: Stockton is locked in a dead heat with Modesto in the second-half North Division standings. Both clubs are 27-18. Stockton holds a five-game advantage in the Wild Card over Modesto, and the Nuts have won four in a row and eight of their last 10. The Ports lost three in a row to Modesto at the beginning of August and nearly swept Visalia last week.