By hiring Bill Buckner as Boise Hawks hitting coach, the Chicago Cubs not only welcome back a familiar face to the organization, but also allow some of their youngest players to learn from one of the game's great hitters.
Buckner -- whose 2,715 Major League hits rank 60th on the all-time list -- joins manager Mark Johnson, pitching coach David Rosario and assistant coach Gary Van Tol in the dugout for the 2012 Northwest League season. Johnson said Buckner's style is a good fit for the team.
"He had a heck of a Major League career and is a good guy," said Johnson, who last season led the Hawks to their first postseason appearance since 2006. "He has a lot of passion for wanting to get the kids better."
Buckner managed in the independent Can-Am League last year, leading the Brockton Rox to a 51-42 record. He hasn't been on a Major League field staff since serving as the hitting coach for the Chicago White Sox in 1997.
Though the talent disparity between the Majors and Class A levels may be large, Buckner sees similarities in what he teaches.
"It's really not any different -- you're trying to get them ready for the Majors," Buckner said. "You teach them a lot of the same things that I taught when I was a Major League hitting coach."
The hiring is a homecoming of sorts -- Buckner played for the Cubs from 1977-1984 and won the National League batting title in 1980. The Hawks hope Buckner, who had a career average of .289, can pass his productivity along to their youth.
"Players need to learn how to practice, because that's what's going to make them better in games," he said. "Sometimes you make bigger changes, sometimes it's mental, and sometimes it's in all facets of hitting."
Beyond mechanics, players also need to be alert every time they step to the plate, something that can be addressed at any level.
"A lot has to do with paying attention to what's going on -- what the pitcher is doing, what pitches you handle best and being aggressive but selective," he said. "If you can do that, then you're probably going to have success."
Canadians welcome new manager: Though his uniform has changed, his affiliation remains the same.
This season Clayton McCullough takes over as manager for the defending champion Vancouver Canadians, marking his sixth year in the Blue Jays organization. McCullough managed the Dunedin Blue Jays the previous two seasons, compiling a 151-128 record, and has a 317-300 record as a Minor League manager.
"I don't feel any pressure," said McCullough, who also managed the Class A Lansing Lugnuts in '08 and '09 and the GCL Blue Jays in '07. "What they did last year was tremendous, and we want to mirror that success, but I don't feel any pressure other than to get those players better."
This year's Canadians team will feature a mixture of first-year players and those who've been around for a season or two. McCullough said his approach to the players will vary based on their level of experience, working on adjustments with the more seasoned players since they have more evaluation criteria.
"We want to look at those guys that have been with us for a few years and take them to the next level," McCullough said. "We want to win, we want to teach these guys how to win and be in a winning environment.
"I'm going to have to have a lot of patience," he added. "You better have patience or you will be pulling your hair out unnecessarily."
Tago to start at Tri-City: Right-hander Peter Tago, a supplemental first-round pick in 2010, will open the season with the Tri-City Dust Devils. The 20-year-old right-hander pitched 90 1/3 innings for Class A Asheville last year, going 3-5 with a 7.07 ERA, 58 strikeouts and 72 walks.
"He's been pretty good in extended [spring traning]," seven-year Dust Devil manager Fred Ocasio told the Tri-City Herald. "If he goes out there and can throw strikes with the type of stuff he's got, he'll be all right."
Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Northwest League.
- Last season's championship: Vancouver over Tri-City in three games MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last perfect game: Bradley Hertzler, Vancouver vs. Spokane, July 18, 2007 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last no-hitter: Craig Westcott, Brandon Graves and Wilber Bucardo (combined), Salem-Keizer vs. Everett, August 23, 2009 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last back-to-back champion: Salem-Keizer 2006-2007
- Last 100 strikeout pitcher: Shane Lindsay, Tri-City, 2005
- Last .390+ batting average for a season: Ken Harvey, Spokane, 1999 (.397 in 204 at-bats)