BY MATT LaWELL
CLEARWATER, Florida | Chris Truby still remembers his first morning in spring training. How could he forget it? He was 19 then, just out of high school up in Washington and in his first full season in the Houston Astros organization, already well over 6 feet tall, around 180 pounds. He felt good.
Then he walked into one of the clubhouses in Osceola County Stadium.
The first player he saw was a young first baseman named Joe Witt, who Truby remembers measuring in around 6-4 and 260 pounds. The next player he saw was another first baseman, a little older, named Roberto Petagine. Looking back, Truby remembers him around 6-3 and 240 pounds. And then Truby, who had lived in Hawaii for years and was big for the islands, shook his head.
“I don’t fit in here,” he said to himself. “I should have gone to college.”
“You try to take something from everybody. Every coach, whether you consider them a good or bad coach, has something to offer you.” — Clearwater manager Chris Truby
Over the next days and weeks and months and seasons and decades, Truby figured out a way to fit in. It all started with a young coach not much older than he was.
“I had a coach, Manny Acta, who’s now managing with the Indians, who was the first guy that took me in and worked with me every single day in spring training,” Truby says. “We would just hit buckets and buckets of ground balls, and it was before everybody else got on the field. More than anything, it created a routine and it built some sort of work ethic in you. Going up through the system and spending a lot of time in the minor leagues, it just became an everyday thing, because it started from Day 1.”
Truby has no idea why Acta picked him that first day, why he worked with him every day after that, why he built a group of young players he mentored that season and well beyond. But he remains thankful for it. “I was lucky I had a guy who took the time to do that,” he says. “A lot of people don’t.”
Over the years, Truby played with seven minor league teams before he earned a call from the Astros in 2000. After his career in the Majors ended, he played for seven more minor league teams. By the time he retired, he played in 1,393 games in cities like Auburn and Jackson and New Orleans on the way up, Toledo and Omaha and Altoona on the way back down. Along the way, he worked with hundreds of players. “Be the coach you want,” he says. He was.
Today, Truby is the manager of the Clearwater Threshers, the High-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies in the Florida State League. Acta is in his third season as the manager of the Cleveland Indians. They are both teachers.
“You try to take something from everybody,” Truby says. “Every coach, whether you consider them a good or bad coach, has something to offer you. Manny was one of those guys who never thought he knew everything, and he was going to look for an answer. For me, that’s the way you go about your business at this level.”
Time for minor league trivia. Clearwater is in its 28th season in the Florida State League as a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate, but the team has played as the Threshers — named for the shark with an enormous tail, not for the agricultural tool developed in the 18th century — since 2004. What Hall of Famer managed the team during its first season as the Threshers? (Read on for the answer.)
The Threshers slugged their way to an early lead and never trailed on their way to a 6-2 win Saturday night over the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The Threshers scored three runs in the bottom of the first — thanks to a two-run double from first baseman Brandon Tripp and an RBI groundout from third baseman Cody Asche — then pulled away with two runs in the sixth and another in the seventh. Tripp batted 3-for-4 with three doubles and a pair of RBI, lefty Austin Wright struck out six over six quality innings, and leftfielder D’Arby Myers leaped into the outfield wall to make a spectacular catch that ended the game and led the way to a fireworks show.
Inside the offices of Bright House Field is a row of framed photographs of former Clearwater Phillies and Threshers, each dated with a season. Start from the left with second baseman Chase Utley in 2001, the year he hit 16 homers and stole 19 bases in 122 games. Next is catcher Carlos Ruiz in 2002, when he batted just .213 but managed a young pitching staff. Then first baseman Ryan Howard in 2003, the season he clubbed 23 homers to lead the FSL. Finally, left-hander Cole Hamels in 2004, a season plagued with an elbow injury, but still impressive statistically, with 24 strikeouts and a 1.12 ERA in 16 innings. Of course, the wall is only just growing. “We’re a little behind,” says Jason Adams, an assistant general manager for the team. “We have more to hang.”
Want the answer? Mike Schmidt managed the Threshers during their first season with a new name and logo. The only third baseman in Major League Baseball history to win back-to-back MVP awards, Schmidt was voted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot back in 1995.
And in random statistical news, the game started just one minute later than the scheduled time, the first pitch was a strike, the first batter struck out swinging and a talented group of 11 young women from an area high school sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a crisp 1 minute, 8.4 seconds, the fastest we’ve heard the anthem in 10 games this season. Also, we had a couple slices of pizza, which we purchased from a beautiful couple, married 54 years and working together behind a concessions stand at Bright House Field.
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