Moments after Jared Sandberg was introduced Friday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park as the fourth manager in the Bulls’ Triple-A era, he pulled on a Bulls cap for the requisite photo opportunities.
“And it fits,” he proclaimed.
It should. Sandberg, 36, spent parts of five seasons with the Bulls (2000-04) and has logged 17 years in the parent Tampa Bay Rays organization during his 19-year professional career. So in many ways, the native of Olympia, Wash., is coming home.
“This is a great opportunity for me and my family to be back in a Durham Bulls uniform,” said Sandberg, who as the youngest manager in Triple-A succeeds Charlie Montoyo after Montoyo was named third base coach on the staff of new Rays manager Kevin Cash in December.
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“I have a lot of great memories from when I played here. This is a great place to play, a great franchise. There’s a lot of history here.”
Sandberg experienced some of that history firsthand. The Bulls won two Governors’ Cups as International League champions during his stint in Durham under then-manager Bill Evers. As a power-hitting third baseman, Sandberg set Rays minor league records for career home runs (113), RBIs (473) and runs scored (417), which led to parts of three seasons in the majors with the Rays (2001-03).
After Sandberg’s playing career ended in 2007, the Rays created a position for him as hitting coach at Hudson Valley of the short-season New York-Penn League in 2008, and he has been a member of their minor league staff since.
The following year he became a manager at Princeton (W.Va.) of the Appalachian Rookie League and swiftly rose through the Tampa Bay organization. He managed Hudson Valley for the next three years before moving on to Bowling Green of the Class A Midwest League (2013) and Charlotte of the Advanced-A Florida State League (2014), then got the call to Durham this month.
He compiled a managerial record of 309-256 (.547) in six years and took two teams to the playoffs, winning the 2012 New York-Penn championship at Hudson Valley. Sandberg will be reunited in Durham with his Hudson Valley and Bowling Green pitching coach, Kyle Snyder. Snyder, who pitched for the Royals and Red Sox in the majors, was a first-round draft pick out of North Carolina in 1999 by the Royals.
“I know he’s excited to be back in Durham as a Carolina grad,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg said he was also looking forward to reuniting with some of the players he managed at lower levels.
“It’s an exciting time in the Rays organization with all the trades and the new players,” he said. “I’m looking forward to them catching up with me now as I’ve moved up through the ranks.”
Sandberg admitted he had “big shoes to fill” as Bulls manager, given the success that Evers and Montoyo had in Durham. The Bulls have won four Governors’ Cups and one national championship in their 18 years in Triple-A, and Montoyo surpassed Evers as the Bulls’ all-time winningest manager.
“Even though I may be young, I’m in my 20th professional season,” Sandberg said. “I will lean on my past experience.”
Managing at Port Charlotte, also the Rays’ spring training site, exposed him to new practices.
“There was more organizational interaction with the (Tampa Bay) front office personnel,” he said. “The other thing, too, was you get some rehab players who come through. I didn’t get that in my previous stops in Princeton or Bowling Green. Having some interaction with big league players was great.
“I’ll definitely lean on that experience as well. I’ve been in the Rays organization for parts of 17 years. I grew up as a Ray. I know the Rays’ way. I now the way the image has changed for the better, significantly for the better.”
Coaching and managing run in Sandberg’s family. His uncle is Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, now the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Jared Sandberg’s father, Del, has coached baseball, fastpitch girls softball and college basketball in Washington.
What kind of manager is Sandberg?
“It goes back to high school, when I was playing for Capital High School in Olympia,” Sandberg said. “My former high school coach (Dennis Gray) said it was like having an extra coach on the field having me play shortstop. I think I was destined to get into coaching after my playing career.”
Having worked in the lower levels of the minors, Sandberg described himself as patient and laid-back, preferring to let players learn from their mistakes.
“Baseball is difficult to play,” Sandberg said. “It’s about being consistent. I can be fiery, but I think I’m even-keel. I don’t get too high or too low.”
One characteristic Sandberg apparently shares with Montoyo is a belief in using the entire roster.
“I think playing the entire roster is very, very important,” Sandberg said. “It helps with continuity in the clubhouse and on the field. If that 25th guy on the roster doesn’t play and gets limited at-bats, it doesn’t keep him fresh.
“When they do step in, they can step up.”