Michael Collins Named TinCaps’ New Manager

After much waiting and anticipation, the big day finally came Tuesday afternoon when the San Diego Padres announced who would succeed Jose Valentin after his two seasons as manager of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. That successor is Michael Collins, who, at 29 years old, becomes the youngest manager in the history of the Fort Wayne franchise.

Former Padres farmhand Michael Collins will lead the TinCaps during the 2014 season.

Former Padres farmhand Michael Collins will lead the TinCaps during the 2014 season.

Collins may at first seem an unconventional choice–young, no major league experience–but that would belie what he brings to a dugout and a clubhouse, according to those who have worked with him and played under him.

For the last two winters, Collins has been the manger of the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League. (When it’s winter here in the United States, it’s summer in Australia.) This past season he brought unprecedented success to the franchise, bringing them their first-ever Claxton Shield, the championship trophy of the ABL. Collins, also known as “Tubby” (still trying to get to the bottom of that nickname..stay tuned!) also played two seasons for the Cavalry. In fact, one of the members of his staff this past season was former TinCaps pitcher (2010) Hayden Beard, also a native of Australia.

From people I know within the Padres organization, I’ve heard that Collins is a great leader of men, and also someone who is very easy to work with and get along with. Another plus, I’m told, is that he is fluent in Spanish, a skill that is almost a must these days in baseball. Although the TinCaps will have athletic trainer Ricky Huerta, who speaks Spanish, it can only be a positive for a manager to communicate with his Spanish-speaking players directly.

The Cavalry posted an article on their website about Collins coming to work in Fort Wayne:

“Tubby says he’s excited to head to the Midwest because, much like Canberra, they have fans who are incredibly devoted to the team.

“Managing the TinCaps will be a great opportunity,” Tubby said. “They will have a talented young team on the field to go with great community support and involvement much like the Cavalry but on a much larger scale.”

The Cavalry have the second-best attendance in the league and draw an average of 1,314 fans per game. The TinCaps, on the other hand, averaged 5,766 fans per game during the 2013 season, which saw the most fans ever pass through the gates in the history of Fort Wayne baseball.

More from the Cavalry:

Tubby says he’s really excited to be a part of the organization and their mission to win the title, but it will all come down to how they can do as a team.

“Success will come down to the players’ development,” Tubby explained. “As coaches we will give them everything to prepare and they will need to apply it to their individual games.”

Tubby joins hitting coach Morgan Burkhart and pitching coach Burt Hooton. After coaching at a rookie level last year, this will be the highest level Tubby has ever taken on and he’s ready for the challenge.
 
“We are very proud of Michael,” Cavalry General Manager Thom Carter said. “He has a great baseball IQ and has amazing leadership abilities. Watching him manage our team over the last two seasons, you can see how players want to be their best for him. The players, management, and fans in Fort Wayne are lucky to have him.”

Collins is no stranger to the Midwest League, having played in this circuit during both the 2004 and 2005 seasons with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, which were then an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In 2005, Collins hit .320 with the Kernels, good for the third-best average in the league. He spent eight seasons with the Angels organization, and played two with the Padres, playing at every level with the exception of Fort Wayne. His playing experience also includes two seasons in the Australian Baseball League. During the 2010-2011 season, he hit .360 and was the batting champion of the ABL.

Collins is certainly a change from Jose Valentin, who spent 16 years in the majors, and brought plenty of perspective and experience with him. Collins, on the other hand, never played in the major leagues and will be anywhere from 7-10 years older than some of the players he’s managing. For the last two seasons, Collins has also managed in the Padres system, working with the Dominican Summer League Padres in 2012 and the Arizona League Padres in 2013. Early prognostications seem to indicate that a good chunk of that Arizona League roster may make up Fort Wayne’s squad in 2014. Collins’ lack of MLB experience shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, though. He’ll bring a fresh perspective as someone who has recently “been there, done that” and can relate to the players. Not to mention the rest of his staff–Burt Hooton and Morgan Burkhart–bring a collective 18 years of MLB time, along with Hooton’s World Series ring. Interstingly, Hooton (63 years old) is more than twice as old as Collins. The beauty of baseball is that, as Hooton told me many times last year, it’s a simple game, and the teaching lessons can be delivered by those young and old.

2014-Coaching-Staff

Here’s a look at every manager in Fort Wayne history, and respective ages for those skippers while they were here:

Mike Boulanger – 1997 – Age 47

Craig Colbert- 2000 – Age 34

Michael Collins – 2014 – Age 29

Doug Dascenzo – 2007, 2008, 2009 – Ages 42, 43, 44

Jim Dwyer – 1993, 1994 – Ages 42, 43

Jose Flores – 2010 – Age 36

Gary Jones- 2003 – Age 41

Tom Lawless- 2001 – Age 42

Jose Marzan – 1998 – Age 32

Randy Ready – 2004, 2005, 2006 – Ages 44, 45, 46

Dan Rohn – 1995, 1996 – Ages 39, 40

Dan Simonds – 1999 – Age 33

Jose Valentin – 2012, 2013 – Ages 42, 43

Don Werner – 2001 – Age 47

Tracy Woodson – 2002 – Age 39

Shawn Wooten – 2011 – Age 38

As you can see there, the previous youngest manager was Jose Marzan, who was here for all of one season in 1998, the team’s last year of affiliation with the Minnesota Twins.

Collins chatted via email with The Journal Gazette telling the newspaper he believes his relative youth will be a positive:

“In regards to relating with players, I guess I’m not far removed from playing with a quick transition into coaching, so I’m closer in age than other coaches and spending 10 years all in the minors, I understand what these players are going through,” he wrote.

His predecessor, Jose Valentin, was a fiery guy. What will Collins be like?

“My managing style,” he wrote, “(is) I like to let the players play. Try to line them up in the best position to succeed and let them be aggressive. Early days right now, but there are a lot of great young players in the organization, should be a good mix of young talent.”

I think TinCaps fans should be excited for Collins to come to Parkview Field. He brings high praise, a great managerial track record, experience in the Midwest League, and more than a decade of playing experience to the clubhouse, and also worked with many future TinCaps last year in Arizona. In what was a busy off-season for Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith, Collins looks to be a great hire. Smith had to make many hires with the departure or re-assignment of many members of his minor league staff.

Former roving pitching coordinator Mike Cather, who is very popular among players, is the new pitching coach for Triple-A El Paso. Gary Jones, a former Wizards manager, who was San Diego’s minor league infield coordinator, left to become the third-base coach of the Chicago Cubs. Jones is extremely well liked around baseball, especially here in Fort Wayne. Other new hires that had to be made included the following minor league positions:

San Antonio (Double-A) Hitting Coach

Lake Elsinore (Advanced-A) Manager, Hitting Coach

Eugene (Short-Season A) Manager, Hitting Coach

Arizona League (Rookie) Manager

(For more on all of those personnel changes, take a look at the news story on Padres.com.)

Why is having the right manager important? From the outside, it might just seem like he fills out a lineup card, makes pitching change during the game, and gets after it with the umpires when he feels they’ve made a poor call. But I can tell you that it’s a lot more than that. A manager at this level has a great impact on players who are in their first or second years of professional baseball–how they carry themselves, their punctuality, their attitudes (which vary greatly with the successes and failures of a 140-game season), how they take care of their bodies, how they dress when they travel for road games–all of which are crucial, but many times unseen, aspects of having what it takes to continue rising through the ranks of professional baseball. These players come from high school or college programs where they were the best player on the team, and the rules didn’t always apply. Now, it’s once again a level playing field, and those most open to the instruction they receive at this level are most often the most likely to succeed.

As I write this on Friday, January 17th, we are just 76 days away from Opening Day 2014, when the TinCaps play host to the Great Lakes Loons. If you haven’t heard, individual tickets go on sale January 30th. If you make your purchase that day between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Suite Level Lounge at Parkview Field, we’ll even throw in lunch for free. Sounds like a good deal to me!

MUSICAL GUEST

Nappy Roots…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

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