When Major League Baseball resumes, Mike Sarbaugh, a graduate of Donegal High School and long-time Shillington resident, will start his seventh season on the Cleveland Indians staff, the sixth as third-base coach. Signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1989 out of Lamar University, he has been a member of the Indians organization since 1990 as a Minor League player, coach and manager.
He guided the Triple-A Columbus Clippers from 2010-12, leading the Clippers to the International League and Triple-A championships in back-to-back seasons of 2010-11. During his nine seasons (2004-12) piloting Cleveland Minor League affiliates, Mike’s teams compiled winning records in each campaign, captured five league titles and qualified for the postseason seven times, on his way to a career Minor League managerial mark of 697-511 (.577).
When contacted about the start of the current season being delayed he replied, “When the NBA made their announcement I knew that baseball would be affected but I didn’t know if we would try and play without fans, but I do feel they did the right thing by sending the players home. With all those people in the same basic area you knew if one person got the virus there was a good chance a lot more would.
“Right now we’re trying to figure out where guys are,” continued Sarbaugth. “I’m not in the loop as much as the front office but I am texting some to find out what they’re doing. We’re really more concerned about the pitchers than anything else because they were getting ramped up for the season. The tough part is not having a date for them to work toward, so it will be challenging. Overall it seems very miniscule compared to what other people are going through.”
He continued, “Right now the focus has to be on everyone staying safe. Our players are young and will be ready to go when they get the word, whenever that is, be it June or July. Of course, there will be some limitations, but I know they will be in the best of shape.”
Sarbaugh said another scenario that presents a problem is the players from other countries and how the travel ban affects them as far as getting home and then returning.
“I know some of our big league guys did go to the Dominicans and some from Venezuela were not able to get into their country so they went to our Dominican complex,” said Sarbaugh. “We also have some players from Taiwan who stayed at the Arizona complex and several guys who are coming off rehab procedures that need to keep up their programs.”
He continued talking about some things that he admitted were above his pay grade. “If we only play 80 games what affect does that have on things like contracts, pensions, amateur draft and free agency, but I’m sure they, – meaning the players union and management – are talking about this but they are really more concerned at this time that everyone is safe and let the other things fall in place later.”
Unlike some of the other major sports which are not letting their players take part in any team activities, baseball, according to Mike, is treating the time more like a continuation of the off-season.
“I saw recently where the Yankees had some guys hitting on their field so I guess it is up to each team what they do,” said Sarbaugh. “The league might have a guideline on how many people can be involved if they do it so I guess it is more if the players are allowed to use a facility and if there are coaches who live in that area they can go and treat it like the off-season.”
On the lighter side, Mike recalled this is the first March he has spent in Pennsylvania since 1985 when he graduated from high school.
Switching the subject to the news the New York Yankees had hired Rachel Balkovec as the first full-time female hitting coach, Mike stated, “If they feel she can help the players I think that’s great. In a male-dominated sport, it is always an interesting dynamic, but basketball and football have already made moves like this.”
Prior to joining the Indians, Sarbaugh was named the International League Manager of the Year in 2011 and the Baseball America Manager of the Year in 2010. In 2009, he led the Aeros to an 89-53 (.627) record, the Southern Division title and the Eastern League Championship and was named the Eastern League Manager of the Year in 2009.
He was also named the Carolina League Manager of the Year in 2007 after leading Kinston to both the first and second half Carolina League Southern Division titles, one year removed from the 2006 Carolina League title with Kinston. He led Mahoning Valley to the New York-Penn League Championship in 2004 and was a coach at Class-A Kinston in 1995, 1998-99 and was a coach at AA Akron from 2000-03.
“I was very fortunate to have very good players all those years and things went our way for us to be able to do that,” Sarbaugh said. “It was a by-product of the way the club drafted and developed them so we had a great run for a number of seasons.
“Now I think there only two or three guys who I had in the minors before I came to Cleveland but over the previous six years there have been quite a few who made it to the Indians,” he added.
Based on all that success you might think that managing in the big leagues would be on his agenda, but surprisingly he said that’s not the case.
“I’m an old school guy, not an analytical one, which is the way the game is going now so that kind of takes me out of consideration,” said Sarbaugh.” That being said, I’m happy to continue doing what I’ve been doing for as long as I can.”