On opening night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park last Monday, the Charlotte Knights brought in left-handed relief pitcher Giovanni Soto to face the home team.
Seeking any information about the new hurler, Durham Bulls third baseman Patrick Leonard found a new source available – manager Jared Sandberg.
In past seasons, Bulls managers wouldn’t have been in the dugout to have such conversations. Prior to this season, they’ve been out coaching third base.
But the expansion of the team’s coaching staff by one allows Sandberg to follow Major League Baseball protocol and stay in the dugout the entire game.
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“The communication is great,” the 39-year-old Sandberg said. “The teaching moments are there, and I’m able to have these conversations with the players more so than in years past.”
Durham’s coaching staff still features hitting coach Ozzie Timmons and pitching coach Kyle Snyder. Timmons is in his second year working under Sandberg, while Snyder is in his third year in Durham.
This winter, a familiar face was added in Craig Albernaz. After a minor-league career that saw him play parts of five seasons with the Bulls (2009-13), Albernaz coached in the Tampa Bay Rays organization at the Rookie League level in Princeton, West Virginia, in 2015 and Single-A Hudson Valley last season.
The 34-year-old former catcher is back in Durham this season with third-base coaching one of his duties.
That frees up Sandberg to remain in the dugout, where he interacts with players and coaches while also sending signals to Albernaz at third base when the Bulls are batting.
While Timmons remains an important source of information to the Bulls players as they prepare for their at bats, Sandberg’s availability only helps them, Leonard said.
“I think it’s good because Jared knows so much about the game whether it’s the defensive side or offensive side,” Leonard said. “Like (opening) night mid-inning they brought the lefty in. I was talking to him about his tendencies. I know we have Ozzie too. But you have Ozzie and Jared now. You can talk to one. Talk to the other. Either one. So I think it’s good to have another pair of eyes in the dugout.”
Like his players, Sandberg has designs on leaving Durham for good to work on the big leagues one day. Being in the dugout throughout the game helps him better analyze his team’s play while having those important teaching moments with the players.
“For me as a manager and an aspiring major league manager,” Sandberg said. “I think it’s going to be good for me to get in the dugout and slow things down.”
Durham is the only one of Tampa Bay’s minor-league affiliates where the manager isn’t also coaching third base. Mitch Lukevics, the Rays director of minor-league operations, said the managers at the lower levels all decided to retain their third-base coaching duties.
Sandberg, though requested the change and the team agreed it was a good idea.
“We’re happy about it and happy for Jared that he wants to be in the dugout,” said Lukevics, who spent a few days with the Bulls during this season-opening homestand.
Last season’s losing record was a rare blotch on Sandberg’s managerial resume, which includes a .524 career winning percentage. In his seven previous seasons, beginning at Princeton in the Appalachian League in 2009, he’s posted five winning seasons.
But Durham’s 64-80 record and .444 winning percentage mark the worst season for a Sandberg-led teams.
So he’s willing to change, not only to help his current players reach their big-league dreams but to perhaps bolster his own.