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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2005

3 of a kind: Manager Parrish and coaches work well together

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The numbers, at first glance, are impressive.

This trio combined to play professional baseball for nearly 50 years, including all or part of 30 years in the major leagues. They also draw upon 35 years of coaching experience, including six years in the big leagues.

But perhaps the most impressive number for Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish and his two coaches, pitching coach Jeff Jones and hitting coach Leon "Bull" Durham, is the number of years the threesome has spent in Toledo.

Mud Hens hitting coach Leon Durham. Mud Hens hitting coach Leon Durham.
MORRISON / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The trio has combined for 17 seasons total in Toledo, including the last three years together. They have more experience in the International League than any other staff.

"This is just like being in the big leagues," Durham said. "As a staff, we've been told over and over that we should be in the big leagues. It's good to hear that, and it makes us feel good."

Jones was the first to come to Toledo, which makes sense since he's a Monroe native and former Bowling Green State University pitcher. His first year as Hens' pitching coach was 1990, and Jones quickly developed a fondness for working with the Mud Hens.

"There are two pitching coach jobs in baseball where I can live at home," Jones said. "One is in Detroit, and one is in Toledo. I couldn't be more fortunate in the fact that I can stay at home and make the commute down here."

Parrish was next to come to Toledo, taking over as manager of the Mud Hens in May of 1994, then returning in 2003.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is a great place to work," Parrish said. "It's a great facility, it's a great town - there aren't a lot of negatives to coming back to Toledo."

When Parrish came back to Toledo he already found Jones and Durham in place. Durham's first year as the Hens' hitting coach was 2001.

According to Hens trainer Matt Rankin, who joined the staff the same year as Durham, the trio clicked almost instantly.

"It's a tight-knit group that likes to have fun and laugh a little bit," Rankin said. "This group respects each other's opinions; I'm never afraid to voice what I think because they'll listen to what I have to say."

Durham said the key to the staff's tight bond is the respect they have for one another.

"L.P. mentioned that in his first meeting with the players this year," Durham said. "He said he has the utmost respect for Jonesy and for me, and he hopes we feel the same way about him. And we do."

Parrish is quick to praise his coaching staff.

"Just like any business, some times you can work alongside a guy you might not get along with or you don't feel is qualified," he said. "I have a situation here where I've got two great coaches. They're good people, they do a good job, and as far as I'm concerned they couldn't be any better."

Having spent several seasons together has helped them become more productive as a unit.

"Being on a staff with Jonesy and L.P. has been a pleasure for me," Durham said. "We continue to learn from one another. And we know what each person needs, even if he's not around. We know how each person would want something done, even if he's not around."

Jones said all three coaches are driven by the same goal: preparing the current players on the roster to become major league players.

"Developing and winning at any level of the minor leagues are obviously the two most important things - with developing first," he said. "I think they go hand-in-hand; I think you can develop and win at the same time."

Rankin said his development as a trainer has been aided by the coaching staff.

"One nice thing about this staff is that it has a lot of big-league experience," he said. "It's good especially for a young trainer to ask them for advice. They've been there and they've seen it. On my end, it's been a great learning experience."

Jones admitted that, just like the Mud Hen players are focused on earning a promotion to the big leagues, the coaching staff sometimes thinks about taking that step as well.

"There's no question I would like to get back to the big leagues," he said. "But I don't really think about it very often because I just want to do the best job I can do in Triple-A. I won't say I don't on occasion think about it, but I don't want to be focused on that."

Durham said he faces a tough question about his future when the current season ends.

"I have a son that's a junior in high school, and he's starting to get a lot of letters from colleges," he said. "I see some talent there. So that's the decision I'm going to be making soon: Do I want to continue in this game, or do I want to be with him his senior year?"

That question of whether he should return is a question Parrish said he considers every off season.

"The one thing I don't enjoy is the travel," Parrish said. "And every spring for me is tough: I like to hunt, play golf and do things with my kids and grandkids. Then spring training comes, and you know you're going to have to leave them for six months - I don't look forward to that at all.

"But maybe it's the competitiveness that gets your blood flowing. And maybe you work with a guy like a Marcus Thames, where you might give them something that gets them over the hump so they can play in the major leagues. That's what makes this worthwhile."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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