LOUISVILLE - Rick Sweet smiled at the memory.
Then the words came quickly as the manager of the Louisville Bats talked about the players. He remembered the hard work, the struggles and tears, and finally the successes. He looked at the players in the dugout, and he smiled again.
Surprisingly, the players he looked at were in the opposite dugout.
Sweet had nothing but fond memories when asked about several Mud Hens whom he managed last season at Double-A Erie.
"They were a tremendous group of guys," Sweet said. "From Day One until the end of the season, they played together as a team and worked as a team. And they had a desire to win. They went out every day and never lost their focus."
Sweet directed the SeaWolves to an 80-62 record and a spot in the Eastern League playoffs. But earlier this week Sweet said he remembered the players, not the wins and losses, when he thought about last season.
Outfielder Curtis Granderson blossomed into Detroit's top prospect under Sweet's tutelage in Erie, batting .301 with 21 homers and 94 RBIs with 14 stolen bases.
"He started out as my leadoff hitter and ended up as my third hitter," Sweet said of Granderson. "His ceiling is very, very high. He was as good of a hitter with two outs and nobody on as he was with the bases loaded and one out. He gives you the same quality at-bat regardless of the situation."
Ryan Raburn missed more than a month of last year with a finger injury, then made a switch to second base. In the last month of the season he turned his year around. Sweet said he made big strides at the plate and in the field, especially on defense.
"It was a new position and he had to work so much harder [at it]," Sweet said. "He's always been a good hitter."
Sweet liked the intensity Jack Hannahan brings to the game, but said some times the third baseman's intensity works against him.
"Hanny is a guy who is on that emotional roller-coaster all year long," Sweet said. "My focus on him all year was to keep him in the middle. When he's hot and he's going good, he's good. But when he started going bad and things didn't go right, he'd get down. That's why we tried to keep him in that middle area."
While many might be surprised at the offense catcher Brandon Harper has shown this season after hitting just .190 with the Hens last year, Sweet is not.
"What you saw last year was not Harp," Sweet said. "I was very disappointed, because when we sent him up I was very excited. When he came to us, he was supposed to be our back-up. But he flat-out forced us to play him.
"Harp worked hard, he listened, and he made adjustments. What you are seeing this year is how he played for us last year."
While reliever Jason Karnuth spent just a month with the SeaWolves, Sweet realized the value of the right-hander.
"He was the glue to our bullpen," Sweet said of Karnuth. "He'll go right after you, and he's got a good, hard sinker. When he lets people hit it, and he doesn't try to do too much with it, he's very effective."
Sweet said the early struggles of Mark Woodyard this season don't shake his confidence in the young right-hander.
"This guy has a chance to be an extremely good bullpen guy," Sweet said of Woodyard. "He has tremendous stuff, but he's still learning how to pitch. He lit up my eyes with the stuff he went out there with.
"I've got all the confidence in the world in him. I don't care how he's doing and what his numbers are, if he's healthy he has a chance to be a major league pitcher."
Sweet also likes the future of Hens starter Kenny Baugh.
"Kenny Baugh was the most consistent pitcher, from beginning to end," Sweet said. "Unfortunately his arm got tired, so we had to shut him down. I think Kenny was mad at me for a few days, because he wanted to continue to pitch. He's a competitor, he's got a game plan and he knows how to execute it."
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