Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin gives instructions while running an infield practice at Fifth Third Field. Nevin begins his third season in charge of the Hens.
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It’s a fact of minor league life: The faces wearing the uniforms will change from year to year.
That’s almost always the case with the players, as turnover is quite common at all levels. But the same often can be said managers, coaches and support staff at the minor league level.
But its not true for the Mud Hens, who enter this season with one of the longest-tenured staffs in the International League.
Manager Phil Nevin returns for his third season leading the Hens. And while that may not seem like a long time, Nevin is the fourth-longest tenured manager in the 14-team IL.
His hitting coach, Leon “Bull” Durham, enters his 13th season in Toledo, nearly double the next-longest-tenured coach in the league. Only one IL pitching coach has been with his team longer than A.J. Sager’s six seasons with the Hens.
And trainer Matt Rankin enters his 13th season in Toledo while strength and conditioning coach Kyle Bergman begins his third year working with the Hens.
The entire staff agreed that the familiarity with Toledo, Fifth Third Field, the Mud Hens organization and one another will help them prepare better for the coming season.
Mud Hens pitching coach A.J. Sager throws batting practice at Fifth Third Field. Sager, who spent five years in the majors, is in his sixth season in Toledo.
BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
“We have a plan, and we know what we need to do,” Durham said. “And it will pay off that we have been together for so long.
“We know one another. It’s a good staff, and it’s great to be around familiar faces.”
Rankin said that familiarity helps in preparation and during the season.
“We’re able to communicate with one another, we know everyone’s likes and dislikes, and we get along,” he said.
Bergman added that a Triple-A staff often works with the same players over the course of a few season, and that can be to their advantage.
“Now I have some guys that I’ve been working with for three or four years,” said Bergman, who was on Nevin’s staff in Double-A Erie before moving up to Toledo the same year Nevin did. “I know them better, and I’m able to ‘personalize’ stuff for them.”
Sager said he’s learned a lot about how to work with players from watching Durham.
“I’ve learned from how he communicates and how he connects with players,” Sager said of Durham. “When I got here, Bull had been working in Triple-A for a while, and Triple-A is a little different animal [from other levels] because most guys here are disappointed they got sent down or are disappointed they haven’t been called up.
“Still, you have to find a way to motivate and coach them, and I’ve learned how to do that through experience and through watching how Bull does it.”
Mud Hens hitting coach Leon Durham has served in that role for 13 seasons, longer than any other International League coach.
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Nevin and both coaches also praised Rankin for his experience in dealing with the bumps and bruises that players experience in a 144-game season.
“Rankin is the gold standard in trainers, with the information he gives us,” Sager said. “It’s great to just be able to turn that area over to him and trust his judgment and assessment.”
Rankin, in turn, said working with Bergman on the strength and conditioning aspect of player performance has helped get injured players back on the field as quickly as possible.
“With Kyle, I can trust the things he’s doing in the weight room,” Rankin said. “I don’t feel I have to monitor him, because he’s a very good strength coach.”
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