28th of Apr | Story

You want me to manage? That could be fun


FRISCO, Texas | Steve Buechele never figured he would spend summer nights in minor league dugouts with a lineup card in his hand. He never wanted to manage. He could have coached, of course, or worked as a minor league instructor. Either of those would have been fun. But manage? 

Still, here he is, on the field level of Dr Pepper Ballpark, tucked deep inside an office with the word ‘Manager’ near the door.

This is third season as the Frisco RoughRiders manager and his fourth as a manager in the Texas Rangers organization. In 2009, a rookie manager, more than a decade after his last game as a player and less than a year removed from a spot in front of the camera as a studio analyst for Fox Sports Southwest, he helped lead Bakersfield to a 75-65 record and the California League playoffs. In 2010, his first with Frisco, he managed the RoughRiders to a 72-67 record and the Texas League playoffs. Last season, the RoughRiders finished 79-61 and landed another trip to the playoffs.

With another good season in Frisco — in terms of wins and losses and, more important, player development — Buechele might earn a call just like so many of his players. “My job is to get these guys ready,” he says. “If I can do a good enough job, somewhere down the line, I’ll get promoted. I think I would put myself in the same category as the players. Their goal is to make it to the big leagues, and my goal is to get to the big leagues, whether as a coach or a manager.

Like so many Texas baseball stories, all this started with Nolan Ryan. Four years ago, back when Buechele was still television talent, he started to talk with Ryan about different ideas for the future. Ryan pitched at least one suggestion that stuck.

“To be on a big league staff, that would be my goal.”

Like so many Texas baseball stories, all this started with Nolan Ryan. Four years ago, back when Buechele was still television talent, he started to talk with Ryan about different ideas for the future. Ryan pitched at least one suggestion that stuck.

“We had a conversation in the hall beneath the stadium,” Buechele says. “That’s how it was initiated. We had a talk and it was kind of his wish. I had never thought about it.”

Buechele played parts of 11 seasons in the Majors, the bulk of them with the Rangers. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs, too, and had turned in some good seasons for those teams, but is still remembered more as a Ranger. He lives with his family in Arlington. He has almost always been a part of the organization in some way. When Ryan suggested this new position, it felt natural. A year later, when the managerial job opened in Frisco, it felt like a perfect fit. “It’s home,” Buechele says.

Now he spends his nights in a dugout, that lineup card usually in his hand or his back pocket. He wants to help shortstop Jurickson Profar, third baseman Mike Olt and other young players reach the Majors for the first time. He wants to help outfielder Brad Hawpe, an All-Star on the mend after elbow surgery, try to get back. He wants to watch them play and improve and leave for Round Rock or Texas.

I would love to go through the work part of the day, come in here, have my food, throw on a uniform and go out and watch them play,” he says. “That’s where I want to be. That’s really all you can do, is play. It’s baseball. It’s a game.”

Time for minor league trivia. During their decade in the Texas League, the Frisco RoughRiders have pitched just one no-hitter of at least nine innings — a solo no-no hurled by this righty last season on July 29, just two days before he was traded to the San Diego Padres as part of a package for middle reliever Mike Adams. (Keep reading for the answer.)

Frisco struggled on the mound and at the plate Saturday night on their way to a 10-1 loss to the Corpus Christi Hooks. The RoughRiders never led, falling behind 3-1 after five innings before the Hooks scored four runs and nearly batted around in the seventh, then added three more in the ninth thanks to the first home run of the season by leftfielder Austin Wates. The RoughRiders scored their only run in the third after rightfielder Jake Goebbert tripled to right and centerfielder Brandon Barnes singled him home. An announced crowd of 10,862 — more than 600 over listed capacity and more than double every crowd on the trip other than Jacksonville on opening night — packed the stadium.

The RoughRiders roster is filled with young players, but there are a few veterans — including the aforementioned Brad Hawpe, who has played eight years in the Majors and has hit 124 home runs with the Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres. So why is Hawpe, 32, back in Double-A? He tore the ulnar nerve in his left elbow last season and underwent Tommy John surgery on the joint in June. He started to rehab almost immediately and signed a minor league contract with the Rangers during the offseason. Hawpe is hitting .288 with a pair of homers and six RBI through Saturday.

Want the answer? Joe Wieland is the only RoughRider to pitch a no-hitter of at least nine innings. In an ironic twist, the San Antonio Missions he no-hit that day were his teammates by the end of the week. Wieland went 11-4 last season at Myrtle Beach, Frisco and San Antonio, with 150 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 156 innings, and has pitched much of this season in the San Diego Padres rotation. (For the record, the RoughRiders have three other no-hitters in their history — a seven-inning no-no by Matt Harrison on May 18, 2008; a combined 5 1-3-inning no-no by Neftali Feliz and Troy Hodges on August 19, 2008; and a five-inning perfect game by Martin Perez on April 19 last season.)

And in random statistical news, the game started one minute later than the scheduled time, the first pitch was a strike, the first batter singled and “The Star-Spangled Banner” lasted 1 minute, 9.4 seconds. Surprisingly, we ate nothing for dinner at Dr Pepper Ballpark, probably because we indulged during a lunch of enchiladas — two stuffed with goat cheese, two stuffed with crab and shrimp — at Blue Mesa Grille, a local restaurant with a few locations around the Dallas metroplex. Inspired choices for enchilada fillings. Delicious.

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

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