AKRON When the Akron RubberDucks underwent a managerial change prior to this season, there was bound to be a new atmosphere around the team.
Former manager Dave Wallace moved on to a new, non-managerial role with the Cleveland Indians organization and in his place, Mike Budzinski stepped in to lead a team fresh off an Eastern League championship. Wallace was known largely for his relaxed, congenial style and the former college quarterback looked like he could match any of his players rep for rep in the weight room.
Budzinski, like Wallace a former player in the organization, but beyond a winning managerial record, the two don’t have tons in common. In the offseason, Budzinski is a real estate agent and he brings his organized, analytical approach to the game and uses it to keep his team moving efficiently in the same direction.
“I don’t know that I’m that organized all the time, but you try to maximize the time you’re on the field and not keep them on the field too long, but at the same time, get the work in you need to get in and try to balance that across a 140-game schedule,” Budzinski said. “I just feel like if everybody knows what they need to do and we can get it done efficiently, then that’s the best thing for everybody, especially if it it’s hot like this.”
The approach is designed to make sure that players get their work done on non-game days and prior to games, but are ready to play without expending any unnecessary effort. For Budzinski, it stems from his own playing career, which saw him suffer several injuries early in his career, including two stress fractures he traces back to overuse and strain on certain parts of his body.
Working hard was necessary in Budzinski’s view because he didn’t have the same raw physical talent as some of his teammates, meaning he had to scrap to find any extra edge he could. Now that he’s on the other side of the equation as one of those making the decisions on who gets playing time and who doesn’t, he’s trying to balance players’ desire to get better with keeping them fresh and healthy.
“These guys are the same way, the first couple years of their professional careers, learning to push themselves to get better and make improvements, but at the same time be ready to play the game every night and make sure the body can handle it,” Budzinski said. “You get in, get your work done and get out there and get ready to play.”
Like most managers, Budzinksi’s philosophy on the game is a blend of his own experiences as a player and the approaches taken by managers he played for during his career. With 10 years in the minor leagues on his resume, he experienced differing styles from managers such as Joel Skinner, Eric Wedge, Jeff Datz and others and took different pieces and parts from each.
Still, there’s a need to maintain one’s own style while incorporating ideas from others and in the end, keep the focus where it needs to be most for all minor league coaches and managers - on getting players better for their parent organization.
“You want to stick with your own personality where you’re the same guy every day, but pull as much as you can from other people that you like and most importantly, what you think is going to work for the players,” Budzinski said.
What has worked well for Budzinski during his time managing is to segment practice, training and organization between homestands and road trips. Because teams have more field time at home and don’t have to deal with the logistical issues that go with a road trip, there is more of a chance to work on specific parts of the game, such a situational hitting, how to handle bunts and cuts on relay throws and other such topics.
When it comes to time devoted to such aspects of the game, Budzinski tries to schedule them out across the course of the season so that players get the work in they need in each area without wearing them out of overburdening them.
He keeps a running collection of plans, workouts and notes and refers back to them as the season progresses.
“On my laptop, I kind of have workouts from year to year and our fundamentals, things we want to get done, just to make sure we cover everything that is expected, that’s going to get done in the big leagues so when guys get there, they’re not surprised by anything and that they know that (Indians manager) Tito (Francona) are expecting,” Budzinski said.
It’s the same sort of analytical approach that translates to the real estate world, where facts, figures and numbers are all part of the day to day process. On the baseball diamond, the hope is that good organization leads to good production and consistent progress for each player on the roster.
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