AKRON  When veteran manager Dave Wallace announced his resignation last month after leading the Akron RubberDucks to an Eastern League championship, it raised the question of what was next for the franchise. 

Wallace became one of just a handful of managers who led the team for three seasons, but elected to step down, citing a desire to spend more time with his family and be more present in the lives of his two young children.

Last week, the search for Wallace’s replacement ended with former Akron outfield Mark Budzinski, who was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 21st round of the 1995 draft and played seven seasons in the organization before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies.

“I’m obviously very excited to spend some time back in Akron and to spend time with staff members I’ve had with me before and players I’ve had before,” Budzinski said. “I think it’s exciting to be able to come in after what Dave Wallace and his staff accomplished. It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to being back in town and seeing fans from when I played in the late ‘90s.”

Budzinski, who made his major league debut in 2003 with the Cincinnati Reds, will be joined on the field staff by pitching coach Tony Arnold, hitting coach Johnny Narron, and bench coach Omir Santos. 

Budzinski is in his fourth season in the Indians’ system and had compiled a career record of 221-198, managing Class A Lynchburg to consecutive Carolina League playoff appearances the past two seasons and spending one season with Class A Lake County for one year in 2014.

The likelihood of having some of his former players as part of the roster in Akron is one part of the job that excites Budzinski.

“I think it’s big because I have a pretty good feel for how they play the game and the things they work on to make an impact at the big league level,” Budzinski said. “You know right away what the focus needs to be because you have some background with them.”

Asked what differences there might be between his managerial style and Wallace’s approach, Budzinski admitted that he doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge of how the RubberDucks played stylistically under their former manager. Still, he believes that the common threads of trying to do what’s best for the players in terms of their development and the desire to compete and win games on a daily basis are on piece of shared ground.

The entire Indians organization enters the coming season with an added dose of excitement thanks to the major league club’s World Series appearance, along with the RubberDucks own title run, last fall. Budzinski was able to attend some of the American League Championship Series and World Series games in Cleveland with his wife and son and tried to take a few lessons from being around the Indians’ magical postseason and apply them to his own managerial style.

It’s a style he’ll bring to Canal Park beginning in April. The stadium remains highly rated among minor-league facilities, but it also presents certain challenges because its dimensions make it among the most spacious parks at any level of the minors. 

“It’s a beautiful place to play downtown … even though for guys that are power hitters, it’s hard to hit it well and have it not get out, but the good thing on larger ballparks is that they tend to produce more doubles and triples,” Budzinski said.

The season officially gets underway next month when players from all levels of the organization report to spring training in Arizona. There, the organization’s player development staff and front office will start evaluating all of them, deciding which ones will stay with the big league club and which players will be assigned to each of the franchise’s four minor league affiliates. That means the new RubberDucks coaching  staff won’t know the exact competition of its roster until near the end of spring training. Once the roster is set, it will be a quick turnaround leading into the season opener in early April and the start of a new chapter in the history of the franchise. 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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