Bobby Mitchell has yet to manage a game in his new hometown which, coincidentally, happens to be the city where he was born yet his triple-A baseball team has already set a franchise record.
The Salt Lake Bees just keep winning. They opened the new year with a series sweep in Las Vegas and the 4-0 start was the best ever for a Salt Lake triple-A team in the modern era, since its return to Utah in 1994.
But the Bees weren't done.
Mitchell's guys followed it up with three more victories in Tucson, including one where the opposing starting pitcher was one of the best left-handers in major league history. Randy Johnson yes, that Randy Johnson, the 6-foot-10-inch "Big Unit" and the guy with 4,616 big-league strikeouts was on the hill Tuesday night against the Bees in a rehab assignment. While Salt Lake hitters, understandably, didn't fare too well against Johnson during his six innings, they blasted three-run homers in both the eighth and ninth innings against Sidewinder relievers to keep the winning streak alive.
All in all, it's been an amazing start for a rookie triple-A manager.
Today Mitchell and the Bees will see if they can continue their winning ways in the friendly confines of Franklin Covey Field. Their home opener for the 2008 season is set for tonight when they host the Portland Beavers. First pitch will be at 6:35 p.m.
"I'm really looking forward to managing this team," said Mitchell during the team's recent media day prior to taking off for the season opening series in Vegas. "These are outstanding players and outstanding kids, and I'm really looking forward to this season."
After the red-hot start, it's easy to see why he was so excited about things.
Mitchell was born in Salt Lake City in 1955, so his taking over after two successful, division-winning Bees seasons under Brian Harper is a bit of a homecoming. The reality, though, is that despite his birthplace being Utah, Mitchell is more of a Californian. He lived in Salt Lake until he was four, but then moved to Sacramento where he was raised. He later played college ball in Los Angeles for USC and currently resides in San Diego during the offseason.
"I have some memories of living in Salt Lake, the house we lived in and things like that," said Mitchell. "It is good to be back here."
Mitchell, a speedy outfielder, was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh round of the 1977 draft, playing eight years in professional baseball. His minor league playing days brought him back through Salt Lake a number of times during his three seasons with the Albuquerque Dukes when they would play the Gulls in old Derks Field on the same site at the corner of 13th South and West Temple where Franklin Covey stands today.
He eventually got a September callup to the Dodgers in 1980, making his major league debut against the New York Mets. Mitchell played in parts of four seasons in the majors, first with the Dodgers in 1980 and '81 and then with the Minnesota Twins in '82 and '83. He compiled a .243 lifetime batting average in the big leagues with 43 RBIs in 202 games. He also was a member of the 1981 Dodgers team that won the World Series.
Mitchell's baseball coaching career began in 1992 with the Montreal Expos, where he was a roving baserunning/outfield coach for three seasons. He continued as a roving coach where he would travel around between all the minor league teams for that affiliate for the San Diego Padres (1995-96) and Boston Red Sox (1997-2002).
In 2003 he joined the L.A. Angels of Anaheim organization, again as a roving baserunning/outfield/ bunting coach, a position he held for three seasons.
In 2006, however, Mitchell, after 14-seasons as a roving coach, could finally start calling a single city home for the summer, as the Angels named him the manager of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the single-A California League. In two years with the Quakes, Mitchell's managerial record was 132-148 (.471).
Now Mitchell has advanced to the triple-A level, and he couldn't be happier about it.
"The level of play is so much better than it was (at Rancho Cucamonga)," said Mitchell. "It's a whole different teaching method than it was before, and I expect a lot more out of the players. That helps me as a manager."
Salt Lake's opening-day roster includes six players that have experience in the major leagues and several others who are top prospects who will likely get their first taste with the Angels this season. Working with such experienced players has been a treat for the new Bees manager.
"As a roving coach I would go down to the A-ball level and have to start with the basics," said Mitchell. "Here, they've already had those basics, so you get to go on to more advanced stuff. You can teach them more about the game of baseball without overloading them like you might at the A-ball level."
Harper had an easy-going manner to him that Bees players seemed to like the past two seasons and Mitchell seems to be cut out of the same mold.
"Mitch is great," said Bees shortstop Brandon Wood of his new manager. "I've known him since I first signed (in 2005) ... He's a player's manager. He's not going to be in your face, but he expects you to work hard. You're not going to hear from him unless you aren't working hard."
Added Bees outfielder Terry Evans. "I like Bobby and I respect him. Obviously, I haven't played for him until this year, but I think it's going to be good. He seems to be aggressive on the basepaths, which is going to be fun because I like to run."
Mitchell, who will coach third base for the Bees, does expect to be aggressive on the basepaths. It makes sense, too, since that's what got him to this point, both as a coach and as a player. Mitchell, after all, once set the record for the double-A San Antonio Missions with 49 stolen bases in 1978.
While Mitchell's primary job is helping to develop players for the parent Angels, he wants to win, too, and feels he has the team that can do it. A third consecutive PCL Pacific North Division title is not out of the question.
"We've got a good mixture of young players who are just coming up to this level and veteran guys who have produced here already at this level," said Mitchell. "It should be fun."So far, so good for the new skipper.
Salt Lake Buzz/Stingers/Bees managers
Seasons ... Manager ... Record ... Pct.
1994 ... Scott Ulger ... 74-70 ... .514
1995-2000 ... Phil Roof ... 471-387 ... .549
2001 ... Garry Templeton ... 79-64 ... .552
2002-04 ... Mike Brumley ... 202-229 ... .469
2005 ... Dino Ebel ... 79-65 ... .549
2006-07 ... Brian Harper ... 155-132 ... .540
2008 ... Bobby Mitchell ... 7-0* ... 1.000
Tonight, 6:30 p.m.
Franklin Covey Field
E-mail: [email protected]