The Bryk house spans 30 years

The year was 1981. Walla Walla isn't a part of Disneyland and Chevy Chase didn't go there on vacation. It was the home of the San Diego Padres Class-A short-season affiliate in the Northwest League – a team that had Tony Gwynn flashing his trademark bat, Jon Kruk his stern jaw, and Bill Bryk pulling the Geppetto strings as manager. But, it began well before then for Bryk.

With 30 years of baseball under his belt, Bryk, the Padres' minor league field coordinator, can look back fondly on those memories – and he recognizes two specific moments that he treasures – a Championship team and Tony Gwynn's retirement day.

It is the storied past that has defined his abilities today. Bryk overseas the San Diego Padres' farm system and reports to Grady Fuson, the vice president of scouting and player development.

The tools he learned as a player, manager and scout have helped him form long-lasting relationships and the ability to nurture and mentor a young player into something more – a bona fide prospect.

Bryk's managing career began in 1977 as a player/manager for the Beeville Bees/Blazers of the Lone Star League. His thrice-released status – dropped from Washington, the New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers, certainly put a damper on his playing career but he found a love for the game on the player development side in the only Independent League available at that time.

The team would not continue operations the next year but Bryk prevailed, going on to manage the Grays Harbor Loggers, winning a League Championship in 1978. In a 1-0 series win that saw the rest of its games cancelled because of rain, Bryk's club beat the Eugene Emeralds 5-3 on the strength of five errors from the Eugene club.

"We won the Northwest League Championship – actually we beat Greg Riddoch in the Championship game and now he is working for us," said Bryk. "I remember it like it was yesterday."

"I remember him beating my team and not him beating me," Riddoch said in retort.

"It was tough because you had a lot of guys who had been released, guys who had been bypassed in the draft," Bryk recalled. "They were a lot harder to handle than a player in an organization. That was something I cherish – in fact, Grady (Fuson) was in the league as a player with the Salem Senators."

"He was a fun guy to be in with because I would be stealing his signs," Riddoch admitted. "Then I would tell him I would have his signs and he would be paranoid about the signs.

"You do run into people across the field that you are friends with, even though you are competitors on the field. When the game is over with you are friends. That is how I felt about (Bryk) at the time."

The three are reunited today. Baseball, as in life, often comes full circle. Now, 29 years later, the two who sat in opposite dugouts find themselves in the same organization. Riddoch is again managing the Emeralds while Bryk checks in on each affiliate throughout Padres' system. And Grady Fuson stepped up to lead the charge.

Three years after the Championship season, Bryk was managing Walla Walla.

It certainly would be hard to forget Gwynn for those who saw him playing in San Diego, but Bryk recalls being his first manager – the kid before he was a 15-time All-Star.

He remembers Gwynn's makeup then and knew he would carry those natural leadership skills with him.

"There are a lot of things that have happened over the years but being fortunate enough to have Tony Gwynn before he was really Tony Gwynn," Bryk recalled. "He was a ballplayer who was just starting to make a name for himself in his first year. He was a special player and even more so a special person."

The feeling was mutual. Gwynn recalls the first day they met and how Bryk was able to define his role and teach him the fundamentals of the game of baseball, especially considering he played four years of college basketball and had never dedicated himself to baseball alone.

"Right off the bat I felt like he was a guy that I was going to learn a lot from," Gwynn explained. "I felt very comfortable because he talked baseball all the time. I got so comfortable as a matter of fact – and I was only there a month and a half – that when they moved me up I really didn't want to go.

"I felt I was learning so much about the game and its tendencies and nuances. Bill was great at giving me that stuff."

On October 7, 2001, Tony Gwynn played his last game in San Diego. Bryk was on hand that day to catch the emotion of the day.

It was a day he will never forget.

"I felt I was being honored on Tony Gwynn Day in San Diego as being his first manager in professional baseball," Bryk admitted. "That was right after 9-11 and I was asked to come back. I felt very fortunate and very honored to be asked to go back and to be one of the fortunate ones to shake his hand. Me and Jon Kruk, who was on that team, went out together."

Kruk and Gwynn remember Bryk as well and the influence he had on them as youngsters learning the game of baseball.

One thing both former players attribute – and something both believe Bryk would deny – a lot of their success came from their first manager.

It was their first introduction to the professional game and who knows how it would have panned out had they been taught by another manager not in tune with the nuances of the game and didn't earn the respect of his players.

"He was there for my very first professional game and he got a chance to see how my career panned out," said Gwynn. "He is going to tell you he didn't have much of an impact. He is going to tell you I was only there a month and a half and how insignificant his contribution was. But I am telling you it made an impression right from the beginning. He could have been a screamer. He could have been a yeller. Who knows how that would have affected my thought process? I knew from the very first time I talked to him that I was going to learn a lot from this guy."

"He made it fun," Kruk, now an ESPN analyst, explained of Bryk. "For a lot of us guys it was the first time away from home. He made sure it was a family atmosphere. He always was good at making sure we were doing the right thing, on and off the field. That is a minor league manager's job, and while he made it fun, he was also teaching us right from wrong."

Looking back, Bryk puts it all in perspective. He has shared so many good times it is hard to pinpoint them all.

Now, working with the Padres, the goal continues. Mold young minds into major league players. Being able to touch a life in such a way that they go on to succeed is Bryk's crowning jewel. It is why he loves his job and among the reasons he is so successful at it.

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