Winning is Fundamental at Lehigh Valley

There was a strange image at Coca-Cola Park prior to the opener. There were the IronPigs, working on hitting the cutoff man and other basics of the game. In each of their previous three seasons, that's was something you just didn't see.

There's no denying that these aren't Dave Huppert's IronPigs. The former manager of the Phillies Triple-A affiliate was always seen as somewhat aloof around the players and would simply put his club through batting practice and a little infield work.

Now that Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg is in charge, things are different. There was Sandberg standing among a group of players and talking about things to watch for in their swings. Then, Sandberg started hitting groundballs to the outfielders who were throwing to - and actually hitting - the cutoff man. They were also throwing to a pre-determined base or to home and were again, hitting their mark.

What a strange thing to see!

Actually, the first glimpse of the new regime came in the first inning of an exhibition game against Double-A Reading on Tuesday night. In the first inning along, the 'Pigs stole two bases, put the hit-and-run on and weren't making the usual base-running mistakes. The result was a four-run inning.

For Sandberg, Lehigh Valley isn't where he truly wants to be or where he figured to be. The theory was that he would be managing the Chicago Cubs, but that job went to Mike Quade. So, Sandberg left his beloved Cubs organization and came home to the Phillies to take over for Huppert.

Sandberg inherits little from last year's club; just nine of the 24 players on the roster spent any time at Lehigh Valley last season and outfielder Rich Thompson now becomes the longest tenured 'Pig. Thompson has been in Lehigh Valley for most of all four seasons that the Lehigh Valley franchise has been in existence.

The open roster spots were filled primarily by veteran players like Ronnie Belliard, Kevin Frandsen and Jason Grilli.

Over their first three seasons, the IronPigs have gone 184-248 (.426) and have spent only three days at the .500 mark over the past three seasons and have never gone over the .500 mark. In addition to that, the Phillies Triple-A franchise hasn't won a season opener since 1999. With a win in the opener, Sandberg could brake both of those streaks in one shot.

Certainly, nobody knows for sure how the season is going to go in Lehigh Valley. There's no denying that there are some players on the roster, who might be able to help at the major league level. Scott Mathieson, Vance Worley and Mike Zagurski - all pitchers - are all on the 40 man roster and could be called upon at various times to help in Philadelphia. If the Phillies decide they need more help to cover for Chase Utley, there's Belliard, Frandsen and Josh Barfield to turn to. For outfield help, Delwyn Young and possibly Brandon Moss or Cory Sullivan could be called upon to help.

The certainty in Lehigh Valley is that the attitude is different. The clubhouse is a looser place than it used to be, but players aren't taking anything for granted and know that their boss won't tolerate anything less than total dedication.

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