When Mickey Morandini played in the final game of his career ten years ago, he pretty much just walked away from the game. He had three young kids - six, four and two - and wanted to spend time at home with them. And for the first few seasons, he did just that. Then, he found a compromise, coaching a high school team, which allowed him to be a part of the game that he loves and still spend a good amount of time at home. After a while though, the kids were older and the Morandini family decided it was time for Dad to really go back to work.
"I had always thought about getting back into the game, but I needed that time away," explained Morandini. "My kids needed me and I wanted to be there, so I don't regret being away from the game at all."
To come back to baseball, Morandini's quest began back where his playing career started. The Phillies quickly hired him and put him in charge of the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters. With Williamsport, Morandini has a group of young players just waiting to be molded into players who can move through the Phillies system and eventually reach the majors. That's the part of his new job that Morandini likes the most. "I do enjoy working with the players, no doubt about that. It's nice to be able to pass along what I know about the game and how it's played," said Morandini prior to a recent game.
Of course, being in the lower levels of the minors, Morandini also has to go through some of the same adjustments that his players have to endure. Maybe, it's the Baseball Gods' way of getting back at Morandini, who had a relatively short stint in the minors, especially at the lower levels. Morandini played in just 80 minor league games below the Double-A level and they all came in his first pro season in 1989. Morandini reached the majors the following September and played just 12 games at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre before taking over the Phillies second base job full-time. The schedule makers weren't very nice when they gave Williamsport a nine-hour bus ride from Lowell, Massachusettes for a one-game homestand. Of course, that's followed by a two-day road trip to State College, which is only an hour away, but two hours a day of travel, since they don't stay overnight.
It's actually the same sort of path that current Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg has taken in his managerial career. Like Morandini, Sandberg took ten years off before becoming a minor league manager at Peoria in the Midwest League. From there, he worked his way up to managing at Triple-A Iowa last season and rejoining the Phillies organization this season as their manager at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Will, Morandini's career path be the same? "I think that's the right way to do it," said Morandini. "He's (Sandberg) a Hall of Fame player and it's taken him time to get to the point that he's mentioned for major league jobs. There really is a lot to learn, so it's all about patience."
Morandini's players are lucky that he's a patient man. Patience is a plus for someone in Morandini's position as he deals with young players, many of whom are just out of college or even high school and in some cases, are away from home for the first time in their lives. As a manager, Morandini not only has to deal with shaping the players on the field, but also has to deal with making sure that they're developing off the field as well and are capable of handling all of the adjustments that they're being faced with everyday. "It's everything, really. From making sure that they're prepared mentally for the game and down to the little things like making sure they're eating right and doing the right things away from the field," said Morandini. "These are my players and I'm going to do anything I can to help them reach their goals."
As for his future, Morandini admits that he doesn't plan on spending the rest of his coaching career in A-ball. Just like the players, umpires and front office staff, Morandini looks at the future and hopes he'll have what it takes to continue following Sandberg's footsteps. "We're just going to see where this leads and evaluate things down the road and hope it all turns out well," said Morandini.
For now, Morandini's CrossCutters are just over the .500 mark at 15-14 and just a couple of games out of first place in the New York-Penn League's Pinckney Division. Williamsport hopes to cut through a logjam of five teams all within two games of each other to come out in good enough shape to reach the post-season. Of course, if all else fails, at least Morandini's return to baseball has already given him an achievement that he never reached during his playing days; he's finally got a bobble-head.