From 1994 through 1998, Jay Sorg was your average, well-traveled minor league baseball player. Then he entered the coaching world, and really started picking up the frequent flyer miles.
This year — hes currently the Billings Mustangs hitting coach — marks just the second time Sorg has managed to land in the same spot as he was before. He was a first baseman for the 1995 Mustangs, hitting .296 with 40 runs batted in.
Among his teammates in 95were current Brewers pitcher Ray King, current Reds catcher Jason LaRue and Adam Bryant, who now works in the Mustangs front office. Billings went 49-28 and made the Pioneer League playoffs.
Sorg also spent parts of two seasons in Class A Burlington, 1997-8. In 98 he moved on to Class AA Chattanooga, hit .227 in 88 games for the Lookouts, and showed enough to get invited back.
I came back to spring training in 99, but I blew my (right) ankle the day before it started, said Sorg. I got a couple ABs — at bats — but I never got healthy. The last few days, they asked me if I wanted to be the hitting coach in Rockford.
Sorg weighed other options — other teams were interested, he said, and there was a job waiting for him outside baseball.
I was thinking about keeping playing, but the ankle was just not strong, he said. I just had a son (Ty), and I thought, Well, Ill coach for a year.
Or three. He spent that season helping Rockford, Ill., make the Midwest League playoffs. Last season, he became the youngest manager (at age 26) in professional baseball when he took the rains at Clinton (Iowa) — and guided the Lumberkings to the Midwest League playoffs.
This season, he went to spring training and was told he wouldnt be managing this season. Instead, he ended up being the minor league field coordinator in Sarasota, Fla.; then went to Class AA Louisville for two months.
So lets review: Princeton in 1994; Billings in 95; Charleston in 96; Burlington in 97; then Chattanooga, Rockford, Clinton, Louisville and back to Billings. You can blame the parent club Cincinnati Reds, who changed Midwest League cities more times than they signed Deion, but that is still a big circle.
These days, hes a hitting coach. As odds have it, the Mustangs had their worst batting day of the season Saturday, getting just three knocks in their 5-1 win over Medicine Hat. At least it was a win, on a gloomy, rain-delayed night. Victories make those 0-for-4 performances more bearable.
Playing in the rain, or playing in those April games when its cold — I dont miss those days much, said Sorg. People say, You wont miss those oh-fers. I say, I dont miss my personal oh-fers, but now I worry about everybody elses. I have 13 oh-fers to worry about.
Billings has the second-best record in the Pioneer League, and the second-best batting average. Among Sorgs charges is Jesse Gutierrez, a designated hitter and first baseman who made this weeks Faces in the Crowd in Sports Illustrated, for his heroics at the NCAA Division II tournament.
Gutierrez is tied for the Pioneer League lead in homers (with 7), and second in runs batted in (24). But Sorg says the St. Marys (Texas) product has not reached his ceiling.
Its hard to say if hes our best prospect, but hes got the power, and he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone, he said. And I still dont think he has put it all together yet. So itll be interesting to see what he does the rest of the year.
Im really happy these guys we have this year. Weve got some things to learn, but as long as these guys stay on the same track as they are, I think youll see them have a pretty successful season here.
Theres good reason to believe him. In Sorgs seven previous professional seasons, only 1996 — when he left Charleston, W.Va., early because of shoulder surgery, after 72 games — lacked a playoff run. His Chattanooga team of 98 barely missed the playoffs, and everybody else from Princeton to Clinton made the postseason.
When he left Louisville in June, the Redbirds had a 71/2-game lead. Now the Mustangs are 19-8. Call it coincidence if you want, but Sorg is on staff.
He played for Donnie Scott in 95, and his brief time in Lousville was spent with Redbirds manager Dave Miley and hitting coach Brook Jacoby. He counts himself fortunate to be alongside two Major League veterans, pitching coach Ted Power and manager Rick Burleson, here in Billings.
I want to get back into managing, says Sorg, who turned 28 in May. But I probably have taken more out of this year than I did last year. This has really been a good year as far as learning a little bit more.
I think you take bits and pieces of what everybody does and you mold it into your own style. Ive been lucky — everybody Ive worked with has been really good to work with. I havent had any bad experiences.
Combine that with winning, and it makes for some fun seasons.Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 657-1396 or firstname.lastname@example.org.