The Yankees have been a part of the majority of Justin Pope's entire professional baseball career. That won't change in 2013, and he's glad for it.
Pope will return to manage the Class-A, Short-Season Staten Island Yankees for the second year in a row.
"The decision was easy," he said Sunday. "I am very grateful for the opportunity the Yankees have given me to manage."
Though he didn't discuss his contract, he's at least locked in for 2013. Because of his rich history with the team, it's not hard to understand why they'd want to keep him on. He understands what it takes. He knows what the Yankees want and knows their beliefs. Nurturing is important, but so is discipline and making no excuses for losing.
The RHP and switch hitter was drafted by the Cardinals in 2003, and acquired by the Yankees via trade in 2005. He played four years in the Yankees system, much of that with the Double-A Trenton Thunder of the Eastern League. After spending time as a coach with the Thunder, he was offered the job with Staten Island for 2012.
The job wasn't an easy one. Many of the guys he was working with were just jumping over from college playing not a couple of months earlier. Their energy is different and that energy can be tough to tame and channel.
"I love the challenge of it and I feel like having a year under my belt will really help me for the up coming season."
Staten Island finished tied 2nd to last in the league, going 30-45.
His emotional connection made returning different than if it were with another team. It's all baseball, and it's a job, but there's something to be said for creating that family aspect of sticking with a team. Talks never stalled.
"The conversation was very little about returning. They asked me what I thought about going back and I told them I would love to. I definitely wanted to."
The Yankees name carries with it a certain expectation. Many guys talk about how it creates more pressure, but mostly they talk about how it creates inspiration. Do your best always. You're a Yankee.
"I have a passion for this organization. I admire what it stands for and the tradition that comes with putting on the pinstripes. Things are done in a different manner and I truly enjoy passing on the tradition."
There appears to be a kind of grooming process happening. And it wouldn't be a surprise if Pope, 34, takes over for Tony Franklin, when the day comes that deeply respected Trenton Thunder manager Tony Franklin is no longer at the helm. Pope's admiration of Franklin and the time he spend as both one of his players, and as a coach, taught him many lessons about how to approach the job.
He learned many things on his own, on the job, just figuring the right balance out in the 'Tell 'Em Twice' league, as he once called it.
"I learned so much last season. If I had to choose one thing, it would be how to relate and communicate with each player on an individual basis. Understanding them personally and their motivations, finding out what makes them tick."
He will continue finding that out, when Staten Island opens their season against the Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets), June 17th.
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