Justin Pope never wanted the first opportunity he got to manage. But he plans on taking full advantage of his second chance.
Pope took over for beloved Thunder bench boss Tony Franklin for a short time last season when the veteran manager was hospitalized after experiencing some discomfort in his chest. It was a move that led many to believe that Pope, who was in his first season on the staff after establishing franchise records as a closer several years before, was being groomed to replace Franklin, who was unsure of his status for 2012.
But with Franklin back for a sixth season and Pope primed to take the next step, the Yankees organization assigned him to be the next manager of their Short Season-A ball affiliate in Staten Island. The 32-year-old will take over for Tom Slater, who will be joining the Thunder’s staff as their new hitting coach.
Recently, I had the chance to spend about ten minutes on the phone with the always gracious Pope, and here’s what he had to say:
On everything came about that he got the Staten Island job:
“Well, we kind of first talked about it in instructs, right after the season. Pat Roessler and Mark Newman asked me if there was a managing spot open, if I’d be interested in taking it. And I was like, ‘Definitely.’ It’s been something I’ve wanted to do after these past couple years of coaching, it would go off of what I was doing. I was involved in all aspects of the game, and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot. So it was something I wanted to proceed with, and being involved with all aspects of the game. So they said something to me then, and then I guess it was October, they said the way it was looking right now, I’d go manage in Staten Island. They asked how I felt about that, and I said that I’d love to. It should be fun.”
On if he viewed his opportunity managing in Trenton last season as an audition:
“Good question, I don’t know. I think Mark Newman and Pat Roessler would be able to answer that better than I would. I don’t know. When it happened, it was a good feeling that they didn’t send anybody up to Trenton to, I guess you could say watch over me or help out or be the acting manager or whatever you want to call it. So I guess they had enough faith in me that I could that I could handle things in that situation. But also, we had Tommy Phelps and Julius Matos there at the time, and they’ve been around the game a while as well, so they were very helpful. But that time, it was a good experience and especially the game that went 16 innings. That experience there was huge.”
On the speculation he might replace Franklin:
“I never really thought that way. But I don’t think that if Tony didn’t come back, that I would take that spot. Just because I’ve never really managed before, and for one it’s not fair to other people who put their time in and are older me and more experienced than me and probably know more than me. I think Staten Island is a great starting spot for me as a manager. I’ll be down in extended spring training for a while and learning stuff down there. I’m really, really excited. It’s going to be a great challenge, and I love challenges. I always try to challenge myself every day with something, and I’m going to learn a lot.”
On how coaching in Staten Island and Trenton prepared him to become a manager:
“For one, I got to be around two different managers, so at times I’d like to sit back and just see how they’d run the game and what they did in certain situations. And it gave me time to think about what I might do in certain situations and see how they’d go about things and see what the result would be. It was good, because I was a pitcher, so to be able to be the fourth coach, I was able to be around position players and be comfortable around them and learn the game more. You learn in this game every single day, and if you don’t, then it’s probably time to hang em’ up. I want to learn something new every single day and better myself, that way I can hopefully better the players around me, better the coaches around me. And the players can better me and the coaches can better me. Hopefully it’s just a learning process with everybody. Ultimately, we’re here to help these guys get better and get them to the big leagues. If they can’t get to the big leagues, we want to maximize their potential and get them as far as they can.”
On his role in the organization before the start of Staten Island’s season:
“I’m sure in spring training, I’ll be running around a little bit. But we’ll have extended spring training after that, and I believe I’m running the extended program and I’ll be managing the team down there. If there’s enough players, we’ll try to play two games a day in the Tampa area. Of course, I’ll be managing one of those teams. I’ll still be managing, it’s not like I won’t be doing anything until the short season starts. I’ll be learning every day and getting as much experience as I can and take that to Staten Island.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com