Gielczyk: Manistee Saints Find Their Man

Around this time a year ago the Manistee Saints semi-professional baseball team named Jim Richardson field manager to replace 70-year old Phil Kliber expecting that Richardson, a former Brethren High School coach, would have a long run at the helm.

But three weeks ago the team found itself in the very same predicament, with Richardson’s sudden resignation because of his outside commitments – primarily, his job with United Parcel Service – and the Saints were again left to ponder their options.

Richardson had to miss a few games during the season – the Saints schedule in the Great Lakes United Baseball League calls for them to play all weekend doubleheaders — when he was called in to work, and it left him re-considering his ability to devote the time required to produce a successful product on the field.

It was the last thing Kliber, now the club’s vice president and general manager, wanted. A Saints’ "lifer" with more than 40 years as player and manager there was some talk that perhaps if a suitable replacement could not be found, or agree to take the job, Kliber might come out of retirement and take the reins back.

Except for the World War II years, the Saints have been in existence since 1934. It was started as a parish team for St. Joseph Catholic Church in Manistee, and Kliber certainly would not have wanted to see the team disbanded.

Fortunately for him, the Saints had their man in short order, and his name was near the top of what Kliber said was a short list.

Monday the Saints issued a press release naming former player Tyrone Collins, 45, whose eldest son Blake pitched for the Saints last year and threw a no-hitter. After receiver a letter from Kliber asking about his interest in taking the position (which is non-paying, I should add), Collins spent a weekend talking it over with his wife, Jennifer, after receiving a letter from Kliber asking if he’d be interested in taking the position, Collins quickly replied in the affirmative.

The quick answer from Collins, who will be entering his ninth year as an assistant baseball coach at Ludington High School in the spring, proved a bit of good fortune, too, with the GLUBL meeting scheduled for a week from Sunday and Kliber is relieved he has a new manager to bring with him. Kliber is currently president of the league.

It definitely was good timing.

"We got a guy we think is going to do a nice job for us," Kliber said. "It’s always difficult to switch managers every year, and it was a little bit of a shock to us when Jim had to leave because of his job. We had a short list, and it worked out real well. We got ahold of him right away, and it didn’t take him long to get back to us and that was nice.

"One of the things I always stress when we sit down and talk it over is you have to talk with your family first. If the wife doesn’t want you away on the weekends, you’re not going to be successful. He got back to us in three days, I think. We’re all excited. This could have been a long, drawn out deal. You never know.

"The college end of our roster, those players are all signing letters of commitment right now (to play in collegiate summer leagues). We waited until spring (last year) to sign college players and didn’t have enough and it showed in what happened to us. Now we’ve got all winter to put together a schedule and a roster."

Collins, an insurance agent, had no trouble getting his wife’s approval.

"She’s been my statistician forever," Tyrone Collins said. "My wife loves to do that stuff. Will she do that all the time with the Saints? I don’t know, because she still wants to have her time to do some things.

"But she’s often at a baseball field with me somewhere. She’s definitely on board. We’re a huge sports family. We always have been. In her high school days my wife was a basketball player and a softball player. Softball was her big love, and it’s carried right on through. With our sons being three-sport athletes, we’ve never had much down time and we weren’t sure that we wanted any yet."

Collins, who played for the Saints as an outfielder and pitcher back in the mid-1990s, is excited about the opportunity.

"It’s an awesome to be asked, first off," he said. "They sought me out, I didn’t seek them out. Knowing that somebody of Phil Kliber’s stature has confidence in me to take over this team, that’s pretty special. It’s just cool. I’m the next guy, and I hope to be here for a long time."

He recognizes the challenge he faces managing a team of players with varying degrees of experience from high school seniors to college players.

Collins, who started coaching T-ball when he was still in high school, says if you ask any of the guys that have played for him the one word they’ll all agree on is "hustle."

He is a firm believer that if you out-hustle the other team, it will work out in your favor more often than it won’t.

"I’m a numbers guy, so I like to look at numbers," Collins added. "I’m a percentage guy. I play percentages more than not. I don’t like a big roster, to be perfectly honest. I like a roster that works, that has guys here that want to play and are going to show up every week. If we have that, I don’t think I necessarily need to have a 25-man roster.

"As I sit here today, in the fall, my mind is going to be a number probably between 15 and 20 guys on the roster. I might tweak that a little bit in my mind if I have a couple guys that say ‘Hey, I really want to pitch. That’s all I want to do.’ Then I might carry an extra man or two. Certainly, we’re looking for some talent."

Studying the Saints’ numbers from last year, it soon became clear to Collins that their offense was lacking, resulting in a losing season after a hot start. The question is how to remedy that situation.

Collins hopes he has the answer.

"I don’t know whether the pitching was that good, or what," Collins said about the low offensive numbers. "But, somehow we have to score runs. That’s where I go back to a little bit of old school type baseball. My teams will manufacture runs anyway we can.

"And I don’t even know how that’s going to happen yet until I see the roster, until we see what pieces we have. But, if we get a guy on second and there’s nobody out … we’re probably bunting, because I want him to third.

"Because if he’s at third, he can score a lot of different ways. We’ve got passed balls, we’ve got wild pitches, we’ve got balls in play in the outfield. Whatever. There’s a lot of ways you can score if you’re on second or third. If you’re on first, it’s tough. If we’re on first, our team will probably be stealing some way, somehow."

The work has already begun.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News.