JOLIET — One year removed from a 37-58 season and virtually a complete overhaul of management from top to bottom, the Joliet Slammers named their new field leader on Tuesday.
The announcement of Mike Breyman as new Slammers field manager was made by General Manager Chris Franklin at ATI Physical Therapy corporate headquarters to complete an all new and comprehensive chain of command for the Frontier League franchise.
"Mike truly is a passionate, hard-working and dedicated individual who I've had some history with. Mike and I worked together in O'Fallon, Mo. with the River City Rascals where we enjoyed some success," Franklin, a Morris Community High School graduate, said. "Mike had a stellar playing career and it's translated into a stellar coaching career, as well."
His hire by Franklin completes the current chain of command in the organization which started with Josh Schaub, CEO of Joliet Community Baseball and Entertainment ownership group, taking over. While expectations seem high for all the newcomers, Breyman was candid in what needed to take place for the Slammers, beginning immediately.
"We're rebuilding. We're going to rebuild the team," Breyman said. "There are some good faces that we're going to try and bring back. There's some faces of the Slammers that we are going to try and bring back that the community may know. But it's an ongoing process at the moment."
This will be Breyman's first managerial job, though he has been a coach in the Frontier League since 2009. Prior to that, he was a prodigious hitter during his playing days.
"Mike started for the Gateway Grizzlies for five seasons where he held every offensive hitting record for the Grizzlies," Franklin said. "He'd turned that over into a coaching career before we took him over to River City (where Franklin was the GM) and turned him into our hitting coach in the 2010 season. In that season we won the Frontier League championship. Again in 2011 we played in the Frontier League championship losing to the Joliet Slammers, ironically enough."
It was the cultivation of the relationship between Breyman and Franklin at the time that made this hire by the Slammers most logical. This even though it was not an easy process, or decision, at all.
"We sorted through a very large number of candidates. You look at resumes just like in any other industry. There were a lot of personal contacts. It's a network. There were a lot of coaches," Franklin said. "A lot of former managers and current managers. We were getting the lay of the land with all of the candidates. Then it was narrowed down to a field we were comfortable with.
"Then we bring people in face to face or, with today's technology Skype. A lot of background checks on all of the candidates," he added. "This is somebody we don't envision having for one season. This is somebody we want as part of the organization for a long time. That's an important cog to what we are doing."
At the time he was introduced by the Slammers as the team's new GM in mid December, Franklin said that he was hoping to have the managerial search over by Christmas time. Turns out, he was off by about two weeks.
"It took longer than expected. Truth be told, there has been so many things to do. We've been cramming three months of work to do in three weeks," Franklin said. "In process we did our due diligence. Obviously with my history with Mike, a lot of people may have thought that it was a pretty easy choice, but he went through the interview process and presented himself very well. He earned the job.
"He went through the same process as all the other candidates. At the end of the day I was comfortable with Mike," Franklin continued. "I know what he brings. He checked all my boxes. And when I say checked my boxes, it was every single one of them. Both on the field and off the field. I expect Mike to have success because he is so driven. I've seen him work in the past. That process took every bit of three to four weeks to work through."
Ultimately Breyman was one of six finalists before being selected to take over in the Slammers clubhouse and dugout starting this spring.
"I'd like to thank Chris Franklin, Josh Schaub and the Joliet Community Baseball and Entertainment Group for basically entrusting me with this job and the opportunity to do this job well," Breyman said. "Rest assured that me and my staff will leave no stone unturned to have this be a very good summer for the community and this organization."
Breyman, the 2011 Frontier League Coach of the Year, has already named two coaches to his staff. Along with him at the press conference was hitting coach Dave Garcia.
"I was lucky to work with Dave for two years at River City. The reason he is here is because he compliments me very well," Breyman said of the Garcia appointment. "There are some things I definitely need to work on, which is his expertise. He will definitely be my right-hand man. Truth be told, before I even got the job, we were actually looking for players and he kind of reminded me, 'Hey, why don't you get the job before you start looking for guys'. But that's basically how I am. As soon as I got the chance to maybe be the manager, I started going even before I got it."
"We've been on the phone almost every day for the last month, working and trying to get a team going. Trying to sign guys. Trying to figure out what we were going to try to do with all the behind-the-scene things. I could not be happier for Dave to be part of my staff. He was a no-brainer for me."
Garcia said that much of what he learned about being a good coach he learned from Breyman.
"I was the bench coach for River City in 2010 and 2011 and was moved up to hitting coach last year when Mike went back to Gateway. In 2010 and 2011 I worked with Mike pretty much every day. I actually learned a lot from Mike. Just on the mechanics of being able to hit at the professional level," Garcia said. "The best thing about Mike is, when hitters work with Mike he's not concerned about their mechanics as he is making them comfortable. That's why so many hitters were able to succeed under Mike.
"The first thing he wants to do, and he told me this early, is to make them comfortable and they will buy into whatever you tell them. And it's true," Garcia added. "Hitting at the professional level is hard no matter where you are, if you are independent or in the big leagues. But Mike's process of being able to get the most out of hitters I saw every year at River City and, unfortunately, last year at Gateway when they were playing us. He doesn't try and reinvent the wheel. He gets guys to trust and when you have the trust, they are going to buy in."
According to Schaub, the people that have been brought in around him seem to fit one particular mold to this point.
"I want winners. I want guys who are here to win. That was important to our group," Schaub said. "We could have gotten an ex-major leaguer (to manage) but they had no proof of performance on the winning side of management. Our games are going to be fun and they are going to be a show, but ultimately we're a city of champions and we want to continue that. That's why we chose Mike and Dave and to a certain degree why we chose Chris. They are winners and have proven it."
Breyman's pitching coach will be Eric Coleman.
"He's from Central Michigan. In 2008, he was a manager when I was playing. I had a very good relationship with him. In 2009, he actually tried to get me to be his hitting coach on a travel team called the Oakland County Cruisers," Breyman said. "The reason I stopped playing was because I wanted to be around my family and be around home a little bit, which is why I declined. But it wasn't because of Eric. He is a very top-notch human being.
"He was a no-brainer hire, as well. He's been a manager in this league already and he will help me with anything I encounter. Obviously this is my first job managing and I can ask him about things and he'll be right there to help me. I've already talked to him a few times and he is very happy to be a part of this organization and to be back in the league. He is 100 percent behind be with everything we do."
Now that the major hires are out of the way, the Breyman said that it's time for him to get to know the people of the area.
"Obviously I'm not from this area, so I'm starting new with everybody. I love talking with new people and getting to know new people. I usually have pretty good responses from everybody," Breyman said. "I'm as easy going as it gets, but I can flip a switch when I have to. Obviously, not being from here, I have to get out there and let everyone know who I am and what I'm doing. Hopefully this summer people will get a feel of who I am and what I am about."