MANISTEE — Just a couple weeks ago the Manistee Saints were starting the search for a new manager after Tyrone Collins stepped down after three successful seasons, unsure of how long the process would take but hoping to have it done before Thanksgiving.
They made it with almost a week to spare, naming last season’s Pitcher of the Year and Brethren graduate Rodney MacNeil the team’s new field manager on Wednesday.
With a list of six possible candidates in hand, Saints general manager Phil Kliber had interviewed two before he received a phone call from nine-ear MacNeil stating his interest in the position.
“I could just tell from talking to him that he was excited, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Saints general manager Phil Kliber said Friday. “So, we made the decision there and I didn’t look any further.
“He understands Saints baseball, and he’s really enthusiastic about it, We hated to lose Tyrone, but I think we’ve got another winner and that’s what we’re looking for. (Tyrone) was very enthusiastic, and he was into the whole system. It really worked well. He had some real nice seasons. Like I say, we were disappointed to lose him. But, those things happen and you move on. I think we’ll be fine the way we are.”
MacNeil, who did not allow an earned run in 29 1/3 innings last year, is following in some pretty big footsteps. Collins directed the Saints to 71 victories in his three seasons at the helm, and the Great Lakes United Baseball League World Series this past summer in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assistant coaches Jim Klug and Scot Latimer also announced their resignations shortly after the end of the season, but one of those positions were filled when eight-year vet Kyle Gorski was picked to be a player/coach.
“Being a Saints guy for awhile now, it felt natural in the sense of where my personal coaching has gotten to,” MacNeil said. “It’s a great opportunity for me, not only as a player still, but also as a coach.
“I’m excited for it, and am really looking forward to the opportunity. I’ve seen a little bit of everything in 10 years. I was talking to my assistant coach, Kyle Gorski about it. It seems like only yesterday we were playing down in the Gratiot County League playing Coleman and Ionia, a lot of the different places with baseball history.
“We’ve seen the progression of the team from there to the UBL (and) the competition we play now.”
MaNeil, a 2011 graduate from Brethren, coached the Bobcats from 2015-17 and won two league titles. Gorski, as it happens was his assistant back then. The two have a history together that goes even deeper, as they were on the same pitching staff at Alma.
An instructor the last four years at the Western School of Science and Technology in Phoenix, Arizona, including serving as the baseball coach the last three years.
He feels his local roots will be an advantage for him as he starts his managing career with the Saints.
“Being a Manistee County guy, I know the area,” MacNeil, who lives in Traverse City, said. “I’ve been a away for a little bit, but I do know that there’s talent there.
“We’re really looking to continue to add players from this region to continue to bring this team to the next level. My goal is, obviously, to put the best team out there. The guys we draw are very special players.
“I know it (managing) is going to be a lot harder. Personally, I’ve developed a lot of different skills to keep myself really balanced to make the right call for the team no matter what, and still enjoy and play and love the game. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m excited for the challenge of doing both.”
Kliber is happy to have the manager’s position filled.
“In a normal year it’s important to get that (naming a manager) done before the Christmas break, because that’s when you talk to your ball players,” Kliber said. “After Christmas break is when they get back to school, and most of them are playing college ball. It’s tough to get in a hold of them.
“That was the thought when we made a move to get somebody right away, because that gives them to talk with the guys and see who wants to play, and who’s going to come back.
“With our returning players, we have some guys that were seniors that are back in school because they lost that year of eligibility last year. So, you have to kind of keep an eye and see if they are going to come back or not. December is real important to putting a team together in our kind of ball. We wanted to have management in place before that happened.”
Now that the coaching staff is solidified, the Saints can turn their attention to putting together a roster.