ALLENTOWN - Lehigh Valley IronPigs manager Dave Brundage has been around the game of baseball long enough to realize how special Opening Day is. So when he makes his debut as the third manager of the franchise at Coca-Cola Park on Thursday night against the Syracuse Chiefs, he'll be ready to try and resume the success that Ryne Sandberg had at his two years at the helm. Sandberg was promoted to third base coach of the major league Phillies in the off-season.
The big difference for Brundage is he inherits a club of young prospects that have moved up through the organization and are just one step away from the major leagues.
"I think it's pretty special," Brunage said about Opening Day. "Twenty-seven years in this game and it never gets old. I think they day it does get old, I'll probably end up taking the jersey off.
"It's probably more special for me this year. I think for the fact that 27 years ago I was drafted by Philadelphia and everything has kind of come full circle. I think I'm excited about the ballclub we've brought north with the young, talented players and the good mix of players. I just think as far as the chemistry and character of the guys on this club, I'm proud to be here."
Brundage began his managerial career in 1995 when he took over the Riverside Pilots of the Advanced-A California League, an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. From 1995 through 1997 he went from Riverside to Lancaster (A), and finally to Memphis (AA). He took time off before returning in 2001 to manage the Seattle Double-A team, the San Antonio Missions.
After a one-year stint in Tacoma, the Mariners Triple-A team, Brundage moved on to Richmond and then to Gwinnewtt when the Atlanta Braves moved their Triple A affiliate there in 2006. In his six seasons there, before taking the IronPigs job, Brundage led the Braves to the playoffs three times, including the 2007 International League title.
A lot of the young players that are on the IronPigs roster have made quite an impression on Brundage.
"The young Tommy Joseph (No. 3 prospect), Cody Asche (No. 7 prospect) and even Cesar Hernandez, this is a breakout year for himself," said Brundage. "I have to keep reminding myself that these kids are only 21, 22 and 23 years old.
"That doesn't happen a lot in Triple-A and I know it hasn't happened in the Lehigh Valley because I've seen the teams that they've broken camp with. A lot of free agents, a lot of older teams. With the younger talent, they've closed the gap within the organization and there is talent down in Double-A as well that I was impressed with."
The IronPigs will host the Reading Fightin Phils tonight at 6:35 in their annual exhibition game at Coca-Cola Park.
"I've spent more time at this level than any other level in baseball," Brundage said. "I think that's what so unique about this game and this level itself. There is something different every year. And I don't believe from a position players standpoint, having this many young prospects and this many talented young men coming to Triple-A and getting their feet wet, it's tough to put your finger on what's going to happen. I don't expect that they're going to knock their socks off as far as winning every game."
Besides the young crop of prospects, Brundage also greet the likes of Darin Ruf (No. 9 prospect), Michael Stutes, Tyler Cloyd, B.J. Rosenberg, Justin DeFratus, Jake Diekman, Pete Orr, Michael Martinez and others, who have spent some time up in the majors.
"That makes my job easier along the way," said Brundage. "They understand what it is to be there and they understand at this level you're knocking on the door. That's the best motivation there is in baseball. They already know the big league is just some hour, twenty minutes from here."
It all begins for real this week when Tyler Cloyd gets the nod as the Opening Day starter on Thursday night, followed by Jonathan Pettibone (No. 4 prospect), Adam Morgan (No. 5 prospect), Ethan Martin (No. 6 prospect) and Rosenberg will wind up the rotation.