Another of the top assistant coaches in college baseball is moving on up.
In a year that saw respected long-time assistants Jim Toman, Turtle Thomas, Kevin O’Sullivan and Bobby Moranda land head coaching gigs, Long Beach State pitching coach Troy Buckley left college baseball altogether. Buckley, who has been a Dirtbags assistant since 2001, accepted a position as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Pirates.
"It was an opportunity that was really, really difficult to pass up," Buckley said Monday night. "It was really a hard decision because of my loyalty to (LBSU coach) Mike Weathers and the community at Long Beach and the boosters, they’ve been awesome. But the opportunity to do things at the highest level has really intrigued me since my days back in pro ball. My experience as a player first and a coach second was extremely positive. I’ve always had a respect for that part of the game, and I’ve always been fortunate to be around good people to play for and also to teach me. You could say there’s a pilot light that’s still lit."
Buckley reunites with Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh’s new general manager, who was the Expos’ assistant farm director when Buckley coached in that system in 1996-97. Buckley’s first stint as a pro coach came after he wrapped up a six-year career as a catcher in pro ball. Huntington called Buckley about two weeks ago to gauge his interest in the minor league pitching coordinator position, and from there farm director Kyle Stark took over the discussions with Buckley.
The key for Buckley was being able to remain based in Long Beach, so he and his wife and three kids would not have to relocate. The Pirates were willing to let him do that in order to land a coach who has developed pitchers like Jered Weaver, Jared Hughes (now in the Pirates system), Drew Carpenter, Cesar Ramos, Jason Vargas and Abe Alvarez.
“As tough as it is to lose Troy, especially with the hope that he might someday take over the Dirtbag program, I have to agree that the opportunity the Pittsburgh Pirates are giving him is unprecedented," Long Beach State coach Mike Weathers said. "For an organization to take a college pitching coach and give him the responsibility of overseeing their complete minor league pitching staffs, and coaches, has been unheard of and something Troy could just not turn down. We will miss him deeply, he will always be a part of the Dirtbag family, and we wish him nothing but success.”
Buckley will be looking to help the Pirates stop a string of pitching injuries among the team’s top prospects. Former first-round picks John Van Benschoten, Sean Burnett, Bryan Bullington and Brad Lincoln have all suffered elbow or shoulder injuries in recent years.
"The mechanics of the job, I have a lot to learn, I admit that going in," Buckley said. "To be able to work with the pitching coaches at each level, they’re going to do the in-the-trenches work with their pitchers, with some help from all of us. Monitoring pitch counts, trying to keep guys healthy, with the throwing program routines, flat grounds, bullpens, number of pitches per inning–the development part of it really excites me, because that’s what we’ve been able to do here. We’ve been able to develop pitchers and get them to pitch with their fasball, develop angle, deception, things like that. This will be a much bigger arena than what I’m dealing with now, but you’ve still got players who want help and need direction."
Buckley told his Long Beach players about his decision Monday.
"I broke down a few times, and rightfully so," he said. "A lot of years and sweat have been given into this program, and like I told them, they’re going to be fine. They’re more prepared than they give themselves credit for."
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