Mike Breyman was fumbling with the buttons on his Joliet Slammers jersey, preparing to pose for a photograph during a news conference Tuesday at ATI Physical Theraphy’s headquarters in Bolingbrook.
An awkward moment quickly turned into a bit of light-hearted humor when an onlooker alerted him that one of his buttons was misaligned. No wonder the new manager’s jersey wasn’t fitting him properly.
No worries, either.
“That’s what we call a ‘Breyman-ism’—I may make words up, just so you know,” he said.
Breyman, 31, was introduced as the new Slammers manager during a get-acquainted shindig that served notice the news Slammers ownership team headed by CEO Josh Schaub already is on the ball on several fronts.
No doubt, Schaub picked the location of the event to schmooze with officials from the Slammers’ presenting sponsor—ATI Physical Therapy. He also picked a market—Bolingbrook—the Slammers would like to cultivate as they look to put more fans in the stands during the 2013 season and look to pull from a broader regional base.
And he picked a new manager he hopes will become the face of the organization without stumbling down the novelty-act road followed by so many others in minor league baseball. How many fans of independent league baseball in Joliet remember the Wally Backman experiment?
That grew old in a hurry, no?
Breyman comes across on a first impression as the kind of guy that will grow to be well liked by those who are looking to be entertained on a night out at Silver Cross Field. He grew up on a farm outside of Sandusky, Ohio, played baseball through his collegiate years at Kentucky and into the pros. Then, he decided to hang up his cleats and start a family of his own.
He and his wife, Jennifer, have two children, Beau, 4, and Callie, 1 year and 4 months.
“If you see two redheads flying around, they’re mine,” he said.
The point is he is no different than you and I in many respects. He is leading the only life he knows how to lead right now—one that includes baseball as a meal ticket. How far he can go in the game remains to be seen. If he is successful in Joliet, he could transform from a relative unknown into a hot managerial commodity.
“I’ll say this, before I became an owner of this team, before I was an attorney, I was in scouting,” Schaub said. “I’ll never forget sitting in the scouting room one time and a scouting director said to another scout about a player, ‘Will this guy hold a championship trophy above his head?’ And that was the question I asked myself about Mike (Breyman).
“And, so, when you talk about becoming the face of the team and the face of the franchise, that’s the easiest way to do it—is a picture of Mike holding a championship trophy above his head in Joliet, continuing a tradition Joliet always has had for baseball.”
Breyman knows his way around the Frontier League, both as a player and a coach, and has a strong working relationship with Slammers general manager Chris Franklin, so strong, in fact, he texted Franklin to ask, “What’s up with your managerial position?’ ”
Less than two weeks later, Franklin hired Breyman and reunited a team that clicked during their days together with the River City Rascals in 2010 and 2011. While waiting for Franklin’s call to make his hiring official, Breyman started burning the phone lines to recruit players.
He understands the Frontier League is like MAC football in the sense that overlooked prospects will come in and stay only long enough to prove their worth in the affiliated baseball ranks. The league is both a training ground and a final stopping point for ballplayers, some young, others aging.
“You get guys that come in here and you know that they’re going to get signed possibly,” Breyman said. “We can’t worry about that. We have to look at a guy and say, ‘Can he come in here and help us right away?’ If we lose him, we’re actually doing our job.
“Our job is to be a stepping stone. It’s not for him to be here for five years. Some guys realize this is probably the highest they’re going to get and they embrace it.”
Breyman already has a hitting coach—Dave Garcia—and a pitching coach—Eric Coleman. Garcia attended Tuesday’s news conference and spoke briefly about what makes Breyman tick and why his message resonates in the clubhouse.
“The best thing about Mike, as far as when hitters work with Mike, he’s not overly concerned about their mechanics,” Garcia said. “He first wants to make them comfortable. I think that’s why so many hitters were able to succeed under Mike.
“He taught me this early: He said, ‘Make them feel comfortable and they will buy into whatever you tell them.’ And that is true. Hitting at the professional level—it’s hard, no matter where you are, if you’re playing in independent (leagues) or 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 I even saw, unfortunately, last year at Gateway when they were playing us, just little mechanical changes. He doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. He gets guys to trust you. Once you have that trust, they’re going to buy in.”
Breyman—like Garcia—is a big man. The two will be capable of throwing their weight around when and if it’s necessary. More often, expect the Slammers new manager to throw out made up words like “pos-simp-able" as he attempts to make a go of his new gig. (I'm told it’s impossible and possible connected).
My bet: You’ll have fun coming to know the definition of a Breyman-ism.