GARY, Ind. — The Gary SouthShore RailCats will bring their 2008 coaching staff back for intact for the first time under Manager Greg Tagert, and that group will be bolstered by the addition of Utility Coach Mick Curran, the team announced today.
The RailCats advanced to their fourth consecutive Northern League Championship Series in 2009 – they are now 4-for-4 under Tagert – but had lost at least one member of the coaching staff each of the previous four years. This season, Pitching Coach Jamie Bennett is back for his fourth year and Hitting Coach Kenny Graham returns for year two. Former Chicago White Sox infielder and Gary native Joe Gates will remain a staple of U. S. Steel Yard as well, coming back for his seventh season.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have such a quality staff returning this summer,” Tagert said. “Each coach is invaluable to our ballclub. I feel like this staff is unparalleled in independent baseball.”
Tagert is the second-longest tenured manager in the Northern League and far and away the most successful skipper in RailCats history. In his first season, the California native engineered a remarkable turnaround, taking a team that had a set a league record for losses in a single season and leading the upstart ‘Cats all the way to the 2005 championship. The RailCats won another title in 2007 and are the only team in league history to advance to the Championship Series four years in a row. The all-time winningest manager in Frontier League history, Tagert’s teams have posted a winning record in each of his 13 seasons.
“I can’t say enough about what Greg has meant to this organization,” RailCats President/General Manager Roger Wexelberg said. “We’re very lucky to have a manager of his caliber, and someone who not only delivers wins on the field but leads with class. It means a lot to have coaches and players here who are not only good baseball people, but high-character individuals.”
Bennett pitched the RailCats to the 2005 Northern League title and has been by Tagert’s side in the dugout ever since. Bennett’s staffs have consistently been among the best in the league, twice posting a team ERA under 4.00, and ‘Cats hurlers have won the last two Pitcher of the Year awards. After taking over 35 games into the 2006 season with the team’s ERA at 5.63, Bennett’s pitchers boasted a 3.45 ERA the rest of the way and carried the team into the playoffs.
“Jamie has developed into one of the finest pitching coaches in the game, along with establishing himself in the player development area,” Tagert said. “He has the respect of every player on the club and communicates wonderfully with players from all backgrounds, from the big leagues on down.”
Graham stepped into cavernous U. S. Steel Yard last season and turned a traditionally pitching-led RailCats team into an offensive juggernaut. The 2009 RailCats set a Northern League record by tallying 1,057 hits during the season and led the league with a staggering .307 team batting average. Under Graham’s watch, RailCats hitters set or tied 24 team and individual offensive records and had eight different players hit at least .300.
“Kenny has had to follow in tough footsteps [the previous two ‘Cats hitting coaches went on to earn managerial jobs the next season] but has quickly established himself as one of the top hitting coaches in the league – along with being a great third base coach. I expect he will only get better and he has a tremendous future ahead of him.”
Curran joins the staff as utility coach, where he will work primarily with the RailCats infielders. Curran has spent the last five seasons at the prestigious John Mallee ProStyle Baseball School in Griffith, working regularly with some of the top major and minor league players in the country. Curran played collegiately at Illinois Wesleyan where he was a three-time All-Conference performer and graduated as the school’s all-time hit leader.
“Mick comes highly recommended by [former RailCats outfielder] Anthony Iapoce [who has also worked at Mallee’s school], which means great things for our ballclub. Mick will do a lot of different things for us, including coaching first base on the road and scouting the opposition, and will only make our club better.”
Gates has been with the RailCats since U. S. Steel Yard opened in 2003 and will continue to coach first base when the team is at home. The ‘Cats will also return longtime clubhouse manager James “Twin” Johnson in the same role.
The RailCats will kick off the 2009 season with Media Day, Friday, May 1 starting at 9 a.m.