Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish is all smiles as Michael Bertram reaches third base after a triple in a 2010 game.
Minor leaguers all have the same goal: To advance to the major leagues.
That isn’t the case just for players, though, as minor league managers and coaches have the same aspirations.
So people around the industry were surprised at the end of the 2010 season when Larry Parrish, then manager of the Mud Hens, hesitated when offered the job of hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves.
"A lot of people told me, 'How can you even think about this?' But I had to stop and think about it," Parrish said at the time. "[Getting back to the majors] wasn't what drove me: teaching players, and feeling I did something to help a guy get to the majors, is what drove me.
"Toledo had become a second home for me. I have a lot of friends in Toledo.”
If that’s the case, Parrish has returned “home.”
Parrish, who turned 60 last November, will serve as the Mud Hens manager for the ninth season, but his first since 2010. He has a chance to add to a resume that already has earned him induction into the International League Hall of Fame.
Parrish first came to Toledo when he replaced Joe Sparks as Mud Hens manager in May of 1994. After a stint in the majors with the Tigers, he returned as Hens manager in 2003 and led the team until 2010, missing only the 2007 season because of ankle surgery.
He led Toledo to IL West Division titles in 2005 and '06, and the Hens won Governors' Cup crowns in both seasons.
Parrish, who enters this season with a career record of 569-552 in Toledo, was named International League manager of the year in 2005 and the Sporting News' minor league manager of the year in 2006.
He also was honored by Major League Baseball in 2008 by being named to the coaching staff of the "World" team in MLB’s Futures Game, which that season was played at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Parrish has won more games than any other manager in Toledo’s professional baseball history. Further, his .508 winning percentage with the Hens makes him one of only six managers among 68 in franchise history with a winning record.
No wonder the Mud Hens were happy to have Parrish return.
“As a manager, he’s a great teacher and I know we’ll see improvement in player development,” Toledo general manager Joe Napoli said. “For our fans, he’s always been a favorite. They will be glad to welcome him back.”
Parrish, in turn, said he’s happy to be back as well.
“I’m familiar with everything about Toledo — the town, the team, the front office, the grounds crew,” he said. “It makes it easier to go to a place where you are familiar with things, like what restaurants to eat at and what golf courses to play.”
Parrish’s baseball career began in 1972 when he was signed by Montreal as a free agent out of Seminole Community College in his native Florida. He reach the majors in September of 1974 at age 20, and he never played in a minor league game again.
His 15-year major league career included 256 home runs and 992 RBIs as well as All-Star berths in 1979 and ’87.
After playing in Japan after his major league career ended, Parrish joining the Tigers organization in 1992 to manage at Short Season Niagara Falls for two years. He also was a roving hitting instructor from 1994-96, although he was taken off that assignment to manage at Toledo in ’94 and at Double-A Jacksonville in ’96.
After winning a Southern League championship with Jacksonville, Parrish joined the Tigers coaching staff of Buddy Bell in 1997. When Bell was fired late in the 1998 season, Parrish took over as manager and led Detroit through 1999, when he was replaced by Phil Garner.
After his dismissal Parrish did some scouting for the organization before returning to the field as Mud Hens manager in 2003.
And that’s the position he held until 2010, missing only the 2007 season because of ankle surgery.
After leaving the Hens, Parrish was fired after one season in Atlanta, and when the chance to return to minor league managing opened up at Lo-A West Michigan for 2013, Parrish jumped at the chance.
After the Whitecaps posted a 69-70 record last season, the manager’s job for the Mud Hens opened when Phil Nevin was not rehired after spending three seasons as Parrish’s replacement in Toledo.
Parrish said he had no qualms returning to Triple-A.
"It's probably the toughest job at any level of the minor leagues, juggling the desire to win and developing talent," he said. "There are times that pitchers are getting roughed up, but need to stay out and get work. A prospect can be struggling, but as long as he's not mentally in the tank he still needs to play.
"At the same time, they're keeping score. You know what I mean?"
Parrish has shown the ability to handle that juggling act and still end up on the right side of the score more often than not.
“If you're a young guy, he'll make you better,” said Hens hitting coach Leon “Bull” Durham, who has spent much of his career working with Parrish. “If you're near the end, he'll get the last drop out of the lemon. If there's something left he'll find it.”