Here's to Mike Jirschele, the Omaha manager winning titles and sending all that talent to KC
Omaha manager Mike Jirschele wins another PCL title, but promotion to big leagues is harder to come by
By JEFFREY FLANAGANFS Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One of the hardest jobs in baseball is managing a Triple-A team.
All minor league managers tend to serve two masters: They are expected to win for the sake of their own team and its fans, but they have to keep focused on the top priority, which is to develop players for the parent club.
Nowhere is that balance more tricky than at Triple A, where players are constantly shuttled back and forth to the big league club.
That makes winning awfully difficult at times. And that makes Omaha manager Mike Jirschele's recent accomplishments even more impressive. Jirschele's Omaha Storm Chasers won the Pacific Coast League title this season, his second such championship in three seasons.
And as a bit of icing, the Storm Chasers also won the Triple-A Baseball National Championship, beating the Durham Bulls of the International League 2-1.
Just getting into the playoffs was a long shot for the Storm Chasers, who were two games out with two games to go.
"Memphis had to lose the last two games and we had to win the last two," Jirschele says. "You do that scenario 10 times and you might get lucky once or twice. But I told the guys, 'Who cares what Memphis does? Let's take care of our own business.'"
And the Storm Chasers and Jirschele did, even with a roster constantly in flux.
"We lost six guys up to the big league team on Sept. 1," Jirschele says. "But the key was the guys they gave us from Double A just did a great job. They gave us offense and great defense. We got some pitching from those guys, too.
"At the end of the day, you just deal with all the shuffling. You lose guys, you get other guys to plug in. That's your job. The priority is always what the big league club needs."
Yet somehow, Jirschele's team managed to stay focused and win it all. Again.
Jirschele, though, won't take any credit.
"I don't look it as I did anything," he insists. "I truly feel that you have to have the players. You hopefully lead them in the right direction and then it's up to them to hit and pitch and catch the ball.
"Really, we've had great success the last three years. That shows the depth we have in the minor leagues. If we have to move guys up, we have guys to replace them at Triple A."
Jirschele says he's never had a problem understanding his dual role of developing and winning at the same time.
"You got to have the talent to be able to win when you're shuffling the roster," he says. "And there's more than just the shuffling. There are times you have to hold someone out because they have to pitch up in the big leagues in a day or two and so you're strapped as a manager.
"But if you have the talent to fill in the holes, you look like a genius. Well, we've had the talent.
"We've come to expect it. If two guys get called up, we reach for someone else and fortunately, we've had that depth, especially pitching-wise. There were nights we only had one or two guys in the bullpen that we could use, but you deal with it."
Jirschele just finished his 14th season at Omaha, covering two different stints. He has been perhaps the organization's best minor league manager for quite some time, starting in 1992 when he was named Gulf Coast Manager of the Year. Two years later, he directed Class-A Wilmington to a title and was named the Carolina League Manager of the Year as well as the Minor League Manager of the Year by The Sporting News.
Royals have shown their appreciation through the years, giving him the Dick Howser Award for contributions to their farm system in 1992, 1994 and 2005.
Yet the biggest sign of appreciation -- a big league coaching job -- has not come Jirschele's way. The Royals, in fact, have a vacancy on Ned Yost's staff but appear set on going outside the organization to fill it.
But Jirschele refuses to feel slighted and says he spends little time thinking about a promotion.
"No, I really don't think about it that much," he says. "I just go out and do my job. I feel that I preach to the kids the same way. I tell them, 'Hey, we don't have control over that, so don't sit around worrying about getting the call. Do your job and if it's a right fit, you'll get the call.'
"Same with me. My job is to get these kids ready for the big leagues. If I don't do that, I won't have a job. Same thing with the players. They might get mad when they get sent down, but if they don't respond and play well here, they won't have a job at all. Don't sit in self-pity or you will never get to the big leagues."
Jirschele, in fact, would be an excellent counselor for players frustrated by not getting the big league call. He spent 13 seasons as an infielder in the minors with the Rangers and Royals organizations and never got the call.
And now he's in the same spot as a manager.
"I'm not saying I never think about it," he says. "I think everyone dreams of getting to the big leagues whether you're a player or a coach. Hopefully, someday I will get the call to be part of the staff. But if I don't, I'll at least look back and say I did my job and worked my butt off."
Some Triple-A managers, though, can by typecast: They simply are too valuable to the organization as a developer of talent to be promoted. Jirschele, however, doesn't buy into that theory.
"I don't think so," he says. "If there's a spot they think you have value for, they'll hire you. I try not to even think that way, though. All it does it get people upset."
Royals general manager Dayton Moore says he is more than appreciative of Jirschele's efforts and hopes, too, that someday Jirschele will be a fit for a spot on the big league coaching staff.
"Jirsch has done a great job," Moore says. "So much of baseball is about timing, and hopefully someday that moment will come for him. I can't say when that will be and I can't predict the future, but we're very pleased with the job Jirsch has done."
In the meantime, Jirschele simply will go about his business, preparing guys like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Greg Holland, Danny Duffy, David Lough and many others for their call to the big leagues.
"That's really the rewarding part," he says. "You see guys make that jump to the big leagues and you get very proud of them. You know they earned it. So maybe a little part of you gets that call, too."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.