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Walbeck deserves better than low-A, but that's where he'll be in 2011
January 7, 2011 - Cory Giger
It's tough to understand how a good manager and good man with an excellent minor league resume would slip back to the low-A level, but that's where former Curve skipper Matt Walbeck will find himself this season.
Walbeck has been hired to manage the Atlanta Braves' affiliate in Rome, Ga., a team that plays in the low-A South Atlantic League. That's two levels lower than the Curve -- or in other words, a big demotion in minor league baseball.
Walbeck, though, is always optimistic about everything, and this situation is no different.
"It's a great opportunity, and I'm really looking forward to it," he said by phone Friday night.
Walbeck had resigned himself to the possibility of not managing anywhere in 2011.
"I went to the winter meetings, and nothing really came up there with any organizations or any needs," he said. "So I came home with the mindset that I'd probably be home for a summer. And then Atlanta called me shortly after the winter meetings."
The Walbeck saga will never fully be understood. Just 11 days after leading the Curve to their first Eastern League championship, the Pirates informed the manager that he would not be returning to the organization in 2011.
Walbeck doesn't want to talk about what happened with the Pirates, which is typical of him since in his two seasons with the Curve he always focused on challenges ahead rather than looking back.
Some things came out in the days that followed Walbeck's dismissal that had to be hurtful, things like sources saying he didn't work the players hard enough or didn't communicate well.
"I'm not even gonna go there, just to be quite frank with you," Walbeck said respectfully when asked about the comments. "It's just like, it doesn't really matter. I'm over it. What's done is done. I don't think it's gonna do anybody any good for me to talk about it."
Regardless of how things played out with the Pirates, a manager with Walbeck's track record seemed destined to get another good job. But despite winning three league titles and four manager of the year awards in six seasons, plus being a major league third base coach for Texas in 2008, surprisingly, nothing turned up for him at the higher levels.
Walbeck does not believe the Pirates blackballed him in any way or talked badly about him in baseball circles.
"No, not at all," he said. "I don't think that would happen."
Instead, he has a logical explanation.
"If you think about the way my career's gone, having played in 2003, it was pretty fast as far as getting right into the coaching ranks," Walbeck said. "I didn't really have much time to develop a lot of relationships with front office people and coaches because I went right from playing to coaching.
"So I think it takes time to develop relationships on this side of the field. And getting to know people and for them to get to know me and what I'm all about is all part of it."
Like anything in life, it's sometimes about who you know, and Walbeck says he just didn't know the right people when it came to finding a job this offseason.
"There's something to be said about who you know and being able to call that person and find out if there's any opportunities," he said. "And quite frankly, I had been so focused on my job and my task at hand with Pittsburgh, Detroit and Texas that I didn't really think about reaching out and meeting people in other organizations."
He went on to say that there are so many good people in baseball that the jobs filled up quickly.
That's all well and good, but a lot of this still doesn't make sense.
Walbeck is a good baseball man, and he has a managerial resume that's much better than many people who will be calling the shots at levels above his this season.
Doesn't he think it's strange that he's back in low-A?
"I'm not really thinking of it in terms of levels," Walbeck said. "If you had asked me that question last year, I probably would have had a different answer. But it's funny how quickly things can change and the way you look at things."
Again keeping with his optimistic attitude, he's focusing on the good of his situation instead of what many would see as a tough pill to swallow going down two levels.
"I'm looking at it more now as an opportunity to be with a successful organization, and it gives me a chance to grow with their younger players, and wherever it takes me is where it's gonna take me," Walbeck said.
"I'm at the point now where I don't really want to get too concerned with moving up. I just want to do a good job and continue to get better."
Walbeck will always be an important part of Curve history for leading the franchise to its first title. It's a shame he not only didn't get rewarded for it, but now he has to prove himself all over again just to get back up to Double-A.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.