Sofield's unexpected trip from Charleston to the majors
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Rick Sofield, who spent the 2012 season as the manager of the West Virginia Power and has since landed a job with the organization's parent club, the Pittsburgh Pirates, was back in Charleston on Tuesday night.
"I knew I'd be back through," said Sofield, who turns 56 next week, "but I didn't know it was going to be this quick."
Sofield returned as part of the Pirates' Winter Warm-up event in the Morgan ballroom of the downtown Ramada Inn. The keynote speaker was former Charleston Charlies and Pirates broadcaster Lanny Frattare.
Pirates big leaguers Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Bryan Morris also attended the two-hour private party after spending the afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club here.
Sofield is getting acquainted with Walker (a second baseman) and Alvarez (a third baseman) because he'll join them in Pittsburgh this season.
Sofield is the Pirates' new first base coach.
He explained his unusually rapid ascent up the ladder after one season as a low-Class A manager.
"I went to instructional league for two weeks (after the season)," he said. "I got home and had settled on a minor league extension. It was good, got a raise, a lot of nice things were said and the wife seemed happy.
"The second or third day I was home the phone rang and it was (Pittsburgh Manager) Clint Hurdle. He asks if I can be in Pittsburgh by Thursday to interview for the first base coaching job."
Sofield, who is colorful and boisterous, considered making a joke about a scheduling conflict. Maybe Hurdle would appreciate a laugh if Sofield said he had a dentist appointment, for instance.
"I decided to play it straight," said Sofield, who took the call while sitting in his sunroom at his Hilton Head, S.C., home. "The next day I flew and interviewed and got the job two days later."
It's a circuitous route back to the big leagues for Sofield, who was a 1975 first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins. He played three seasons in the majors before turning to baseball instruction.
He twice had interviews for jobs with big league clubs, and served as the minor league field coordinator the Yankees, Pirates, Dodgers and Expos. He managed AAA teams for the Rockies (Colorado Springs Sky Sox) and Dodgers (Las Vegas 51s).
He befriended Hurdle, who is entering his third season as the Pirates' manager, in the minors. Sofield was selected by the Twins four spots after Hurdle in the same draft.
That's the connection that led Sofield back to professional baseball for his one season with the Power. Under his guidance, the Power went 61-79, but after a 23-47 first half the club contended for the second-half crown.
Sofield said he loved his time in the South Atlantic League, but he couldn't really grasp the turn of fortunes that landed him back in The Show.
"I think what it shows you is that anything is possible," he said. "Just pay attention to detail and take care of the task in front of you.
"So many people in baseball are eyeballing the next phase. Anything is possible if you work. My resume says I could've been in the big leagues a long time ago ... but the weirdness of how this one happened completely caught me off guard."
Walker, who hit 14 home runs in 129 games last season, said Sofield is a perfect fit for a critical role with the club.
"He's going to come with the knowledge of a lot of the pitchers in the league and the knowledge of baserunning," Walker said. "That's an area where we have to do better.
"He keeps a stop watch down there and he's telling you what the times are from the pitcher and that's important when you are trying to steal bases and get leads. There's a lot of things that go into being a first base coach. It's certainly not just standing there and giving a pat on the butt."
The Pirates finished 79-83 last season for their Major League record 20th consecutive losing season. The team had a 67-54 record on Aug. 19 and moved into contention for a postseason berth, but finished 12-29 to extend the run of futility.
Still, it was the third consecutive season the Pirates had improved its win total after going 57-105 in 2010.
The postseason berths by the Oakland Athletics (94-68, AL West champions) and Baltimore Orioles (93-69, AL Wild Card) show the opportunity is there for small market franchises.
"There's a legitimate chance we're in the playoffs," Sofield said. "Whether we get there or not, I don't know. But to think we won't be is ridiculous.
"Anything is possible."
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949.