TROY — The Tri-City ValleyCats will forge ahead in 2021 in a league unfamiliar to their fans.
They will do so while managed by someone who should be very much familiar to them.
Pete Incaviglia, a veteran of 12 Major League Baseball seasons with six clubs, has been hired as manager of the ValleyCats in their first season in the independent Frontier League and has also signed on for the 2022 season.
A slugging left fielder who hit 206 career home runs and also struck out 1,277 times, Incaviglia began his MLB career with the Texas Rangers in 1986 and helped the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies reach the World Series, with 24 homers and 89 RBIs, before they lost to the Toronto Blue Jays.
He has been bouncing around as a coach and manager since retiring in 1998, most recently as manager of the Sugar Land Skeeters, which played in the independent Atlantic League, and then the director of baseball operations for the Constellation League, a start-up league in 2020 that played during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides serving as the ValleyCats field manager, Incaviglia will be in charge of player procurement.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to the area and meeting the fans and getting involved in the community,” Incaviglia said during a Zoom conference call Thursday afternoon.
“I will bring a tenacious group of players. I believe that a team will reflect who’s in charge. We’ll play the game the right way. You’ll see guys running hard to first base and sliding into second. It’ll be a diverse group. We’ll have some speed and some power. Hopefully, something the organization and the fans will be very proud of.”
He comes to Tri-City on the heels of the team joining the Frontier League, after having played in the short-season single-A New York-Penn League while affiliated with the Houston Astros.
The ValleyCats are in the midst of a lawsuit against the Astros and MLB for dropping them from that affiliation.
Incaviglia brings name recognition to the ValleyCats manager job, but team president Rick Murphy said that was merely a bonus and not the reason they hired the popular player nicknamed “Inky.”
“I view that more as icing on the cake,” Murphy said. “I think Pete’s resume speaks for itself and his experience in terms of both building and managing a winning team. From our conversations talking about a desire to be part of the community, that was another important aspect to us and something that resonated in those conversations.
“The third part that Pete kind of touched on is that second-chance opportunity [for the players], which ties into the development side of things. Looking at his ability to foster relationships with some of the affiliated teams and send players back to affiliated teams speaks to that development.”
Incaviglia has coached in the Detroit Tigers organization and won league championships as a manager, with the Skeeters in 2018 and in the American Association with the Laredo Lemurs in 2015.
As part of the MLB’s reorganization of the minor leagues that saw the ValleyCats lose their affiliation with the Astros, the Sugar Land Skeeters became the Astros Triple A affiliate in November.
“I think that if that didn’t happen, yes, I think I would’ve continued on as the Sugar Land Skeeters manager. How I got to Tri-City, I’m trying to figure it out, to be honest with you,” Incaviglia said, laughing.
“Somebody told me [about the job opening], I believe it was Chris Carminucci, who’s one of the pro scouts with the Arizona Diamondbacks. I emailed my resume, told them I was interested. I called [Frontier League commissioner] Bill Lee to find out a little bit about Tri-City and their history. Finally, [ValleyCats general manager] Matt [Callahan] and Rick gave me calls, and we kind of hit it off.”
Incaviglia said that, like the ValleyCats organization, he’s committed to the fan experience and not just the baseball side of the job.
Part of that, of course, is fielding a winning team.
Having been exposed to both the affiliated and independent side of the minors, Incaviglia said there are benefits to being an independent team.
“I think the indy players become a part of the community more than the affiliated players do,” he said. “I was with the Tigers and was in Erie, and to be honest with you, I didn’t even know who ran the club. I never met anybody. You showed up, went to work, played the game and we were gone.
“Affiliated baseball is about development. All your decisions are made for you. This guy’s going to get his innings and this guy is going to get his at-bats. Whether he’s earning the right to be on the field really doesn’t matter. As an independent manager, everybody’s got to earn the right to put that uniform on, and everybody’s got to play the game the right way and play to win, because winning does matter.”
As a manager of an independent team, he’s looking forward to the opportunity to not have his hands tied over who’s in the lineup.
That lineup might be stocked with former major leaguers, as well as college players coming out of the 2021 season.
“I want guys that won’t take any pitches off, that play the game to the last out in the ninth inning regardless of the score,” Incaviglia said. “I’m kind of old-school like that. You’ve got to remember, I came up with managers like Sparky Anderson and Jim Fregosi and Joe Torre, guys that expected you to be a professional on and off the field.”