TRENTON, NJ – There he was, sitting in his old office – golf on was on the television – and it seemed like nothing changed.
Tony Franklin, who piloted the Trenton Thunder for eight seasons (2007-14) winning a trio of Eastern League Championships and advancing to the title series two other times, was back piloting the Yankees Double-A affiliate for the weekend.
“I’m a little nervous,’’ Franklin said with a straight face. “There are always a few butterflies before the first game. That’s why I went up to Binghamton for a few days, to get an idea of the team and how Al (Thunder manager Pedrique, who is at his daughter’s high-school graduation in Seattle) ran things.
“I was very impressed. The guys played really well in Binghamton (a Thunder sweep that pushed the club’s mark to six games over .500). I don’t want to screw things up.’’
No worries. The Thunder (31-24) scored their sixth straight win by holding off Harrisburg, 4-3 before 6,248 fans. Eric Ruth, pitching the final five innings after Kyle Haines tossed the first four in piggy-back style, improved to 4-0, 2.23. Jake Cave had a pair of hits.
Brendan Ryan began his rehab stint with the Thunder, played third base and was 1-for-3 with a walk. Catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman Greg Bird and third baseman Eric Jagielo got the night off.
“We don’t want to push Bird too much after he just came back (from a shoulder strain),” said Franklin.
Franklin will also be inducted into the Thunder’s Trenton Baseball Hall of Fame Saturday night at Arm&Hammer Park.
“That I didn’t expect at all,’’ he said. “It hit me like a house of bricks. You know me, I kind of shy away from these things. My wife is the opposite, she’s at the airport after flying in from Los Angeles, on her way here.’’
“It’s really a special moment. I didn’t think, and never dreamed, something like this would happen to me.’’
Franklin will be in good company in the Trenton Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Nomar, Garciaparra, Tony Clark, David Eckstein and the like.
“One thing I’ve been able to do now is reflect on the eight years I was in Trenton,’’ said Franklin, now, in addition to managing the Yankees’ Rookie League affiliate in the Appalachian League starting June 23, is a Roving Observer. “I think, and we talk, about all the players that passed through Trenton.
“A lot good guys who made us successful.’’
As far as the Thunder are concerned, Franklin knows the ballclub is in good hands.
“You have a great skipper and a great coaching staff here,’’ he said. “PJ (Pilittere) is doing amazing things (as hitting coach), wbile I’ve known Michel Hernandez since we were in the Padres organization.
“And Rosie (pitching coach Jose Rosado) is doing an excellent job. Al and his coaches have this team working well.’’
Following this weekend, Franklin will return to Tampa, where he has been working in Extended Spring Training. This is a key week, deciding which players go where as far as the Yankees short-season teams are concerned.
“One thing about Extended Spring Training is it really gets hot in May and June down there. We play two games a day, if pitching allows, and really get after the players. I’m glad Gary (Denbo, Yankees Vice President of Player Development) has me involved in this and I can see why.
“All the other short-season managers are down there working hard, deciding who will go to Staten Island, Pulaski and stay in the Gulf Coast League. We look at this as an important part of development and want these guys to be in Double-A and Triple-A in a few years.
“We are looking to move our young players long. The parent club will benefit from it.’’
Following the Major League Baseball Draft, Franklin will head to Pulaski.
“I’m excited about it,’’ he said. “They sent me pictures of what they have done with the renovations, with the clubhouses, press box and all the rest.
“I played in the Appalachian League years ago.’’
Eight Thunder seasons made Franklin a beloved figure in the Garden State Capital. Trenton will always have a part of Franklin, as he will a part of Trenton.