The spot is kind of different for Tony Franklin. After eight years piloting the Double-A Trenton Thunder, he finds himself in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia.
Replacing the Seattle Mariners in Calfee Park, which received a huge renovation with new seats, new clubhouses, an impressive new video board and other improvements, Franklin and the first-year Pulaski Yankees have a nice spot to call home.
“I’m working with the kids, trying to get them started on what playing professional baseball os all about,” said Franklin, whose Pulaski club opens its 68-game Rookie Level Appalachian League season Tuesday night vs. the Danville Braves. “The Yankees thought I could help here, and I’m glad to do it.
“What they’ve done with the ballpark is great. They sent me pictures (before I got here). This will be fun for me.”
Frankkin will ride the bus to towns such as Elizabethon, Kingsport and Johnson City, Tenn, Burlington, N.C. and Princeton, W. Va. He’ll also make a stop in Bristol, on the Tennessee-Virginia border.
It is beautiful country, areas which have battled with the changes in industry, but places that love their baseball. One gets a surreal feeling in the above-mentioned small towns, all with the ballparks seating 3,000 or less. It’s like Minor League Baseball was like a few generations ago, Americana at its finest.
“I’m really glad the Yankees did this,” said Franklin, whose team will play before a sellout of 2,500 in Calfee Park Tuesday night. “This is good for the young kids. Get them out of the complex in Florida and let them play in front of some crowds in a different part of the country.”
Franklin will have some familiar faces on his coaching staff, as hitting coach Edwar Gonzalez and pitching coach Justin Pope, are both veteran mentors in the Yankees system and former Trenton Thunder stalwarts of his. Hector Rabago completes his coaching staff.
It’s good to have those guys around,” said Franklin. “They are all good guys, and good coaches. We’ll teach and try to win at the same time.”
One surprise member of the P-Yanks is infielder Gosuke Katoh, who, after hitting .310 (57-for-184) as an 18-year-old in the Gulf Coast League in 2013, vaulted into the Yankees’ Top 30 list of prospects. He then struggled at the plate at Class-A Charleston in 2014, hitting just .222, in 121 games, and was batting .161 in 39 games with the RiverDogs this year.
Now 20 – he turns 21 in October – the native of Poway, Calif., who passes the eye test at 6-foot-2, 180, also passes the talent test in the field with a slick glove. Perhaps some time in the Appy will restore his hitting stroke.
The most-heralded player on Pulaski’s roster is South Korean shortstop Hyo-Joon Park – spelled Hoy Jun Park by Minor League Baseball. The 19-year-old received a $1.2 million bonus from the Yankees and makes his American professional debut Tuesday evening. He could team with Katoh to form a solid double-play combination.
“What we want to see out of all these kids is progress,” said Franklin.”Our job is to make them better and get them started on the road, hopefully to the major leagues.”