After one season of managing in the Double-A Eastern League, Longview native Rick Sweet is moving up —- again.
Sweet is the new skipper of the Triple-A Louisville (Kentucky) Bats, the top minor-league team in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
"I had re-signed back with Erie (SeaWolves, the Double-A team in the Detroit Tigers' organization) when representatives from Cincinnati called and talked to me about the opening they had at Louisville," the 51-year-old Sweet said in a telephone interview from his Vancouver home. "Cincinnati's general manager is Dan O'Brien, and I worked with him for eight seasons when we were both in the Houston organization."
Sweet became the 12th active minor-league manager to achieve 1,000 victories last season with a 1,044-1,036 record in 17 campaigns, including 457-400 at the Triple-A level. Sweet, a 1971 Mark Morris High grad, led Erie to an 80-62 mark and the team's first playoff appearance since 2001.
"I prefer to be at the Triple-A level and have the opportunity to move up with a guy who knows what he is doing," Sweet said of O'Brien. "I understand his goals and objectives, and he knows what I can do."
O'Brien said Sweet has distinguished himself in baseball through roles as a scout, coach, manager and field coordinator. Sweet also served as a first base coach in Houston during the 1996 season.
"The bottom line is, this is the job at the level that he enjoys the most," O'Brien said in a story that appeared on the Cincinnati Reds' Web site. "It's certainly the most challenging managerial position in the system, and yet it's the one he wants. I think the diversity of his background plays a big role in his ability to do this job and do it well."
Sweet replaces former Major Leaguer Rick Burleson, who led the Bats to a 67-77 record in his first season. Burleson was re-assigned to Billings (Mont.), a rookie team in the Pioneer League.
"Triple-A is the hardest level to manage," Sweet said. "It was very time consuming for Rick (Burleson), and I think the move will work out better for him because he's also doing family things."
By comparison, Sweet has either played or managed baseball and has logged countless miles in the past 30 years.
"It's been a little tough on my family, but my daughter (Mary) is 21 and on her own, so it makes it easier for my wife, Molly, and myself," he said.
Sweet is joining a Louisville club that is "a well-run and classy organization."
"It was voted the best field in minor-league baseball and has led the International League in attendance for five of the last six years," he said. "It's a very stable and class operation with folks who have worked there for 20 years."
Tim Naehring, the Reds' director of player development, is also excited about Sweet joining the organization.
"You're dealing with a lot of athletes who believe they should be at the next level, there's constant problems and complaints, and you're usually always having a lot of those six-year veterans in there who really feel the game of baseball itself has really got the best of them," he said. "It's a difficult position, but Rick Sweet loves that job and I think he's going to be a good fit for us."
Sweet said the Reds are more interested in cultivating the in-house talent as opposed to pursuing big-ticket free agents.
"The general direction of the organization is to solidify the people we already have," he said. "Dan made some moves the first year he was here, but it was more staff and personnel than players. You can move around all the players you want at the Major League level, but you still need a solid minor league system to produce younger players. As far as a big-name player, we still have Ken Griffey Jr."
Sweet still aspires to wear a big-league uniform and mentor multimillion-dollar players. Former Bats manager Dave Miley, who is the current Cincinnati skipper, spent several years in the minors before he got his shot at the majors.
Like Sweet, Miley was a catcher in his playing days.
"Coaching in the bigs depends on the situation," he said. "I'd be interested in being a bench coach or a third base coach. Being a manager is always appealing."
Rick McCorkle is a sportswriter for The Daily News. He can be reached at 577-2529 or email@example.com