BRADENTON — There’s nothing extraordinary about the way P.J. Forbes wants his Bradenton Marauders to play baseball.
Not in his eyes, anyway.
“You run hard until the ball stops you. It’s just the right thing to do,” Forbes said. “It’s not being aggressive — it’s the right way to play. People say, ‘They run the bases hard.’ Excuse me? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”
That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re one of the Marauders, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ high Single-A affiliate that begins Florida State League play during Thursday’s season-opener against the Fort Myers Miracle.
“That’s what we’re looking for,” Forbes, Bradenton’s manager, said Tuesday afternoon while sitting in his office at McKechnie Field, “and that’s the identity we’re trying to create.”
Forbes thinks of it as beating an opponent with your brain, which is how he learned to play while growing up in Pittsburg, Kansas. He knew he wasn’t the biggest, strongest or most physically imposing guy on the field, so he took a page out of Yogi Berra’s book and learned a lot by watching.
His father, Pat, made it easy to do. Pat coached high school basketball, football and baseball, allowing P.J., beginning at age 8, to serve as the water boy for the basketball and football teams, and the bat boy for the baseball team.
“I had the keys to the gym,” Forbes said.
Pat Forbes taught his son to play the game ahead. That way, you’re never surprised.
“Know what you’re going to do with the ball before you get it,” P.J. said. “Know the situation you’re presented with at the plate, so before you even go up there, you’ve got a plan of attack.”
That strategy served Forbes well throughout a 13-year professional baseball career that included major-league stints with the Baltimore Orioles in 1998 and the Philadelphia Phillies in 2001.
And it’s the same style he employs as a manager.
“He will not let anything slide by,” said Marauders outfielder Quincy Latimore. “You will play hard, you will play the right way, because he won’t accept anything else. To be the best, you’ve got to be that way. You can’t half-step it, and he won’t let us do it all.”
Forbes managed the Phillies’ affiliates in Lakewood, N.J., (Single-A) and Reading, Pa., (Double-A) before coming to the Pirates’ organization prior to the 2009 season — a move stoked by former Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge, Forbes’ roommate at Wichita State who is also friends with Kyle Stark, the Pirates’ director of player development who worked in the Indians’ system for four years.
“I met with Kyle,” Forbes said. “And our ideas were so similar, I knew if the situation opened up and was right, it was going to be an easy move for me.”
Forbes’ impact was immediate — he piloted the Lynchburg Hillcats, Pittsburgh’s former high Class-A affiliate, to the Carolina League title last year.
“He keeps us disciplined, and all he asks us to do is be on time and have fun and work hard,” said Marauders pitcher Bryan Morris. “If you do that, you’ll have a great year.”
Championships are nice, and building a winning atmosphere throughout an organization that hasn’t had a winning season at the top level since 1992 is key. But Forbes knows minor league baseball is not a results-driven game. The goal is for players to move up to the next rung — in this case, the Pirates’ Double-A team in Altoona, Pa. — en route to a major-league career.
“That’s all that matters to me,” Forbes said. “For a win, we’re not going to sacrifice a prospect. We don’t leave him out there for 120 pitches so we can win that night.”
Which is why he wants his guys playing the game the way he learned to play it.
“You’re going to see some of these guys in Pittsburgh. They’re special players, there’s some special guys here,” Forbes said. “They’re going to play an exciting brand of baseball, they’re going to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. And if that’s what you enjoy seeing, come out, because that’s how it’s going to be done. We don’t expect any other way.”