Charleston RiverDogs manager Carlos Mendoza walked out of the first-base dugout, surveyed the infield at Riley Park, and couldn’t help but smile.
It was good to be back. It has been two years since Mendoza ?was in Charleston, working as the RiverDogs first base coach during the 2010 season.
“This is such a great city and a great park to play in,” Mendoza said Tuesday during RiverDogs’ media day. “I don’t know if the players appreciate how good they’ve got it here. I’ve been in minor league baseball for 15 years, and this is one of the best places to play. The fans are unbelievable, the atmosphere is fantastic, I’m so happy to be back.”
Mendoza, who spent most of his 13-year professional baseball career in the minor leagues, replaces former RiverDogs manager Aaron Ledesma, who left baseball and has entered ?private business.
Like the minor league players he’s trying to develop, Mendoza has ?quickly worked his way up the Yankees ?farm system. In three years, he has gone from coaching for the Yankees’ short-season rookie team in Staten Island to managing the Gulf Coast League Yankees last season to Charleston this summer.
“Carlos is a very bright young man who was a leader as a player and has displayed the same leadership skills as a manager,” said Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president for baseball operations. “We have great confidence that he will make an excellent manager for the RiverDogs.”
As a first-base coach for the RiverDogs two summers ago, Mendoza’s main focus was hitting and defense. His responsibilities will be much broader this summer.
“When you’re a coach, you concentrate on one or two specific areas of the game,” Mendoza said. “As a manager, you have to be concerned about everything — hitting, pitching, base running, defense, everything. You have worry about their morning workouts and being there for the players when they need you. It’s everything on and off the field.”
Mendoza will have a familiar face in the dugout with him as former Charleston manager Greg Colbrunn returns for his sixth season as the RiverDogs’ hitting coach. Mendoza was one of Colbrunn’s coaches during his one-year tenure as the team’s manager in 2009.
“Carlos is awesome. He’s a tireless worker and he really does a good job of communicating and developing players,” Colbrunn said. “I know he’s going to do a great job this season. We’ve got a great relationship. I’m really looking forward to working with him.”
Mendoza said he’ll lean on Colbrunn for advice throughout the season.
“He had a long career in the major leagues and he knows the game,” Mendoza said. “He’s been a manager before, so he’s going to be a big help this season.”
The 2012 RiverDogs roster is loaded with prospects. The Yankees’ last two first round picks — infielders Cito Culver (2010) and Dante Bichette, Jr., (2011) — plus catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Mason Williams give the RiverDogs four of the top young prospects in the Yankees farm system.
“This is going to be a fun team to watch,” Mendoza said. “A lot of these guys played together last year in Staten Island. This is a very talented bunch.”
Mendoza is the fourth RiverDogs manager in as many years following Ledesma (2011), ?Colbrunn (2010) and Torre ?Tyson (2009).