Featured image by Suad Bejtovic Photography.
For a team mixed with players getting their first bite at the Apple along with players like Jose Trevino and Scott Heineman who are back in Frisco for additional training, the diversity of necessary teachings is something Mik and his staff have to manage.
Luckily for everyone involved, that doesn’t scare the third year ‘Riders Manager. Intense and competitive are two words many use in describing Joe Mikulik, who returned to manage the Frisco Roughriders for a fourth consecutive season in 2018.
After all, there are several YouTube videos and stories of “Mik” as he is known throwing bases or other equipment after being ejected as a manager earlier in his career.
But another way to characterize Mikulik these days is grateful because he realizes how blessed he is to be returning to the ‘Riders for another season, his 20th as a minor-league skipper.
“I’m very excited,” Mikulik said just before the 2018 season began. “If you’re going to be in the minor leagues, where else would you rather be? I love the people, love working with the front office and the fans are awesome, it’s been great.”
Mikulik’s tenure in Frisco has seen several former ‘Riders like Matt Bush and Joey Gallo have stopovers at Dr Pepper Ballpark before going on to star for the Rangers in Arlington.
And last season, Frisco also hosted the 2017 Texas League All-Star Game, an event which was well received by the fans and the players alike.
But if there’s one thing “Mik” is most proud of from his first three seasons, it’s the relationships he’s forged with players, coaches and front-office personnel.
“Player development’s a tough task, it’s a challenging opportunity and it brings out the most of you. A lot of times they say it brings out the best in you, it brings out everything in you,” Mikulik said. “It’s a challenge that requires a lot of effort and a lot of time.”
“The relationship between the Rangers and the Roughriders, it’s been nothing but first class. Obviously, the wins and losses don’t equate to what we accomplished, but we did some pretty good things as far as player development. We sent some guys to the big leagues and that’s our goal, to hopefully help our big-league club maintain some sort of drive to win the American League West. It’s part of the process and not easy by any means.”
Last season, three ‘Riders pitchers: Nick Gardewine, Yohander Mendez and Ricky Rodriguez, finished the season in Arlington, an ascension which “Mik” takes great pride in seeing.
However, the affable native Texan admits that managing both Bush and Gallo over the past few seasons has been a real highlight.
“We drafted him (Gallo) in 2012. I had him in Myrtle Beach and then he came through Frisco. Watching his talent, it’s off the charts,” Mikulik said. “Nobody hits the ball farther, he’s athletic. It was great to work with him. He didn’t stay around Frisco long, he came through there and moved on pretty quick. When you have guys like that, it’s fun to work with (them).”
But the opportunity to work with Bush, who made a return to baseball in 2016 after spending most of the previous three seasons in prison, someone who was trying to make a comeback after squandering earlier chances with several teams, was another highlight.
Bush was only with the ‘Riders for a short time before the Rangers summoned him to the big leagues, but Mikulik continues to track his former pitcher’s progress and wish him the best.
“What a turnaround.” Mikulik said of Bush. “We’re proud of both of these guys’ development, but especially Matt, where he came from, what he’s done and what he’s accomplishing now, it makes everyone that’s touched him along the way proud. Those are the moments where you look back and think that was pretty cool he was with us and we had an opportunity to help him along the way. Now, we’re rooting for him every time he touches the rubber in Arlington.”
But “Mik” isn’t content to revel in his past successes with players who are now in the majors or “the show” as it was once dubbed in Bull Durham.
No, he knows he’s always being evaluated on what he does with his current crop of players.
“You say who’s next? Who’s the next man up? That’s what we look for and I’m sure our scouting department and even below us, the player development coaches (are looking at as well),” he said. “We’ve got to keep ‘em moving. That’s the whole thing behind this, we got to keep guys coming, got to have them develop quick.”
Last month the Rangers announced a two-year extension of its player development contract with Double-A Frisco. The RoughRiders have been a Rangers affiliate since their inception and will remain in the Rangers family through at least 2020.