York Revolution, manager Forney begin new era with 2023 season
Rick Forney had the kind of job security that simply doesn’t exist in professional baseball. He left it behind to come to York.
Forney spent 17 years managing the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the American Association, winning three championships and piling up 13 winning seasons and 10 playoff appearances. He loved the organization and knew he could have remained in Canada until his retirement.
But the Frederick, Maryland, native joined the York Revolution of the Atlantic League in October, starting a new career chapter much closer to his family. He replaced Mark Mason, who managed the Revs for nine seasons and won a franchise-record 606 games before stepping down after the 2022 campaign, in which York went 56-76 to finish fourth in its five-team division.
“I was in a really, really good place in Winnipeg,” Forney said. “But we were looking to make a change to get ourselves closer to home where I could see my family on a regular basis, and the York opportunity presented itself and I'm really thrilled that it worked out.”
It’s a new era for the Revolution in so many ways, and the season begins on the road Friday night.
With the new manager comes a new-look roster — only three of York’s 26 active players for opening day also spent the 2022 season with the Revs. The downtown stadium has been renamed to WellSpan Park. And Cannonball Charlie won’t be firing the cannon in right field after home runs and final outs.
The original 26-man roster includes 15 pitchers and 11 position players, with five other signees yet to report due to visa issues and a sixth who hasn’t reported due to injury. The roster is sure to undergo its fair share of churn throughout the season as well. There’s optimism surrounding this group, but expectations are a fool’s errand at this point.
After six months of settling in and assembling a team, Forney will manage his first game Friday in Lexington. The Revs’ home opener is set for May 5 against Staten Island. And the baseball lifer is ready for the challenge ahead.
“Starting something new, it’s fun but scary at the same time,” Forney said. “I was in Winnipeg for a very long time, and when you're very familiar with your workplace and your surroundings, you get awful comfortable. But like anything, you're making new friends and learning your way around and trying to navigate the process and it's been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”
Troy Stokes Jr. reached the Major Leagues for eight days in 2021. Every move from this point forward is about making it back.
The outfielder from Columbia, Maryland, was a fourth-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014 out of Calvert Hall High School. He hit everywhere he went and was added to the 40-man roster after the 2018 season, only to be designated for assignment three times by three different teams in less than three years. The last of those squads, the Pittsburgh Pirates, promoted Stokes to the majors in May 2021. He went 2 for 18 in eight games before being DFA’d again and traded back to Milwaukee in June.
Stokes elected free agency after the 2021 season, but because he had spent time in the big leagues, he couldn’t negotiate with anyone during the MLB lockout. When the lockout was lifted, he couldn’t find a job in affiliated ball. He found a spot in York and slashed .274/.363/.485 with 19 homers and 31 stolen bases. Stokes sought a return to affiliated ball, or perhaps an opportunity in the Mexican League, during the winter. Nothing materialized.
So the 27-year-old re-upped with York in early April, immediately becoming one of the most recognizable names for local supporters. Stokes saw plenty of familiar faces at the team’s Fan Fest last weekend and looks forward to another season close to home. He and his wife live in the Baltimore area and had a daughter this offseason.
“The fans here are really supportive. They’re really involved,” Stokes said. “And I haven’t really played this close to home in my professional career. So having family come to games that normally don’t make it to games to see me play, that was pretty cool.”
Continuity is a precious commodity at this level of baseball. There are no guarantees and no multi-year contracts. While some Atlantic League teams, such as the reigning champion Lancaster Barnstormers, will look almost the same as last year, others had similar overhauls to York. Forney and the front office leveraged their connections with agents and MLB front offices, as well as utilizing relationships between players, to piece this roster together a handful of signings at a time.
“That's the fun of what this job is about, is the roster building process and being able to move your parts around and try to piece your puzzle together so that you can hopefully win some baseball games. It's very challenging.”
Nellie Rodriguez was the first to sign his 2023 contract. The first baseman has been with York since 2020 and has played for the Revs since 2021. His 51 homers in two seasons are good for sixth in team history, and he also set a league record with 108 walks last year. He reached Triple-A as an affiliated player, while Stokes and infielder Trent Giambrone are the two former big leaguers on this squad.
The Revs also announced the re-signing of 37-year-old lefty starter Jorge Rodriguez on Thursday. Rodriguez was York’s ace in 2022, going 9-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 18 starts before going inactive in August. Also among the 15 rostered pitchers is Victor Capellan, who had stints with York in 2019 and 2021 and finished last season with Forney in Winnipeg.
Last year’s Revolution had the third-highest OPS and the second-most homers in the 10-team Atlantic League but was just sixth in runs scored and finished eighth in ERA on the other side. Players and coaches hope to tell a different story this season.
“From what I’ve seen so far in these scrimmages, I think we’re gonna be a really good team,” Stokes said. “I know last year, pitching and defense hurt us a little bit because our offense was there. (It’s) pretty much a new roster this year, so I’m really excited to see what we do.”
NOW IT COUNTS
The first bus ride of the season will be the longest, as the Revs left Thursday for their three-game weekend series against the Lexington Counter Clocks (renamed from Legends this offseason). It’s an eight- to nine-hour drive, slightly longer than the treks to the league’s two North Carolina teams.
Stokes, of course, is no stranger to these trips. He played for a team based in Helena, Montana, after being drafted by the Brewers and regularly had bus rides of 10-plus hours. And he notes many of those buses were more cramped and run-down than what the Revs use now.
“I have no problem getting on the bus for eight hours,” he said.
After an off day Monday, the Revs will begin a three-game set at Lancaster on Tuesday. While the teams squared off in multiple exhibitions during training camp, a matchup against the champs with legitimate stakes will be an important benchmark for Forney’s group. By the time York’s first home series against Staten Island is complete, plenty of on-field questions will have answers. Until then, it’s all optimistic speculation.
“What we might think is a strength could turn out to be a weakness,” Forney said. “You have to play the games, and there's a lot of games to play and you’ve got to stay healthy and you’ve got to get lucky and there's a lot of things that go into it. They're good baseball players, but sometimes we don't have total control of all the things that are involved here.”
Forney raved about the character of his “kids” — most of York’s players are in their mid- to late-20s — and believes the group will be emotionally invested during the season together. He knows even good teams will have their low points during the year and is hopeful he can lead the way through the ups and downs.
“We’re not gonna be perfect. We’re not gonna be without flaws,” Forney said. “Our last two practice games, we struggled a little bit, but that's to be expected this time of year. And that's when you learn most about your people, is when things are going bad, not when things are going good. And you want to make sure they come to the field the next day with a fresh, healthy attitude, ready to get back to work and pretending that yesterday was the best day of their career, not the worst day of their career.”
Baseball is built on relationships forged through months of long days each year. Forney has been in the game since being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1991 and was with Winnipeg for 26 seasons as a player and coach. He’s been through the grind plenty of times over. Now he has a new home, and the Revs believe they have their man for the future.
“He’s probably one of the coolest managers I’ve had so far,” Stokes said. “We’re doing stuff that we need to do to be successful.”