Long before he took the field during the World Series last fall as the third-base coach for the American League champion Cleveland Indians, Mike Sarbaugh spent a couple of summers playing baseball in York County.
A Lancaster County native who had a highly successful high school career at Donegal High School, Sarbaugh has come a long way since his days playing in the infield for the Hallam Express in the Central League back in the late 1980s.
Back then, he was an up-and-coming youngster while attending Lamar University in Texas. He played for Hallam for two years (1986 and 1989) before he was finally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1989.
“A friend of mine, Bill Reuter, played in the Central League,” Sarbaugh said. “Him and Jim Haldy. Jim actually called me my freshman year at Lamar in the winter time trying to get me to play for Hallam. I think Jim was a player-manager that year, so he was pretty big with that one.”
Central League memories: While Sarbaugh didn’t play very long in the Central League with Hallam (the Express didn’t switch to the Susquehanna League until 1998), he did have some clear memories that helped shape his perspective on the game.
“I do remember that there was a lot of guys there that knew how to play the game of baseball,” he said. “I remember a number of guys that had played in the minor leagues. And there were guys that had played in that league for years. The way they played the game I think was very helpful for myself.”
Sarbaugh had dreams of one day playing in the majors. After a trade from the Brewers to the Indians in 1990, Sarbaugh worked his way slowly but surely as high as AAA Charlotte in the Cleveland system.
By then he had already turned 27, which is very late for a prospect. Sarbaugh didn’t see a path to the big leagues, so he began to think of what to do next in his life. He knew he wanted to coach, but he was thinking more along the lines of what his father, Jim, did as a high school coach.
But before he could get that far, fate stepped in.
“Mark Shapiro, who is now the president of the Blue Jays, was our farm director at the time,” he said. “He just wanted to know if I had any interest in coaching. And I told him ‘yes.’ I still wanted to play, but I knew that I wasn’t going to get an opportunity. So I told him that I’d try it and 20-some years later I’m still doing it.”
And doing it well.
He's entering his fifth season on Cleveland's staff, including his fourth season as third-base coach. He's considered a candidate to become a future major league manager.
Excelling in minors: Sarbaugh managed for nine seasons in the Indians organization, with every one of his teams compiling a winning record. His teams won five league titles while qualifying for the postseason seven times. He was named the International League Manager of the Year in 2011 after leading the Columbus Clippers to the second of back-to-back titles.
He’s also had the good fortune of managing some very well-known future major leaguers during their time in the Cleveland organization. He worked with players such as Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez.
“A lot of them made me look pretty good,” Sarbaugh joked. “It was really nice to work with a guy like Victor. You kind of just flip him a few balls and tell him he’s good and then, hey, he goes out and gets three hits that night. So there was a lot of good players coming through the system at that time.”
Movie role: While Sarbaugh is now known mainly as the third-base coach for the Indians, others still recall him from his time on the big screen when he worked as an extra in the movie "Major League II." With spring training scenes shot at City Island in Harrisburg back in 1993, Sarbaugh didn’t have to travel too far to make his acting debut.
“It was after the minor league season was over,” said Sarbaugh, who played a shortstop for the Pirates in the movie. “They were looking for some local minor league players to be extras. It was a good experience. A lot of fun.”
So, too, were his days playing with the Express for the couple of seasons he was around. Even if many of the opposing players had the intention of taking him out hard on every play at second base.
“I can remember being a middle infielder and that you had to make sure that on a double-play that they were going to come and get you,” he said. “They’d come and try to take you out hard. They played the game the right way and I think that a lot of that helped me in the future and after that.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.