Minor league baseball: Harper mulls his future as Bees begin playoffs

Published September 5, 2007 1:48 am
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Salt Lake manager Brian Harper stands at a personal crossroads in his professional career.

Following two successful seasons guiding the Bees to back-to-back PCL Pacific Northern Division championships, Harper's goal of coaching and managing in the major leagues is as strong as ever. However, he is also feeling the tug of family.

"This is an important time in my youngest son's life," said Harper, a day before Salt Lake (74-69) prepares to open the Divisional Playoff against Pacific Southern winner Sacramento (84-60). "I'd regret missing him play high school baseball."

Harper makes his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., not far from the Los Angeles Angels' Arizona Summer League rookie team based in Mesa. Harper managed in Mesa for five years prior to arriving in Salt Lake City in 2006. Lance Harper, the third of Harpers's three sons, is a junior at Desert Mountain (Scottsdale) High.

"No doubt, it would be a step in reverse," Harper said. "At a certain point, my son and wife [Kim] are more important right now."

Harper, age 48, who also has a son in the New York Mets organization, believes the Angels are sympathetic, but understands that there may be professional consequences to making such a personal decision.

"I definitely want to manage in the big leagues," Harper said. "I feel like I have a couple ideas about handling players."

Meanwhile, while Harper is mulling his future with the Los Angeles organization, Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco has built a winning resume that he also hopes will one day lead to a big league job.

In five seasons at the Triple-A level, DeFrancesco has guided the River Cats to five division titles and back-to-back PCL championships in 2003 and 2004. He's been named the PCL Manager of the Year as well as the Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year.

A company man, DeFrancesco, age 44, has been part of the Oakland Athletics' organization for 14 years, including a five-year managerial stay at Double-A Midland of the Texas League.

"I'd like to be in the major leagues as a coach, and hopefully I would evolve into a manager," DeFrancesco said. "Some things you can't control. Over the years we've had some great teams and some great records. Right now, I have to take care of business today. Everybody wants to be in the major leagues."

DeFrancesco knows his job is developing players for the Athletics, which includes dealing with an ever-changing roster. Sacramento has had more than 180 transactions in 2007, double Salt Lake's.

"Every year is seems to get worse, call-ups and injuries," DeFrancesco said. "We're here for the major league club. You've got to get by."

Both managers' main job is molding players into professionals. The job can be difficult.

"Every year you evolve," DeFrancesco said. "Today's players are different than when I was playing. Times have changed and you have to adapt to the needs of the player."

Each manager came to his managerial philosophy from a different direction. Drafted by Boston in 1984, DeFrancesco was a career minor leaguer, who had short stays with two Triple-A teams in Nashville and Pawtucket.

Harper bounced back and forth between the minor and major leagues before sticking with Minnesota. He wound up playing parts of 16 seasons before retiring in 1995.

At first, Harper was content to coach high school baseball.

"It got to the point where I was coaching full time with no pay," he said. "I thought I might as well get paid."

Harper's first experience as a professional coach made a lasting impression.

"I was a coach for a manager in rookie ball who was so hard on the kids," he said. "In my mind, I thought it shouldn't be that way. People are more important than wins and losses.

"Teams sometimes get it backwards, and create more stress through trying to win and not taking care of the players. A lot of coaches think the only way to get people to listen is by yelling. A lot of kids, and I was one, when coaches started yelling, turn them off."

Harper's style has been successful, building a 155-132 record with the Bees at the Triple-A level. His only stress now comes from contemplating the future and whether he'll get a chance to manage close to home.

"As a Christian, I trust God to direct my steps," he said. "I don't want a front office job."


Playoff action

* TODAY vs. Sacramento, 7 p.m., Game 1 probables: Shane Komine vs. Bartolo Colon

* THURSDAY vs. Sacramento, 7 p.m., Game 2 probables: Michael Madsen vs. Kasey Ohlenberger

The matchup

*Salt Lake Bees (74-69) Pacific Northern Division; Sacramento River Cats (84-60) Pacific Southern Division

*The teams split the season series at 8-8, with Sacramento winning the final four. The River Cats outscored the Bees, 84-76.

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