The door to Kevin Baez’s office is nondescript. A slab of light wood with the word “manager” written on it in even lighter stickers. It’s a modest entrance to a place that holds someone who has woven the fabric of the Ducks organization for the last six years.
The third door on the right side of a long hallway leading toward the players’ lockers, his office is impossible to avoid. He is the gatekeeper. The keeper of the keys. And, now, he is, officially, the winningest manager in Ducks history.
On July 8, Baez passed Don McCormack, who managed from 2001-06, by notching wins 400 and 401 before the team hit the All-Star break.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Baez, 49, said last week “The guys were pumped when they heard I was at 398 or 399 wins and getting close. The guys said ‘let’s do it this series’ . . . It was a good time. Afterward, the guys sprayed me with Champagne, water, and stuff like that.”
Success came quickly for Baez, who played briefly for the Mets. In 2011, his first as Ducks manager, the team lost to York in the Atlantic League Championship Series. Not bad for a debut season.
“Was a spoiled? I don’t know,” he said. “[President and general manager) Mike Pfaff and [owner] Frank Boulton put a good team together and we did really well. I had a great coaching staff with Jay Loviglio as hitting coach and pitching coach Steve Foucault. They gave me so much knowledge and direction. Then, Buddy Harrelson was coaching on the bench as well. Having those three guys made my job a lot easier.”
The 2011 loss proved to be only growing pains for Baez. He guided the Ducks to Atlantic League championships in both of the next two seasons. Baez, who won a championship with the Ducks as a player in 2004, is one of only two men (Harrelson being the other) to be in uniform for all three of the franchise’s championships.
“I was more nervous as a manager then I was as a player,” he said. “As a manager, you’re on the outside looking in. As a player, you can control what you can do to help the team.”
Baez played parts of three seasons with the Mets, a handful of games in 1990 and 1992 and 52 games in 1993, batting .183 with seven RBIs in that final season. Harrelson, an all-around ambassador for the Ducks, managed Baez in 1990 and convinced the Brooklyn native to play for the them in 2002.
Fourteen years later and Baez is undoubtably on the franchise’s proverbial ‘Mount Rushmore.’ But he knows that in order to keep his coveted office, he must continue the tradition of winning that he’s helped cultivate.
“I love this organization,” he said. “I love being a part of it. I do know that, in my business, it’s day-to-day. But, I will be here as long as they’ll have me.”
The Ducks close out their series with the division-rival Somerset Patriots Sunday at Bethpage Ballpark. After an off-day Monday, the Ducks host the Bridgeport Bluefish then travel to Southern Maryland next weekend.