Sunday, May 31, 2009

A smiling smackdown

By Ronnie Turner

When Tampa Yankees manager Luis Sojo speaks, his players listen.

Nearly the whole gang of the minor league team was gathered around to listen to Sojo in the Yankees clubhouse before Sunday’s game against the Charlotte Stone Crabs. But the players weren’t tuned in to hear Sojo talk about pitching matchups, batting stances or the Florida State League standings.

The Yankees were there to hear Sojo talk smack for a ping pong match.
Sojo did just that in ping pong matches against third baseman Brandon Laird and right fielder Jack Rye, and he more than backed up his words. He defeated Laird and Rye by margins of 21-13 and 21-19, respectively, not allowing the smile to leave his face or his laidback demeanor to hinder an efficient style of play.
Smiling. Laidback. Efficient.

Those words sum up the managerial style of Sojo, a 13-year major league player who won a World Series title with the Toronto Blue Jays and four more with his beloved New York Yankees.

Sojo, in his fourth season as manager of the Class A-Advanced Tampa Yankees, was groomed to be a manager long before he hung his spikes up for good in 2002. From the day he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Blue Jays in 1986, Sojo practiced for his future by managing his own playing career.

“To play, you have to manage your own game, and that’s what I try to teach these guys,” said Sojo, a native of Caracas, Venezuela. “When you go out there, don’t be like nobody. Try to do the best that you can and focus on what you do. Ask questions about what you are supposed to do at particular times. The coach is the one who’s going to manage you, but when you do that, it’s going to be a lot easier for you.”

Of course, it helps to receive guidance from some of the brightest managers in the business, including Toronto’s Cito Gaston, Lou Piniella and Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees from 1996-2007. “When I played, I always said that I wanted to manage someday and I had good mentors in Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and Don Zimmerman,” Sojo said.

The Tampa Yankees like having him around. “He gets his point across,” center fielder Austin Krum said.

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