Backman Returns As Las Vegas Manager In 2014, Viola Named Pitching Coach

An article by posted on January 8, 2014

Frank ViolaIn a press release from the New York Mets earlier today:

LAS VEGAS: The Las Vegas 51s professional baseball team of the Pacific Coast League (PCL), Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, announced today, in conjunction with the Mets Media Relations Department, that Wally Backman will return as manager for the Mets Triple-A affiliate for the 2014 season. Backman will also begin his second season as manager of Las Vegas and is the 22nd manager in the history of the Las Vegas franchise (1983 – 2013, 31 seasons).

The 51s coaching staff was also announced as Frank Viola will begin his first season as pitching coach and George Greer will return for his third season (second season with the 51s) as hitting coach. Joe Golia will also return for his fourth season as Athletic Trainer for the Triple-A Mets (second season with the 51s) and Dustin Clarke will return for his fourth season as Strength Coach in the Mets organization and his first season with Triple-A Las Vegas.

Backman, 54, in his inaugural season at Triple-A Las Vegas, led the 51s to the second-best record in the 16-team PCL with an 81-63 (.562) mark and were the 2013 Pacific Southern Division Champions. The Las Vegas franchise recorded 80 or more wins in a season for the fourth time in its history and he also led the 51s to the PCL Playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons (since 2002). Las Vegas lost to Salt Lake three-games-to-one in the Conference Championship Series.

In 2012, he guided Buffalo of the International League to a 67-76 (.469) record in his first season on the Triple-A level. In 2014, he will enter his third season as manager on the Triple-A level and his fifth season with the Mets organization since his playing days.

“I’m excited to return to Las Vegas for my second season,” 51s Manager Wally Backman said. “I’m also excited about the fact that we will have a solid team to start the season and our pitching has the potential to be better than last season (2013). Our players did a good job getting a grip on it quickly in regards to adjusting to the PCL and knowing what the main goal is while playing in Las Vegas.”

He has compiled a 11-year minor league managerial record of 682-627 (.521) in the Chicago White Sox, Arizona and New York Mets organizations from 2001-04 & 2010-13 and three seasons in the Independent League (2007-09). In 2011, he led Double-A Binghamton of the Eastern League to a 65-76 (.461) mark and, in 2010, managed Single-A Brooklyn of the New York-Penn League to a 51-24 record (.680) and the Cyclones captured the McNamara Division title.

Backman managed the Joliet JackHammers of the Independent Northern League for two seasons (2008 & 2009). He returned to baseball in 2007 as skipper of the South Georgia Peanuts of the Independent South Coast League and led the team to the league title and was featured on a TV documentary called “Playing for Peanuts.” He was named the Arizona Diamondbacks manager on November 1, 2004 but was relieved of his duties on November 5, 2004. He led the Lancaster Jethawks (Single-A) of the California League to a 86-54 record during the 2004 campaign and was named Minor League Manager of the Year by The Sporting News. He began his managerial career in 2001 with the Chicago White Sox organization at the helm of Single-A Winston-Salem of the Carolina League. He spent two seasons with Double-A Birmingham (2002-03) of the Southern League and led the team to the 2002 League Championship.

He began his professional career in 1977 when selected by the New York Mets in the first round (16th overall pick) of the Major League Baseball Draft. He played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues as an infielder (2B, SS, 3B) with the New York Mets (1980-88), Minnesota (1989), Pittsburgh (1990), Philadelphia (1991-92) and Seattle (1993). Backman appeared in 1,102 games and batted .275 (893-for-3,245) with 138 doubles, 19 triples, 10 home runs, 240 RBI and 117 stolen bases in 169 attempts. He was a member of the 1986 Mets World Series championship team and hit a career-high .320 (124-for-387) during the season. He recorded back-to-back seasons of 30 stolen bases or more in 1984 & 1985 (32 stolen bases in 41 attempts & 30 SB’s in 42 attempts). In 1990, as a member of Pittsburgh, he collected six hits in a game on April 27 vs. San Diego.

This is great news to have our young and exciting pitching prospects, especially Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, under the watchful eye of Viola. Viola makes the jump from Savannah, where he spent the season as the Sand Gnats’ pitching coach.

I will also be interested to see if Viola working with Jack Leathersich can help him take the next step in his development and be ready for a role in the Mets’ bullpen in 2014.

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