Bob Bozzuto, who has been an assistant coach for eight of the last nine seasons, was promoted Saturday evening to manager of the Washington Wild Things.
Team owner Stu Williams informed the Wild Things players of the decision at 6 p.m., about an hour before Washington was to start a three-game home series against the Frontier League Greys.
Williams said his team responded with a loud roar of approval.
“I don’t take this position lightly,” Bozzuto said after the Wild Things completed a 5-2 victory. “It is very special, but it’s not about me. It’s about we and us.
“This team, this town, the season-ticket holders, the people who have filled this ballpark, they are like my family and friends. They’re very important to me. And this group of players is fantastic. They play through adversity, they do their job, they’re professional. … I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
It was one of two coaching moves for the Wild Things. Bob Didier, a former major league catcher and coach who was in his first season as Washington’s hitting coach, left the team Saturday afternoon. Williams said that Didier left before a decision to name a manager had been made.
Washington played the game against the Greys with only two coaches, Bozzuto and pitching coach Kevin Gryboski.
“We’re going to look for a third coach,” Williams said. “It’s important to have that extra coach for the final third of the season.”
The Wild Things began the year with Bart Zeller in his second season as manager, but he resigned unexpectedly one day before the all-star break and the team in first place. Zeller’s resignation came one day after an altercation in the dugout with Gryboski.
Since then, the Wild Things have been using a “coach-by-committee” approach with Bozzuto, Didier and Gryboski sharing responsibilities.
Didier had replaced Zeller as the third-base coach and Bozzuto took the lineup card to the umpires, handled the pitching changes and met with the media after games.
Bozzuto, a Greensburg resident, joined the Wild Things’ coaching staff in 2006. He has served in variety of capacities including bullpen, infield, bench, hitting and third-base coach. Bozzuto was a coach on Washington’s last two playoffs teams, in 2006 and ’07.
“Boz knows the team, the organization and is respected by the winning team he helped build,” Wild Things assistant general manager Steve Zavacky said. “He has been as asset to this organization since he started working with us over a decade ago, and I believe he is the best choice to take the reins as we head further into our playoff run.”
Washington is in first place in the Frontier League’s East Division, one game ahead of Evansville and two ahead of Southern Illinois.
In addition to being the Wild Things manager, Bozzuto is the athletic director at North Allegheny High School and oversees one of the most successful athletic programs in the state. He also is the chairman of the WPIAL’s baseball committee.
“To be involved with a professional baseball organization … I love doing this,” Bozzuto said. “To be able to represent a great organization, city and baseball team, I’m fortunate to have this opportunity.”
Williams said the Wild Things being in first place while enduring several coaching changes is a testament to the players’ mental toughness and ability to overcome adversity and unexpected distractions.
“This is a special bunch of guys,” Williams said. “No offense to the great Wild Things teams of the past, but we’ve never have had a team show so much character. We lost Stewart Ijames, who was a big stick, to the Arizona Diamondbacks and you had to be thinking how will we ever replace him? What happens is, Scott Kalamar steps in and starts hitting like he’s Babe Ruth. William Beckwith was hurt and sits out for a couple of weeks, then comes back and he’s hitting like Kalamar.
“These players, they call themselves ‘The Sqaud.’ It’s them against the world,” Williams continued, his voice picking up in intensity.
“This is the kind of team that anybody who has ever played the sport would want to be a part of. To go through some of these things this year, almost any other team would crumble.”
Williams added that “loyalty and respect are very important to me, and that’s what you get in Bob Bozzuto. … He’s always wanted to do what is best for the Wild Things.”