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Richards comes to front with Suns

February 22, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Gene Richards has caught himself being like any baseball fan.

"When I sat on the sidelines, I'd say 'I'd do this or I'd do that' if I was running the team," Richards said. "Now, I hope that the things I would be doing are right."

Richards came off the sidelines on Monday when he was named the new manager for the Hagerstown Suns for their first season as a New York Mets Single-A affiliate.

It will be a season of sharp contrast for the Suns, who will open their 25th season in Hagerstown with Richards, who is new to the managing game.

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The 51-year old Richards comes to the Mets organization after spending the 2004 season as the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator. As a roving instructor, Richards was able to watch teams in small doses to play some "Monday Morning Manager" when it came to baseball situations.

Now, he's going to put his notions into actions.

"It feels different," Richards said via telephone from San Diego. "I've been told that I needed to manage, to control a team. I look forward to it. I've been a coordinator and a hitting coach for seven years and have been traveling in and out when I have been working with teams. Now I will be accountable for the team. The buck is going to stop with me."

Richards' hiring ended a extended wait to fill the Hagerstown job. Most organizations fill their minor league positions by Christmas, but New York had higher priorities in trying to hire Willie Randolph to manage and Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez to play for the Mets. Richards accepts the job two weeks before having to report to the Mets' Port St. Lucie spring training camp.

Richards played in the majors for eight seasons as an outfielder and first baseman for San Diego and San Francisco after being selected as the overall No. 1 pick in the 1975 amateur draft. He owned San Diego's top career batting average - .290 - until Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn joined the organization.

Richards was in Hagerstown last season to work with the Columbus Catfish, Los Angeles' Single-A South Atlantic League franchise, when they faced the Suns.

"(Municipal Stadium) is an older park," Richards said. "It's kind of like the park in San Diego ... It's unique. The players will have to learn to make adjustments to play in the park. If they want to make it to the majors, they have to learn to make adjustments all the time."

Luis Natera and Shawn Barton round out Richards' coaching staff in Hagerstown. Natera is a former Mets draft pick who was the hitting coach for the Mets' New York-Penn League team in Kingston, N.Y. Barton comes to the Mets from the Los Angeles organization, where he had been the pitching coach for Triple-A Las Vegas before holding the same post at Single-A Columbus last season.

Richards will be approaching his new job with a number of stored-up ideas geared to winning and developing young players become future Mets.

"I have some ideas," he said. "The main focus is to prepare the players for the Major League level. We have to stay focused on that. They are going to make mistakes, but you can't improve unless you make those mistakes to improve on."

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