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As managers go, Fasano catching on to his new role
By Marty Maciaszek | Daily Herald Staff

Sal Fasano, a former Hoffman Estates High School catcher, is now manager of the Lansing Lugnuts after 11 years in the majors.

 

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Published: 6/21/2010 11:59 PM

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Sal Fasano wasn't sure if he was ready to change his view of the game from behind home plate to one in a dugout.

But the two seem to go together perfectly when it comes to successful baseball managers such as Joe Girardi, Mike Scioscia and Joe Torre.

And Fasano was probably going to need a tuneup on knees that had accrued a lot of catching mileage during 17 professional seasons and parts of 11 in the big leagues.

The former Hoffman Estates High School star also had another issue to consider. The health of the youngest of his three sons, as 2-year old Santo was born with hypoplastic heart syndrome, in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped.

Fasano was in the hospital with Santo when Tony LaCava, the Toronto Blue Jays vice president for baseball operations and assistant general manager, called with an offer. What about managing their Class A affiliate at Lansing, Mich., in the Midwest League?

"I debated it with my wife (Kerri) because I still felt I had some life in me, but I'd have to have two knee surgeries to do it," Fasano said. "I talked with him and Doug Davis (minor league field coordinator) and said, "I think I'm going to take the job.'

"It was like a building fell off my shoulders. I didn't have to get ready to stay in shape and get ready for the grind. You can only beat up your body so much."

So Fasano is approaching the midpoint of his first season of dealing with the mental grind of being a professional manager. His Lansing team is currently 36-33 in third place in the Midwest League's Eastern Division through Sunday.

The current bonus is that his job keeps him close enough to his home in southwest suburban Minooka should there be any problems with his son.

And all of it was made possible by the impression the personable Fasano made during a 16-game stint with the Blue Jays in 2007.

"First and foremost he's a great human being and you always want to bring in good people to the organization when you can," said Charlie Wilson, the Blue Jays director of minor league operations. "We looked at Sal when we got to know him in 2007 as a very good baseball man and a good communicator. He knows the game well and he's a former catcher with a lot of knowledge about catching and pitching.

"He has good energy and tremendous passion for the game. All those things we learned about him when he was in our system and thought some day if this guy retires and wants to manage, we'd love to have him."

There were many other signs picked up by others throughout Fasano's playing career.

Catching on quickly

Fasano had some long odds to beat as a 37th-round pick of the Kansas City Royals in the 1993 draft out of Evansville. But he quickly ascended, and in 1996 he became part of the Mid-Suburban League's cradle of big-league catchers with Tom Lundstedt (Prospect), Dan Wilson (Barrington), Todd Hundley (Fremd) and Josh Paul (Buffalo Grove).

Fasano played the last of his 427 big-league games with the Indians, his eighth team, in 2008. He hit .221 for his career with 47 homers, but always seemed to be a hit wherever he played.

And during his stint with Oakland in 2000-01, Fasano said he was approached about a possible job change by assistant general manager Paul DePodesta, who currently works in the Padres' front office.

"He asked if I'd be willing to manage for him in 'A' ball somewhere but I said I wasn't sure," Fasano said. "But somebody planted the seed in my brain and that's when the game started to look different in a leadership role.

"That's when the seed got planted, and over the years it got watered."

It was nurtured by the managers he was around. Fasano's first manager with the Royals, former big-league catcher Bob Boone, taught him about catching and controlling a game.

There was the intensity of Buddy Bell and the genuine caring of Torre and Art Howe. He absolutely loved playing for Eric Wedge.

And the time he spent around Mike Scioscia at the end of the 2002 season and during the Angels' postseason run to a World Series trophy was an eye-opener.

"Every button he pressed was right," Fasano said. "How he taught baserunning, how hard guys played and how guys stepped up when called on, it was pretty fun to watch that game-management style."

Fasano also felt he had an edge similar to former catchers such as Scioscia, Torre, Boone and Wedge.

"The game points to you," Fasano said. "You actually have to be a game manager on the field as a player.

"Later in my career I started to realize it could be a future for me."

Back to the future

Now the futures of players who are teenagers and in their early 20s from a variety of backgrounds are in Fasano's hands.

"The kids are young and making a lot of mistakes in the early stages of their career," said Wilson, the Blue Jays farm director. "The name of the game is player development with a lot of long days.

"He is a very good teacher and instructor and has the ability to teach. Not everybody in the world is cut out for this type of job, but we think we have a good one in Sal."

Fasano joked that the major difference in the minors are the daily reports and assessments of every player. He doesn't get the big-league luxury of a big staff breaking down specific tendencies and intricacies.

"I was a baseball player and I'm not used to bookwork," Fasano said with a laugh.

But he does enjoy the aspect of teaching young kids the right way to play the game.

"On the field it's all fun, bunting and taking infield," Fasano said. "It's what the big leagues used to be when I first got there. Down here you can still teach all the fundamentals and stress the little things.

"What's been the most enjoyable part is how receptive they've been. Stuff you've taken for granted for years, they're on the edge of their seat to hear."

Fasano said sitting on the proverbial hot seat hasn't been that difficult. The strategic part has been ingrained in him.

"At times you have to actually slow the game down as you would as a player and look at the whole picture," Fasano said. "At first it was a little fast but it started to slow down a little bit.

"The best part about my job is I can bring a kid into my office now and talk about what I see, and how he can make himself better, and you don't have to yell at him to do it.

"It's fun to see how guys react and react in a professional way."

Fasano doesn't consider himself the type of manager who is going to react by bashing water coolers with bats or ranting and raving to the media.

"I'm probably not going to be like the guys in Chicago," Fasano said of the White Sox' Ozzie Guillen and Cubs' Lou Piniella.

The big goal

One of the biggest benefits today for Fasano is having a job in baseball that is close to home. His son Santo had surgery on his heart the first week of his life, when he was three months old, and again last year.

"The last couple of years were really tough to play because you'd rather be with your family," Fasano said. "That's why this opportunity was so nice and an easy transition. I'll be able to see my family more, and if anything did happen I'm close enough to home to get there that night.

"He's really pulled through with flying colors and hopefully he continues to progress."

Fasano hopes to do the same with his new career. He would love to be one of only 30 managers whose every move is being dissected by the big-city media and fans.

"All of those questions are tough," Wilson said of whether Fasano could be a big-league manager, "but he's made the transition from playing to managing very well and done everything we've asked of him and a lot more. He's a big part of what we're doing going forward."

That's why Fasano had no problem going back to his professional roots to get started in the right direction.

"I think my goal is definitely to go back to the major leagues, but I don't want to be rushed into it," Fasano said. "I wasn't afraid to pay my dues as a player, and I don't think I'll be afraid to pay my dues as a manager."

The memory of being part of the clubhouse celebrations with the 2002 Angels is a big motivator.

"The greatest compliment you can give any manager who won the World Series," Fasano said, "is everyone took your personality to become the greatest team in baseball for that year.

"Development is fun but winning is better."

Sal Fasano hopes he's starting to develop what he needs to become that ultimate manager.