It was pretty clear after manager Jeff Isom left the Lake Erie Crushers two months ago that pitching coach Chris Mongiardo would be a leading candidate to take over.
But after a positive meeting with Crushers managing partner Steven Edelson in early December, the man known simply as “Monge” had to play the waiting game.
On Tuesday, the wait was over and Mongiardo was named the Crushers’ new manager. He becomes the team’s third manager, joining John Massarelli (2009-12) and Isom (2013).
The Crushers will officially introduce Mongiardo at a meet-and-greet in approximately two weeks.
“Chris will be an asset to the players, community and staff during the 2014 season,” Edelson said in a statement. “The organization is lucky to have Chris at the helm. He had a tremendous amount to do with our success last year and we support him in finishing the job this coming season.”
The two months must have seemed brief. Mongiardo’s been waiting to manage a team for eight years, since he left the Richmond Roosters in 2005.
“Ever since the last game at Richmond, this is what I dreamed of — to get another chance to manage again,” said Mongiardo in a phone interview Tuesday. “It couldn’t be a more perfect spot. It’s only 40 minutes from my home, and we had a great group of guys last season. As far as independent baseball goes, this is probably the best organization around. That’s not just for the Frontier League, that’s for all independent baseball. That’s probably why it hasn’t sunk in yet.
“This process started off two months ago. It was a long process and I’m happy it worked out. I’m just looking forward to the season. It’s almost too good of a situation to be true. I’m waiting for somebody to wake me up, pretty much.”
Under Mongiardo in 2013, the Crushers’ team ERA of 3.38 was second in the 14-team Frontier League only behind the Traverse City Beach Bums’ 3.23. The Crushers threw seven complete games and led the league with a 1.24 WHIP and an opposing batting average of .230. All around, it was the team’s best pitching season ever.
Mongiardo, a 39-year-old Willowick native and Kent State graduate, coached with Isom in 2000 when Isom managed the Canton Crocodiles. Mongiardo briefly served as manager of the Crocodiles while he played catcher, going 2-5 in seven games in 1999 while batting .302 with two home runs and 48 RBIs in his only full season as a professional ballplayer.
From 2003-05, Mongiardo managed the Roosters, going 132-148. His best season was his first, going 50-39 in 2003. In the two previous years (2001-02), he pulled double duty as the Roosters’ pitching and hitting coach, helping the team win back-to-back Frontier League championships.
“I learned from a lot of mistakes from those three years,” Mongiardo said. “Sometimes I judged a guy the wrong way, I had a quick trigger a few times. I’ve gotten a lot more patience for the players. There’s a couple of times I may have released a guy too fast. That’s the main thing.
“I’ve got a good idea of what type of players will be successful in the Frontier League. The same type of players will succeed in Frontier League now as it was when I was at Richmond from 2002-05. The only difference is more guys from affiliated ball are in the league now than before. You maybe had 3-5 affiliated guys on each team. Now it’s 80 percent affiliated guys on each team.”
In 2006, he became the pitching coach of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the American Association before becoming the pitching coach and part-time player for the San Angelo Colts of United League Baseball in 2007-09 and the pitching coach of the Lake County Fielders of the Northern League in 2010-11.
In 2012, Mongiardo took over as pitching coach of the Lorain County Ironmen at midseason at the request manager Joe Rhomberg, one of his former Richmond players. He was also giving private baseball lessons and working as an associate scout for the San Diego Padres before joining the Crushers last season.
“I would like to thank Steven Edelson and the Lake Erie Crushers organization for giving me this opportunity to work for what I truly believe is the best organization in all of independent baseball,” Mongiardo said. “I believe we will finish what we started last season and bring back a second championship to Avon.”
Mongiardo was also thankful for Isom for not only bringing him to the Crushers last season, but for his recommendation before he left to take over the Joliet Slammers.
“He was great to me all year,” Mongiardo said. “He treated me great, although he worked the (heck) of out me. I can’t thank him enough. He always made me feel like I did a good job. As far as working for him, he was great. How much he helped, I don’t know. But I’m grateful.”
Mongiardo is in the process of letting the players know the news and finding out what their playing statuses for 2014 are. He will also sit down with Edelson sometime over the next week with a list of coaching candidates and figure out who will be on his staff. He has a few coaches with local ties in mind, but he would not elaborate further.
Pitcher Connor Whelan was sent to the Schaumburg Boomers on Monday to complete a trade made during the 2013 season, in which the Crushers received outfielder Craig Hertler. Whelan was promptly sent by the Boomers to Gary to complete an earlier trade.