The Hillsboro Hops will have a new manager in 2023. After nine years in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, Vince Harrison is heading home.
The 43-year-old player, coach and now-former Hops manager accepted a job with the Cincinnati Reds organization late this past fall.
Harrison — who was born and raised, and still lives, in the Cincinnati area — will act as a field coach for the Triple-A Louisville Bats, focusing primarily on defense and baserunning.
Despite him being under contract with Arizona for the 2023 season, the Reds requested the opportunity to talk with Harrison this past November, and after a process that included phone and virtual interviews over no more than a week’s span, an offer was made and Harrison accepted shortly after Thanksgiving.
The baseball playing and coaching veteran said that aside from it being an exciting professional opportunity, it’s equally exciting to be able to work with his wife and three kids less than a two-hour drive away.
“The things I’ll be able to do that I’ve never really been able to do before by being so close to home is comforting,” Harrison said. “It’s definitely a unique situation in this business.”
It’s not all about proximity to home however, as Harrison — who never played or has coached at the Triple-A level — said it’s equally about the challenge that comes with doing and experiencing something new.
“It’s a new opportunity, with a new organization that offers me a chance to meet, work with and impact new people,” Harrison said. “Change can be scary, but it can also be very rewarding.”
Often when people think of minor league baseball, they do so under the premise that’s it’s merely a training ground for aspiring Major League Baseball players. But while, yes, it’s primarily about the commodities on the field, the coaching staff responsible for nurturing those commodities too have dreams of performing under the bright lights and in the big cities.
Harrison acknowledges that ambition, but at the same time, he says he believes that performing the duties of the job with the players’ best interests in mind, is the most rewarding — and, ultimately best — means to a major league end.
“I think the players are definitely more deliberate in their intentions, but it’s our job as coaches to guide them and always keep them first and make sure they’re the priority,” the coach said. “As a coach, if you focus just on getting to the big leagues, you lose out on opportunities to build relationships and develop memories with the players. I’ve always felt like being a good dude and putting the players first is the best way to go about things.”
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t or doesn’t think about coaching in “The Show,” which is one of the reasons he values his jump to Triple-A.
Just as playing the game is different in the minors versus the majors, coaching it at or near the major league level isn't quite the same as it is in A-ball. Players at the higher levels aren’t kids, and years into their playing careers, they're not naïve to the realities of professional baseball.
At lower levels of the minors, players — who are often in their late teens or 20s — need to be coddled to an extent. Frequently, after being stars on their high school or college teams or standouts at their baseball academies, they’re struggling for the first time, and getting them to lean on direction can be a delicate process.
Further on in the process, however, coaches can take a more direct approach to criticism.
“At lower levels, you want these guys to get better, but you’ve got to kind of figure out the right time to maybe hit them with the truth versus a more watered-down version,” Harrison said. “When you get to the higher levels, it’s not really something you think twice about. You can be a little more honest, and it’s because the players are at a different point in their lives and can handle the truth a little better.”
It’s also more “real” at Double-A and Triple-A because guys can see the end of the road — for better or worse.
“At Double-A, guys see guys go to the big leagues every day, and they also see guys kind of stall out, so I think that’s when it becomes a little more real,” Harrison said. “Guys know they need to produce there and that’s when priorities change. They tend to get a little more selfish because they know they’re only one call away.”
While walking away from the Diamondbacks organization, Harrison is doing so with a heavy heart. He said he loved his time in the organization and still has countless relationships with people he worked with or met along the way. He’s thankful for so many who he said he was lucky to have worked alongside, including Jeff Bajenaru, with whom he coached during his final season in Hillsboro, and Javier Colina, who managed the Hops in 2019 and whom Harrison played against during his nine-year minor league playing career.
“He’s (Colina) one of my best friends in the game, and I even kept his Venezuelan flag up in the office for the last two years,” Harrison said with a chuckle. “He won a championship in Hillsboro, so I just wanted to keep his good vibes going. But that didn’t quite work out.”
Harrison’s teams had a 112-130 overall record and failed to qualify for the postseason in his two years in Hillsboro. The ex-skipper isn't happy with that. But he also knows that it’s not as much about winning and losing at the minor league level as it is about developing players. He feels like he did that with the Hops — one stage of development for one of baseball's most promising minor league systems — and he wouldn’t trade his time in Hillsboro for anything.
“It’s just unbelievable how good Mike and Laura (McMurray, Hops owners) and K.L. (Wombacher, Hops president and general manager) and all those folks are,” Harrison said. “Hillsboro is so far from where I reside, but the people there made me feel so at home. I tip my cap to the way Hillsboro runs their organization, and if that was my last time working for the Diamondbacks, for it to be in Hillsboro was pretty amazing. I don’t know if it gets any better than that.”