Franchuk headed to Chattanooga: Look out!
* Edmonton’s Orv Franchuk, shown with the World Series trophy when he was hitting co-ordinator of the Boston Red Sox, will be the hitting coach at double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, in the Los Angeles Dodgers system …
By Alexis Brudnicki
It’s not often you find someone involved in baseball who uses a major league affiliation as a backup plan.
Orv Franchuk’s Plan A was independent ball. After more than 30 years in the game, the Edmonton native was happy to head back home and manage the Capitals in the North American League. Franchuk had already been all over baseball as a coach, hitting coordinator and manager for numerous organizations.
He was back where he had started, and it was exactly where he wanted to be.
Edmonton even won the NAL championship in his first year as their skipper, a nice welcome home for Franchuk in 2011. It was a sad day for him when the Capitals suspended play for the following season.
Now, entering the 2013 season, Edmonton’s status is still to be determined; the 68-year-old thus forced to resort to his Plan B. Fortunately for Franchuk, the backup plan means heading to Tennessee to be the hitting coach for the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s not a bad consolation prize for the man who just wanted to stay home.
“It was tough [to leave Edmonton] because everything started for me there,” Franchuk said. “And I said when I was there before it was kind of like I made the full circle. I got a World Series ring with the Red Sox; I’ve had so many good experiences – not so much personally, but just being able to work with so many different people and failures and successes and all of that.
“And when I got back to Edmonton and we ended up winning the championship my first year back; it’s always nice when you win. But then I didn’t know what was going to happen. Nobody told me that we were going to be in the league. I had a backup plan.
“I had four major league clubs calling me and talking about working for them but the Dodgers seemed like a really good fit. I knew people there. I want to go somewhere where I’m going to be able to do what I do and work with kids to get them better. That’s not a personal thing but it’s being able to help kids get to where they need to be.”
With 35 years in pro baseball and counting, Franchuk knows a thing or two about getting kids to the majors. But he also knows the daily grind of the game, the bus trips, the hotels and the travel. He seems ready to get back to it all, happily heading to the Southern League this season.
“The hardest part is the travel,” he said. “I was a hitting coordinator for 14, 15, 16 years, with three different organizations. That part is hard because of the travel to Dominican, Venezuela; then to all our clubs all over the US. The travel is the part where I wish I could push a button and say, ‘Beam me up’, to get where I need to be. But that didn’t happen. It’s tough.
“But as far as the other stuff, I love what I do. I tell people that every morning I wake up, I can’t wait to get to my job. I can’t wait to get to work because I love what I do. The passion part will never leave me, no matter if it’s rookie level or major league level. I enjoy to do what I’m doing so it makes it real easy. I tell people I can’t wait to get to work and they look at me like, what is wrong with this guy? But it’s a true story.”
Franchuk has given the game as much as it has given him. Though he couldn’t fulfill his own major league aspirations, he has helped many young ballplayers fulfill theirs.
“I got a full ride to go to Pepperdine University in California when I was 19 years old,” Franchuk said. “I played there for four years. My senior year, my Achilles got hurt. I was supposed to sign with the New York Mets. Because the injury was so severe, I had to get into scouting and coaching really early in my career.”
While graduating from Pepperdine wasn’t the ultimate goal for Franchuk, getting his degree was among the greatest things that he’s done with the game. It took some time for him to see that perspective.
“It was getting an opportunity to play college baseball,” the new Lookouts hitting coach said. “Not even thinking that I was going to get a piece of paper that said I graduated. My big thing when I went to Pepperdine was that I would get a chance to play college ball in the US, not even thinking that if I hung in there and worked a little bit, I might even get a degree.
“Now that I look back and I got a free education, I got a free ride; I took advantage of it and I got a piece of paper.
“I try to tell young athletes that you can’t play the game all your life. You have to go out and get a real job one day so while you’re in school, do well with your grades and graduate and you’ll always have that piece of paper to fall back on.”
Franchuk continued his education beyond his undergraduate degree from Pepperdine and obtained his master’s degree in education from California State University at Long Beach. While his schooling is one of the things that he is most proud of, the most rewarding part about his job is the fact that he is still in it.
“It’s my passion for the game,” he said. “Because I have such a passion for the game, I’m allowed to do what I love doing. And that’s teaching baseball. My daughter reminded me a few years back. She said, ‘Dad, do you realize you get paid to teach people how to play a game?’ I never thought of it that way, but she’s right. I’m blessed. I’m a fortunate guy.”
Baseball in Edmonton is not so fortunate, losing Franchuk to the ranks of Major League Baseball. The former Capitals manager hopes that they can find their way back into a professional league and that they can continue to give the baseball fans in Edmonton what they love.
“It’s a sad time right now,” Franchuk said. “I was [in Edmonton] when Oakland had their Triple-A club. I was there in ‘95, ’96, ’97 and ’98. We won two [Pacific Coast League] championships during that time and people loved it. There are a lot of good baseball people in Edmonton. They love the game. It’s sad that they’re unable to provide anything on a consistent basis for them.
“It’s almost like the NHL right now going through what they’re going through. You have them and then you don’t. You have them and then you’re a fan and then you get angry because they’re not playing. It’s hard. The consistency part – as a fan it’s hard to be loyal sometimes when that happens.”
As Franchuk closes the door on Edmonton, however temporary, he is opening a new one in Chattanooga. Back to coaching, he is excited to be able to focus on his group of hitters in order to help them move up the organizational ladder.
“I’m looking forward to working with the 13 or 14 position players that I’m going to have and trying to get all of them better and get the onto the next level and get them to the big leagues,” he said. “As far as being with the Dodger organization, I’m kind of looking forward to getting my picture taken with Magic Johnson.”
All joking aside, being at spring training with the Los Angeles club will put Franchuk in Arizona in March. That will give him a great opportunity to check out Team Canada as they compete in the World Baseball Classic, something he is especially looking forward to.
“I will definitely be there,” Franchuk said. “I was a Team Canada coach for four or five years. I’ve been involved in their program. I’m a big part of that whole deal and I’m definitely interested in that. I hope they play some night games and I will get to see some games … I’m a big fan. I like to see how they’re doing.”