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Luis Sojo finding big success as a Yankees Minor League skipper

Popular ex-Yankee looking to become first FSL manager with 500 wins
04/19/2013 11:53 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

In addition to his Baby Bombers duties, Luis Sojo has managed Team Venezuela in all three World Baseball Classics. (AP)
Ask any long-time New York Yankees fan about Luis Sojo, and they’ll likely crack a smile while remembering a hard-working utility infielder who, while wearing pinstripes from 1996-2001, was one of those “glue guys” that helped the Yankees reach five World Series in six seasons and drove in the championship-clinching runs in Game 5 of the 2000 “Subway Series” World Series.

What they might now know, however, is that Sojo is now not only a manager in the Yankees organization, but one of most successful overall and definitely the most successful at his level.

Sojo has dedicated the last decade of his career to being a manager or coach in the Yankees system, and has found success at every level; he began by replacing Stump Merrill as manager of then Double-A affiliate Norwich in mid-2002 and leading the Navigators to the Eastern League title, and after spending most of 2003 as a special instructor (before returning for a September swan song in pinstripes) and serving as the Major League third base coach in 2004 and 2005, he took over the T-Yanks in 2006.

Sojo has served as two stints as Tampa’s manager since then, his first coming from 2006-09 and his second beginning in 2011 after a year off. Last July 5, that return paid off when Sojo won his 419th game with the T-Yanks, surpassing the Florida State League record previously held by ex-Jupiter manager and current Trenton Thunder coach Luis Dorante, and he entered 2013 with a total of 446 and counting in the FSL and more than 500 overall.

Part of that success, at least according to a handful of ex-Tampa Yankees, can be attributed to the fact that Sojo manages exactly the same way he played the game.

“Luis is an unbelievable coach, and the things that he emphasizes are more about how to play the game; defense, baserunning, the small things that win you a game and got him to where he was in his career, said Trenton third baseman Rob Segedin, who played in Tampa in 2011 and 2012 and was an FSL All-Star last season. “In the Minor Leagues you’re usually more about numbers and performance, so it’s good to get that perspective of the bigger picture. He teaches it the way he learned it and the way the Yankees at the Major League level want it to be.”

Despite being a .261 career hitter over 13 seasons, Sojo was never one to fill the stat sheets, but he did a lot of those little things – even once leading the American League in sacrifices – and always knew his role, something he still tries to emphasize to his players.

“He always told us to enjoy playing the game and don’t try to do too much, just do what you’re capable of,” said Trenton outfielder Ramon Flores, one of the organization’s top prospects who hit .302 for Sojo’s Tampa Yankees in 2012.

Added pitcher Nik Turley: “The most important thing that I learned from him was to just be a professional; carry yourself the same way on the field and off the field.”

Sojo has been categorized as a good “players’ manager,” and that also helps him build a quick rapport with players who are nearly three decades his junior.

“Luis is awesome; he’s really laid back, but at the same time he challenges and pushes you and wants you to get better,” said first baseman Kyle Roller, who played for Sojo in 2011 and 2012. “He has his moments where he lets you play, but he isn’t afraid to get in your face and get the best out of you.”

Catcher J.R. Murphy, like Segedin a 2012 FSL All-Star who was called up to Trenton late last season, took that compliment one step further, crediting Sojo as the “perfect” shepherd to be installed at the Advanced Class-A level.

“He has a good balance, and does a good job of letting you have fun but also knowing when it’s time to get your work done. He keeps the guys focused and ready,” Murphy said, “and he is perfect for that job (managing at Tampa) because the jump to Double-A is a little bit different of a jump than any other; Luis shows you not just how to handle things, but the Yankees Way.”

Outfielder Neil Medchill, who spent parts of 2010, 2011, and 2012 in Tampa, said that beyond knowledge of the game, one of Sojo’s other great assets comes from the way he shares that knowledge and his experiences from nearly three decades in pro baseball.

“He’s awesome. He’s a great manager and he’s a straight shooter; he tells it like it is,” Medchill said. “He’s also full of great stories, and I really enjoyed playing for him, just sitting on the bench talking to him during practice. I learned a lot from him.”

And, Sojo’s reputation so precedes itself that when pitcher Bryan Mitchell, who spent 2012 in Charleston, was asked during Spring Training about heading to Tampa for 2013, the righty couldn’t wait to get there.

“I’m looking forward to playing for him,” Mitchell said, “because I hear he’s a really great guy and a really great manager, so I’m excited.”

Of course, all that said, any player in the Minor Leagues would tell you that their goal is to make it to the Majors and spend as little time as possible with Sojo or any Minor League manager – but at the very least, those who spend any time with the veteran Venezuelan all seem to come away with the same good feelings.

“I really, really enjoyed playing for him; last year was my first full pro season, and Luis made it an extremely enjoyable one,” said pitcher Matt Tracy. “He’s a great players’ manager who gets along with everyone really well, and you can learn a lot from a guy like that.”

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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