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Bandits staff blends youth, experience

Bandits staff blends youth, experience

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Chris Widger

When the Quad Cities River Bandits take the field for the first time as a Kansas City Royals affiliate one week from Tuesday, they will do so with a unique blend of coaches.

The Royals have assigned some of the organization’s top young coaching talent and some of the most experienced minds in the organization to their High-A Central team.

That’s no accident.

J.J. Picollo, now in his sixth season as Kansas City’s vice president and assistant general manager of player personnel, likes the make-up of the organization’s coaching staff.

“I feel like we have a great blend of experience with some good, younger coaches who are going to be working in baseball for many, many years. They will all bring unique perspectives,’’ Picollo said. “I love the Quad Cities staff and the mix of coaches that will be working with our players there this season.’’

Manager Chris Widger guided the Royals’ Appalachian League affiliate in Burlington, N.C., to a spot in the league championship series in 2019 and was ticketed to manage Kansas City’s high-A club at Wilmington, Del., a year ago before the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Widger’s 10-year major-league resume as a catcher includes playing for some of the game’s most storied managers. He played for Joe Torre and the Yankees in 2002, Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals in 2003 and won a World Series ring on a White Sox team managed by Ozzie Guillen in 2005.

Widger also played on teams managed by Lou Piniella, Felipe Alou and Sam Perlozzo during a career that included time with the Mariners, Expos and Orioles.

“He’s had a chance to play for some legendary managers and learn from them at every stop of the way,’’ Picollo said. “This year, he’ll be working with some veteran coaches in our organization and I feel like it’s a good set up.’’

The River Bandits coaching staff includes pitching coach Steve Luebber, beginning his 16th season in the Kansas City organization, and bench coach Mike Jirschele, who was part of the Royals major-league coaching staff from 2014-19 and has 17 years of experience as a manager at the minor-league level.

Hitting coach Andy LaRoche, a former-major league third baseman with the Dodgers, Pirates, Athletics and Blue Jays, begins his third year in the Royals organization.

Picollo expects Widger and LaRoche as well as players on a River Bandits roster that will be finalized later this week to benefit from the experienced coaches on the River Bandits’ staff.

“Steve Luebber has 40-plus years of experience in the game and has a history of moving every pitcher he has worked with to the next level and Mike Jirschele brings experience as a major-league third base coach and a long-time minor-league manager,’’ Picollo said.

“Collectively, there is a great balance on the Quad Cities staff with those two guys and the younger guys who will work there. I feel like it’s a real good situation for everyone involved.’’


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John Rave finished what he started Tuesday, driving in two runs with a first-inning triple and delivering a game-winning single in the ninth for the Quad Cities River Bandits in a 5-4 walk-off win over South Bend.

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