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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Vickie Biagini Interview Part 2: Proud Of

LinkGreg Biagini with daughter Tanya and son Tanner as manager of the Rochester Red Wings. Biagini served as Red Wings manager from 1989 to 1991. (Vickie Biagini Photo)

Part 1: Loved It | Part 2: Proud Of

Greg Biagini tried to extend his decade-long playing career, and his chances of making the majors, by going to Mexico, playing there for parts of five seasons.

He was even close to going to Japan, to extend his career there, but a contract issue with his team in Mexico prevented him from going, his longtime wife Vickie Biagini recalled recently.

But it was that contract issue, though, that finally set Greg Biagini out on his new career, that as a manager in the minors, Vickie Biagini recalled. And that career began down in the lowest rung of the minors, in rookie ball, at Bluefield, West Virginia.

"From day 1," Vickie Biagini recalled recently, "he said 'I'm going to the big leagues.' He said, 'if I can't go as a player, I'm going to find a different path and I'm going to get there.'

"And I'll be dag gone if he didn't do it."

Greg Biagini ultimately did make the majors, following the Orioles ladder all the way to a job as hitting coach in Baltimore for 1992. And he stayed for three seasons.

Vickie can still remember the excitement on Greg's face when he made it.

Vickie Biagini recently shared with The Greatest 21 Days her recollections of her longtime husband's career. She spoke by phone from her North Carolina home, her southern roots often evident in her voice.

Greg Biagini passed away in 2003 from kidney cancer, at the age of 51. He also passed away after more than three decades in baseball, first as a player and later as a manager and coach.

Vickie was with Greg for nearly all of that time, meeting him as he played A-ball in Kinston. They separated in 2001, though they did so on good terms. Greg was diagnosed with cancer in early 2003, passing that October.

Greg Biagini, No. 24, visits the mound as manager of the rookie Bluefield Orioles in Bluefield, West Virginia. (Vickie Biagini Photo)

From the start of his new career, Vickie recalled her husband as a player's manager, one whose door was always open.

In rookie ball, especially, Vickie recalled Greg being open to players calling whenever they needed him. And they did, even at night. And Greg would get right up out of bed and do what was needed.

"Those boys knew that if they went in that door, he was going to tell it like it was," Vickie recalled. "He took so much pride in his boys. His players were like his sons."

"I remember he'd call home because he was so excited that one of his boys was going to get up to go to the major leagues," Vickie said. "He was so proud of them."

It was around that time that Vickie worked to finish her sports medicine degree at East Carolina University. When she was away working as a trainer for a college team, Tanya stayed with her father. Vickie is now an elementary school physical education teacher.

With her father, at Hagerstown in 1985, Tanya road the bus with the team. It was on the bus, Vickie recalled, that Tanya "learned to play cards with the best of them."

Before games, he would make sure Tanya was all cleaned up with a bow in her hair. "She knew everyone in the ballpark," Vickie recalled.

"He could be thousands of miles away, but he was there for his family," Vickie said.

Greg Biagini with the Rochester Red Wings. Biagini served as manager of the Red Wings from 1989 to 1991. (Vickie Biagini Photo)

Greg made AA Charlotte as manager in 1986, then AAA Rochester in 1989. His Rochester team won the league title in 1990 and Greg won International League Manager of the Year honors. In 2007, he was posthumously named to the minor league club's Hall of Fame.

It was after the 1991 season that the call came from Orioles manager Johnny Oates and Greg made the majors.

Greg's first game as a major league hitting coach also coincided with the Orioles' first game in their new ballpark, Camden Yards. The first pitch was thrown out by President Bush. Opening days in his second and third years there were attended by President Clinton, Greg even getting to shake his hand.

Of getting that big league hitting coach job, Vickie said, "I remember the look on his face because he was just so excited, I can't even describe."

The family was there, with Tanya and young Tanner. Greg's mother was there, too. His father, sadly, never got to see his son make the majors, passing before it happened.

Orioles hitting coach Greg Biagini shakes hands with President Clinton in front of Biagini's locker at Camden Yards. (Vickie Biagini Photo)

Vickie came prepared to record the day on their video camera. "We were just so excited," Vickie recalled. And, after trying to record as much of the event as possible, they discovered there was no tape in the machine.

"We were just taking it all in," Vickie recalled. "It was worth every bit of the wait."

Greg went on to work with the Orioles hitters, many of whom he'd had working his own way up the system. One player Vickie recalled Greg working with and having success with was Mark McLemore, whom Greg had all three seasons in Baltimore.

Greg's big league career, though, ended in 1994, not even getting a full final year as the players' strike began.

The strike over, Greg was back in the minors, with the Rangers at AAA Oklahoma City. He managed five seasons there, his last serving as a manager.

In his later years, Vickie recalled Greg reaffirming his faith, something Vickie said was his biggest victory.

Now, son Tanner is following his father into the game. Tanner Biagini spent two seasons in the Rays system, playing in the Gulf Coast League and at short-season Hudson Valley. Tanner always wanted to be at the park with his father, Vickie recalled. He also learned so much there.

Vickie recalled being able to draw upon the family's large network of baseball friends to keep tabs on her son as a he played. Now 23, Tanner has turned to coaching, serving as a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Richmond as he pursues his masters in psychology.

Vickie recalled Greg's work with their son Tanner, their daughter Tanya and with his players and others.

"I think that's what I'm so proud of Greg about," Vickie recalled. "It's not that he coached major leagues. I think he was a great player period, but he was more so a better person off the field."

Part 1: Loved It | Part 2: Proud Of

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