KITCHENER – With six championships to his name, there are few people who’ve done more winning in the Intercounty Baseball League than Steve Scagnetti.
It’s a tradition he’d like to continue, now that he’s back managing the Kitchener Panthers once again after serving this past season as the team’s pitching coach.
“I’m here to win,” he said. “The city, the fans and this organization deserve a championship. They deserve to see us dancing on home plate and holding that trophy up. I want to do it for them.”
Scagnetti was promoted this month to replace outgoing skipper Brian Bishop, who is leaving to coach his son’s Rookie-level baseball team.
For longtime fans of the IBL, Scagnetti is a familiar face who’s been attached to an awful lot of winning teams. He won his first championship in 1990 as a young pitcher with the Panthers, then again with the Guelph Royals in 1993.
In 2000, after a stint playing pro ball in France, Scagnetti came back to Kitchener and won another title with a veteran Panthers club. He returned the following year as manager, and won again – the last league title claimed by the club.
After a falling out with the organization, he travelled back down Highway 7 and was a coach on the Guelph clubs that won back to back championships in 2003 and 2004.
“He knows how to win. He knows the game backwards and forwards,” said Bill Pegg, the team’s president. “Scags knows what winning teams do, and he knows what winning teams don’t do.”
Scagnetti, whose coaching style stands to be firmer and more regimented than Bishop’s, is taking over a team that will likely be even younger next year, Pegg said.
He may need to lean on some of those fundamentals he was teaching as pitching coach with the University of Waterloo baseball team this fall.
“There’s maybe going to be a little bit more of a push than a pull to get guys to go to work,” he said. “Instead of being buddy-buddy, you say, ‘there’s someone behind you if you don’t want to take this spot.’”
The new manager took a break from the league in 2007, tired of the grinding schedules and the long bus rides. But Scagnetti, who’s also an accomplished competitive raquetball player, couldn’t stay away forever.
He started coming out to Panthers games two years ago and came back as pitching coach in 2013 under Bishop, where the club finished the regular season with a 25-17 record.
“I missed it. I just got the itch again,” he said.
Winning teams have good chemistry, confidence and they back each other up, he said.
“Every winning team I’ve ever been on, guys believed we could win. We were fighting hard to prove we could win the championship,” Scagnetti said. “If you don’t have that, there’s no point in doing it.”
The 2014 Panthers are far from a settled lineup at this stage, but Scagnetti has a few hopes for the kind of team he’d like to see next year. He wants the team’s four import spots to be spent on pitchers above all else, and a lineup that combines speed and power.
Good pitching is paramount to winning, he said – the Panthers need four reliable starters, at least four steady relievers and a settled closer, one job that was handled by committee last season.
As a veteran pitching coach and former pitcher, one thing certain about Scagnetti is he how to handle a team’s arms, Pegg said.
Even before Bishop officially announced he was stepping down, Scagnetti was already the team’s top choice to replace him.
“He was the one who was in the back of my mind, right from the very beginning, as soon as we knew that Brian wasn’t going to come back,” said Panthers general manager Scott Ballantyne.
“When he expressed interest to us that he wanted the job, it just made sense to us.”
He’s an experienced hand at the wheel who has a track record of helping players through the ups and downs of a long IBL season, Ballantyne said.“He’s a guy that can help guys when they’re in a slump, help them with mechanics, and the little things. Not every team is going to have that coming from their field manager,” Ballantyne said.