Things are beginning to shape up for Tiffin Saints

When it comes to the Tiffin Saints, one can’t help but think of Jake Taylor, the veteran catcher from the movie “Major League.”

In the brief history of the Tiffin Saints, the semi-pro baseball team’s existence has been in question on more than one occasion.

“Yup, we’ve got uniforms and everything. It’s really great,” Taylor said when asked about the hapless Cleveland Indians and if they were still a team..

Question no more.

The Saints announced Tuesday that they have hired their first manager: former major leaguer Bill Madlock.

It was little more than two months ago when the team’s ownership and possible existence in Tiffin was in doubt as it appeared Tiffin University grad Brian Dutton was not going to be the owner. But Independent Baseball League Commissioner Eric Spitaleri said what happened in early spring largely was a misunderstanding.

“There was some miscommunication back in March. I ended up talking to (Brian) and he’s going to be the owner of the team,” Spitaleri said.

The league continues to evolve and change. Back then, Marion, Ohio was going to be the location of one of the teams. Now that’s gone away as well. Replacing it is Westerville, which joins Oakland County (Mich.) and Suburban Detroit as the four teams in existence in the league. Spitaleri said he’s now looking at Bellefontaine and Mason as potential Ohio locations and Adrian, Mich. for additional teams.

“We’re sitting on four teams right now,” Spitaleri said. “With a little bit of luck, we could be at six by the end of the month.”

Dutton didn’t have luck, but a bit of good fortune when it came to landing a manager.

“I was trying to get Pete Rose. Pete wanted Pete numbers. The agent for Pete was Bill Madlock’s agent as well,” Dutton said. “There are things I knew Pete would never do and Bill jumped up and said he would do it.”

Dutton wants to Saints games to be fan friendly and as such is going to require his manager and players to stay after games for as long as an hour on the field to take pictures and sign autographs for fans.

“Pete wasn’t going to do that,” Dutton said. “Bill said anything like that, he’d love to do. He said he was willing to do anything we needed him to do to promote it.”

Dutton said when he first talked to Madlock about Tiffin, he told the four-time batting champ that “it’s a small town in the middle of nowhere. It’s between two places you’ve never heard of and you don’t use turn signals here, because people know what you’re doing to do.”

Madlock said he was familiar with Tiffin but little else. But that was what attracted him to the job: the small town feel.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’ve coached in the independent leagues before where I had Rickey Henderson and Jose Lima,” Madlock said. “It will be nice there. It will have a lot of the local products. The major leagues, they’re so far fetched from the stands, and this will bring the game closer to the fans and make it more fun for them.”

Madlock said fan engagement is critical in smaller markets like Tiffin.

“For a few dollars, fans can come see a game and they don’t have to spend a fortune,” he said. “We’re going to make it very friendly. We’ll have clinics and autographs after the game. That gives the people there a chance to be close to the players. People come to games to have fun.”

Madlock said he and the players need to check their egos at the gate.

“I can’t think I’m too big for the game and neither can my players,” Madlock said. “You have to be involved with the community and the kids in the community. That’s what going to make them come out and support the team.”

Madlock spent 15 years in the majors from 1973 to 1987, playing for six teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Detroit Tigers, compiling a .305 average and 2,008 hits in his career. He was primarily a third baseman in his career. He played a year in Japan before picking up various coaching gigs over the years, including two years as manager of the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League and two years as a coach with the Detroit Tigers, the team he finished his career with.

Dutton’s hoping Madlock will bring his big league experience and know how of how to succeed at the next level to the Saints.

“The man knows talent. He was coaching in the Detroit system,” Dutton said. “The players are going to know there’s a fine line between a problem and an excuse. They’ll listen to him and they’ll want to try whatever he tells them. And that’s what we want. We want them to get better.”

Madlock said he’s been a popular coach to play for and learn from.

“I like being around the game of baseball,” Madlock said. “I like working with players and still want to be involved in the game of baseball. I’ve been around it all my life. Kids like working with me and playing for me because I make the game fun.”

A fierce competitor, Madlock earned the nickname “Mad Dog” in part for 18 ejections during his playing career. He also was ejected three times as a coach with the Tigers.

“I’ve been kicked out all around the world,” Madlock joked. “(Fans) can expect that type of passion from me there too.”

And Madlock won’t be the only former major leaguer managing a team in the IBL. Another former Tiger, Denny McClain, is slated to manage the Metro Detroit team, which, like Tiffin, could be playing its games on a college campus. That team, which hasn’t been named yet, is negotiating with Madonna University in Livonia to play its games at Illitch Ballpark.

Spitaleri said having two successful former major leaguers involved can only help the fledgling league.

“I think it’s great. Being a startup, it gives us good name recognition from the start,” he said.

The inaugural season, which will be 36 games long, is not slated to begin for another year. That hasn’t stopped Dutton from getting started.

The team already has home uniforms which can be ordered by fans, a Facebook fan page, a manager and maybe by the end of the week, a home field.

“I’ve got a meeting with Tiffin University on Thursday and we should be signing the deal then,” Dutton said.

He hopes to make some improvements down the road at the Paradiso Athletic Complex which will benefit both parties, including lights, a fence and more bleacher seats.

“I hope to, but not this year,” Dutton said of the making improvements. “I want to make improvements as we go along. I want to make it good for Tiffin University, not just us. We’re sharing a facility.”

Dutton said people have been very supportive of the endeavor to bring semi-pro ball to Tiffin.

“There’s been a lot of excitement. The Tiffin University baseball coach said people ask him more questions about the Saints than the Dragons,” Dutton said. “That was never my intent. Our Facebook page has been picking up and friends and likes. I’m happy with the reception we’ve got.”

Dutton said a larger marketing campaign will begin soon. And so will the recruiting.

“We’ll be looking for the college guys who are graduating and the high school guys who want to keep playing after they graduate or were overlooked by colleges,” Dutton said. “We’re wanting to give those kind of guys a shot at it.”

Open tryouts are targeted for Labor Day weekend this year. It will run $65 a person to tryout.

“I think we’ll have a good field of candidates,” Dutton said.

He said the tryouts will be this fall because players will have been playing all summer and on their game. Dutton said if they do make the team, players wouldn’t sign until just before the season begins so to not jeopardize any remaining eligibility.

“We’re bringing as quality a product as we humanly can. We’re trying to start it out as good as we can,” Dutton said. “I want championships in Tiffin. I’m not going to lie about it. I like rings and I want as many as I can, which is why I went after somebody like Bill Madlock.”

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