Homecoming Dream Becomes Reality for Horn
His goals are straightforward.
“Promote as many players as possible to MLB organizations, make everyone else’s job easier and win a championship.”
That, in a nutshell, is the plan of Billy Horn, who became the new pitching coach for the Ducks this week. He will join manager Kevin Baez and coach Bud Harrelson on a staff that has brought Long Island’s only professional baseball team incredible success, namely five playoff berths, four Liberty Division titles and two Atlantic League championships in the past six seasons. Horn is eager to join a franchise that continues to be competitive, but being part of a team so close to home for the first time in his career is a dream come true.
“I am very appreciative and thankful for being selected as the candidate,” he said. “I just thought it was the perfect fit for me, being a New York City guy. I’m really excited! I love New York City and everything that it brings with it.”
Horn spent the past two seasons as the first-ever pitching coach for the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League. Working under former Yankee Hal Lanier, he helped put baseball on the map in Ottawa. Most notably, he led the team to a postseason berth this past season and a pair of improbable series victories en route to the Can-Am League championship. In fact, to reach the pinnacle, Horn’s squad would have to pull off some heroics that the Ducks are surely familiar with.
“I’ve always been a big Rocky Balboa fan; I love the underdog mentality,” Horn noted. “Everyone thought we were going to lose in the first round of the playoffs against New Jersey. They had won 60 games last year whereas we had finished just over .500, but we came out and beat them. Then we lost Games One and Two in the championship to Rockland and our mentality was ‘Don’t let us win Game Three.’ We were 3-14 against them in the regular season, now 3-16 overall, so it was all about ‘let’s just have fun.’ We came out, won Game Three and the rest was history.”
Despite dropping the first two games of the series at home, Ottawa found a way to win three straight road games to clinch the title. It was a feeling and a moment that Horn will cherish forever.
“It was unbelievable winning a championship, especially in Ottawa where they had not won a professional championship in 21 years,” he reminisced. “It was very, very special, and that’s something that I want to bring over and have again this year with Long Island.”
Horn’s journey to the Ducks in fact began during that championship season. Throughout the year, he was frequently in contact with Ducks President/General Manager Michael Pfaff regarding players on both teams. Although the two sides never struck a deal, it created a connection in the baseball world. This offseason, Horn began thinking about coaching opportunities outside of Ottawa. Ultimately, an innocent text ended up paving the way to a new position.
“I just decided to text Mike out of the blue and asked him to keep me in mind if he knows of any openings in the Atlantic League as a pitching coach,” Horn recalled. “He ended up telling me to send him my resume because they were looking for a coach.”
As the interview process trekked onward, Horn remained hopeful of a promotion from the Can-Am League to the Atlantic League. In his journeys throughout baseball, he has continued to build a rolodex of contacts to network with and help him advance in his career. One of those was all-time Ducks great Doug Jennings, who he first faced when playing baseball in Italy. The two would go on to coach high school baseball together at North Broward Preparatory School in Florida and have continued to remain in touch. Sure enough, Jennings would go on to become vital in Horn’s hiring by the Ducks.
“I was working in Vero Beach looking at players, and Doug knew I was there,” Horn noted. “He contacted me to let me know his stepson was looking for an opportunity. When he came up, I had asked him if he still knew anyone with the Ducks because I was interviewing for the pitching coach job. He told me that he did and that he was going to make a call on my behalf if I didn’t mind. I said, ‘Of course not! I highly appreciate it.’”
Thanks in part to the recommendation of Jennings, along with several others who reached out to the Ducks on Horn’s behalf, Long Island had found its new pitching coach. Although his time in Ottawa and the relationships built there were unforgettable, Horn was excited for the opportunity to move up to the Atlantic League and take on new challenges. He was also positive that Long Island was the ideal landing spot for him.
“Long Island is just first class all the way,” Horn affirmed. “Everyone that I have spoken to, whether it be managers, coaches, or friends of mine that have played at every level, has said that if you’re going to go anywhere from Ottawa, it’s got to be Long Island. They treat their players, their staff, their coaches and their fans right.”
He went on to say, “I’m also really looking forward to working with Buddy. I’ve heard that Buddy is a fantastic guy and is an old-timer just like Hal. He’s been around the game for a long time, and working with guys like him and Kevin and Mike, who know the game and know players, is something I love.”
While Horn can’t wait to join the coaching staff on Long Island, his coaches are sure to grow fond of the work ethic and style that Horn brings to the table. His enthusiastic and welcoming personality are both clearly evident when communicating with him, but it’s his eagerness to help others and take on many responsibilities that will go a long way.
“I’m just a hard working guy,” Horn stated. “I’ll probably get there every day at 10:00 a.m., go to the gym, work out, work on looking for players and work with the pitching staff. My job is to just take care of whatever the players need, whatever the coaching staff needs, whatever the front office needs or whatever my clubhouse manager needs. That’s just the kind of person I am.”
The relationship between a manager and a pitching coach is extremely important. It is imperative for both to be on the same page, share open dialogue on a consistent basis and be able to trust one another when important decisions need to be made. For the pair of New Yorkers, it seems that Baez and Horn will have no problem gelling and creating a formula that will yield positive results from the pitching staff and the team as a whole.
“Kevin and I have spoken, and everything that I have done previously with Ottawa is exactly what he is looking for in regards to me coming to Long Island,” said Horn. “Things like staying in constant communication with him in regards to health and who needs a day off on the staff are important. I think it’s going to be a very smooth transition. We’re both very laid back but want to win every single game, work hard all day and are looking to win a championship.”
In addition to bonding with the coaching staff, it will be paramount for Horn to develop a harmony with his pitchers. The 37-year-old will be faced with the task of developing a bond with many players that have reached the Major Leagues or have spent extended time with Major League organizations. Horn’s professional career saw him play a few seasons in the Italian Baseball League and one year with the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League. Although he may not have the same credentials as some of his predecessors, Horn has forged a technique that he believes will work well.
“I tend to be fairly quiet in the first couple of weeks that I’m there,” Horn noted. “I have a very laid back and relaxed approach with my players. A lot of them have worked with guys who have been to All-Star Games and won Cy Young Awards. I really have to take the hands-off approach and make a really good first impression for guys to trust my philosophies.”
Horn will also be a new face in a clubhouse that could potentially feature several players with previous experience on Long Island and in the Atlantic League. With this in mind, Horn knows it will helpful to rely on those veterans while sprinkling in his philosophy.
“When it comes to the pitchers and their workouts, it’s their own program. They do their own thing, and these guys are all professionals. I’m not going in there blank. I’ve been doing my homework on the league and know a few managers around the league. At the end of the day, my thing is that you’re dealing with people. There are going to be times where we might have guys who have more of an ego, but I try to handle everything with class, dignity and pride.”
Horn went on to add, “I’m all about togetherness and family because when you’re on the road for six or seven months, this is your family. Everyone has to be on the same page, and I’m not looking to come in there and reinvent the wheel. I’m here to help these guys, and whatever they need, it’s my job to get it done. Anything I can do to help these guys get better as ballplayers and as human beings, I’m going to do it.”
Welcome to the family, Billy!
Posted on January 13, 2017, in Feature Articles and tagged 2017, Atlantic League, Billy Horn, Doug Jennings, Golden Baseball League, Italian Baseball League, Long Island Ducks, Michael Pfaff, Ottawa Champions, Pitching Coach. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.