Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Forney lives to win

Goldeyes manager gives his all and expects the same from players

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Winnipeg Goldeyes manager Rick Forney has an enduring desire to win.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg Goldeyes manager Rick Forney has an enduring desire to win. Photo Store

It was the summer of 1997 and Rick Forney, a once-promising baseball prospect diminished by injury, held his two-week old son David in his hand while telling his wife Erika he'd be in Winnipeg for a month.

It was the beginning of the end for Forney as a pitcher, but also the beginning of a relationship between a family and this town that still endures.

Some things change -- David Forney is now a 6-3, 300-pound prep school tackle -- but others haven't. Rick Forney has become part of the furniture in Winnipeg.

"I should have bought real estate here. We used to browse when we first got here and it was very doable. Now the market's exploded. We could have done all right," smiles Forney, sitting in an over-stuffed leather chair in his manager's office inside the Goldeyes clubhouse.

"It's going on 18 years. Where does the time go? I would have called you crazy if you had said I'd be here all these years later.

The Forney family, three boys, a chatty little girl and their parents, live in a small Maryland town just outside of Baltimore. That's their home.

'Your mindset has got to be about the importance of winning and making sure your players understand that'

-- Goldeyes manager Rick Forney

But dad's office and a huge part of their lives is here in Winnipeg.

Every summer, since Forney first took the ball as a powerful right-hander in '97, they've made the trek to Winnipeg. Player, then pitching coach and now manager since 2006, Rick Forney has become synonymous with all things Goldeyes.

Stability and continuity have been the hallmark of the Goldeyes in the manager's chair. Doug Simunic for two years and one title, Hal Lanier for a decade's worth of so many close championship calls and now Forney entering his ninth campaign with one pennant under his belt.

Doug Berry, Mike Kelly, Paul LaPolice, Tim Burke, Alain Vigneault, Scott Arniel and Claude Noel have all come and gone as bench bosses on the Winnipeg pro-sports scene during Forney's tenure.

At 42, he's become the old dog in town and there's not much he hasn't seen or heard. If a player has a reputation for late nights, Forney knows where he'll end up when the game is over.

If a player has a family he's missed due to a few weeks on the road, Forney knows where to send a young father trying to make up for lost time. It's all part of the job. Part detective, part father-figure, part butt kicker

Winnipeg is Forney's professional home, the place he cut his teeth and the place where those same fangs have now begun to grow a little long.

Forney's record over eight seasons shows six playoff appearances including one championship run. Back in 2010 he had a sub-.500 record and there was some noise in both the media and fan base about a change being needed.

The people above Forney -- owner Sam Katz and GM Andrew Collier -- understand his role and the difficulties involved in being competitive year in and year out in the ever-changing world of independent baseball. No one wants to stay at this level with both players and managers constantly searching to get back to affiliated ball and the dream of reaching the major leagues.

Forney has to juggle dreams. Broken dreams. New dreams. They all come through his office door. Some for a summer others for just a summer's night.

"I think I do a pretty good job. (Katz and Collier) know how hard I work. We've been pretty successful here the last eight years in terms of wins and losses and we won a championship, which is not easy to do," said Forney.

"I think some owners and GMs understand how difficult this job is and know that no matter who you fire and who you replace that fired manager with, no one is going to guarantee you a championship. If they do, they don't know anything about the job and how difficult the job is."

People in professional sport throw the "winning a championship is the only goal" line around all the time. But there is only one champion each year. Forney says the expectation to win is prevalent with the Goldeyes and big part of what he brings to the job. The words aren't hollow. Forney lives winning. He breathes winning. He spits winning.

And maybe more importantly, losing absolutely crushes him.

"The one thing I can guarantee is that you will get Rick Forney's best effort every day, that he comes to the park to win every day and that his team is going to play hard to compete for a championship and they understand from day one when they arrive in Winnipeg that I expect to win, including exhibition games. That's what you can get from me," said Forney.

"I'm just a big believer that you can't just go through the motions and stickhandle around some important things and think you can flip the switch on when the season starts and start winning. You got to learn how to win and there's a process you have to go through and most of all, your mindset has got to be about the importance of winning and making sure your players understand that."

It's easy to praise continuity when a team is winning. It's much harder when the losses stack up and begin to affect the owner's bank balance. Forney knows this and he's long had a playoff bonus in his contract. If the owner gets paid, so, too, does the manager.

Pro baseball is a game in name but in reality it's a business.

Rick Forney has been good business in Winnipeg for a long time. That's another thing that hasn't changed.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2014 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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