Rick Forney could have been at a party Sunday night listening to near strangers tell him how wonderful he is and patting his back. Those are the spoils of victory. Instead, the Goldeyes manager chose to be with the people that truly know what he is and for what he stands. His family. And we're guessing they probably think he's pretty great, too.
"I got off the plane and my wife asked me how I felt. I don't know how I'm supposed to feel. I'm satisfied but I'm also sad it's over. It was a great journey for us and I loved watching the guys play the last little while. It's rare to see baseball performed at the quality that our guys were at lately," said Forney from his Maryland home.
Forney flew home early Saturday, just hours after his Goldeyes stripped the Wichita Wingnuts in the American Association Championship to be reunited with his wife Erika and their children David, Christopher, Erik and Rebecca.
It's the first championship in Forney's seven-year career as Goldeyes manager. The one-time pitching prospect has been with the Goldeyes organization for 16 years in a variety of capacities.
"I would have loved to be in Winnipeg (Sunday) to celebrate with everyone in the organization and the fans. But I miss so much already," said Forney. "David had a big football game and it was important to him to know it was important to me to be there. I've missed some of Christopher's games and Rebekah is cheerleading so I've missed some of hers, too. Erik has therapeutic riding sessions that I've missed. I've been away four months. That's a lot."
Forney's youngest son Erik is seven and was born in Winnipeg with cerebral palsy and is legally blind.
"Erik has made some progress. He came to our family because we could love him. It's a challenge but it's one we are up for," said Forney. "We don't know if he will ever see or ever speak or ever walk without a walker. But he's a happy kid and he brings us joy. It's not easy but it's our family."
Forney can be gruff and misunderstood. But don't be mistaken, the man that delivered the Goldeyes and this city its first professional championship since 1994 is authentic. He's committed to winning and, as can be witnessed by his location on Sunday night, to his family.
The 40-year-old Forney is the kind of man Winnipeggers should be proud to have wearing one of our uniforms.
"Working as close as I do with Rick, I see how hard he works and how hard it is to win a championship in this league," said Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier. "Thirteen teams and only four make it to the playoffs. He's done an incredible job and made difficult changes when they needed to be made. He can appear standoffish but he's really not. He's dedicated and driven and he has one goal and that's to win a championship. He doesn't want to just win games. He wants to win a championship every year.
"I've known him since 1997. I consider him one of my best friends and when we're not doing this anymore we still will be. Family is important to him. It's No. 1. He cares about people and that makes it easy to have him in charge of our players. He can relate as a person and not just as a manager."
Forney took over as Goldeyes manager from the legendary Hal Lanier. He'd worked six seasons as Lanier's pitching coach. The expectations were immediately high and Forney knew he'd have to live up to them or move on.
"I knew it was going to be a challenge, but why do it if it's not a challenge," he said. "I don't know if this affirms me as a manager. My peers respect me and the job I do. Winnipeg wants a winner. But to be honest, I wouldn't want it any other way. Every day counts in Winnipeg. You can't get complacent. To me it's the perfect place to manage."
Forney was on track to be a pitcher in the majors when arm trouble caught up with him and his journey to Winnipeg began. First as a pitcher dealing with fading dreams and then as a pitching coach and now as a manager. How would that kid on the fast track to the big leagues look at himself now?
"I'm not sure what a 17-year-old Rick Forney would think of where I am. He had big dreams of pitching in the big leagues," said Forney. "But I know how I feel about things right now. I love everything life has brought me. My life is full and I love it."
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