Dusty Wathan spends the first five months of the baseball season riding buses, eating sometimes-questionable meals, and writing monotonous player reports, all while grooming the future of the Phillies. He is a baseball man, one who has spent the last 24 seasons in the minor leagues.
Wathan, the manager at triple A, has spent the final month of the last few seasons in the majors as an extra coach on the Phillies staff. It is a small reward that says his work has not gone unnoticed. A bigger reward — the ultimate one — might be looming.
The Phillies will interview Wathan this month for their manager vacancy. He has managed 25 of the 32 players on the roster and has had great success in the minor leagues. Wathan has as good a shot as any.
"He was my favorite manager in pro ball when I was coming up," J.P. Crawford said. "It would be fun if he comes up here and gets the job. I don't see why not."
Wathan began his baseball career in 1994 as a 20-year-old, undrafted free agent. He has spent his entire career — except for five major-league at-bats in 2002 — in the minors. He has managed each of the team's five minor-league affiliates, beginning with short-season single-A Williamsport in 2008 and climbing his way this season to triple-A Lehigh Valley. The top of that ladder — the Phillies — could be next. Wathan, whose father, John, played for and managed the Royals, is a baseball lifer. He has toiled for this chance.
"I think most guys would be lying if they said they wanted to stay in the minor leagues for their whole career," Wathan said.
Wathan, 44, is the all-time winningest manager at double-A Reading and was twice named Eastern League manager of the year. He guided Lehigh Valley to the postseason this year despite the loss of three key hitters — Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, and Jorge Alfaro — to big-league promotions. Wathan is a winner, but he also proved he could manage a clubhouse.
"You hear a lot of guys say that 'this guy is a player's manager.' Well, Dusty is that to a T," Hoskins said. "I felt very comfortable going to him with baseball stuff and non-baseball stuff. To have that in your manager's office is pretty special and just adds to the bond that he has with his players."
"He loved to win just as much as we did," Crawford said. "He brought that winning atmosphere into the dugout and what not. We loved playing for him. He has that energy and that vibe that just sets off good."
The Phillies will use this month to find the manager they hope will be at the helm of their next contending team. Wathan is in the mix. And rightfully so. The final months of the season seemed to reveal the core of that contending team. It was Wathan who helped get those pieces there. Perhaps he also will be the one who helps them contend.
"To be with these guys in the minor leagues and then to see them come up and have success is what we do our job for," Wathan said. "It's just an exciting time. I love being around these guys. To see them have success at the highest level is exciting for all of us in player development. Honestly, that's why you do the job — to get these guys up and hopefully have long careers."