Courtesy: Joe Browning Josh Bonifay is the first former Seahawk to manage a professional baseball team
WILMINGTON, North Carolina – During his baseball career at UNCW, Josh Bonifay was known as a gritty, competitive second baseman/outfielder with an in-depth knowledge of America’s favorite pastime. Today, he’s putting that experience to good use as the first-year manager of the Greenville (Tenn.) Astros of the Appalachian League.
Bonifay, 34, took over the helm of the Astros earlier this year after serving as hitting coach for Class A Lexington in 2012 and hitting coach for Greeneville in 2011. Greeneville is a Rookie-level affiliate of the Astros that plays its home games at Pioneer Park on the campus of Tusculum College.
“It’s something I’m really enjoying doing,” the 2008 Business Management graduate said before a recent game. “It was a big change going from the hitting side to the managing side. You don’t realize how much responsibility goes into it. There’s so much more to do when you’re the manager.”
Bonifay played two seasons for the Seahawks in 1997 and 1999 – sitting out with a wrist injury in between - and ranks fifth all-time in slugging percentage (.570) with 27 doubles, five triples and 21 home runs in 388 at-bats. He played in 113 games and made 111 starts for Coach Mark Scalf’s clubs, and owns a .312 career average.
“I really enjoyed my time at UNCW,” said Bonifay, the first ex-Seahawk to manage professionally. “Coach Scalf is one of the best in the country. He is all about having players become good people first, good students and good teammates. He was like a second father to me and prepared me extremely well for this.”
An eight-year minor league veteran, Bonifay played in 812 professional games, including a stint at Double A Corpus Christi in 2006, before serving as a player/coach in the Pirates organization from 2007-09. He then joined Houston in 2011.
The Greeneville Astros opened their 67-game season on June 20 and delivered Bonifay his first coaching victory a day later with a 9-5 decision on the road against the Bluefield Blue Jays. It was a milestone Bonifay will always remember.
“It was a great night,” he recalled. “We had a lot of offense and that made the job a lot easier for the bullpen. It was a fun night and my wife, Tiffany, was there to enjoy it. The only place open was Applebee’s and Bluefield coach Dennis Holmberg sent over a bottle of champagne the next day with a nice letter.”
Scalf, who led the Seahawks to their sixth NCAA appearance this past spring, knew Bonifay had the makings of a manager. After all, his father, Cam, and brother, Jonathan, are involved in the front office and scouting branches of the game.
“Josh certainly comes from a rich baseball background,” said Scalf. “He’s always had a passion for the game and thoughts of being able to give back to the game as a coach once his playing days were over.
“During his playing career, he always paid close attention to how managers and coaches handled players and taught the game. It’s certainly paid off for him in terms of improving his knowledge of the game and how to handle personnel. I expect him to have success as a manager in pro baseball.”
Bonifay, for his part, is determined to justify Scalf’s confidence and understands what it will take to succeed in the dugout.
“I have to come to the park early and spend extra time watching video. It’s my responsibility to research and understand the stats to help our players succeed more often. It’s a grind, but we have a good group of baseball men in this organization.
“The men in this organization have a lot of baseball knowledge. Sabremetrics is a big part of baseball now. It opens your eyes on so many different ways to play the game. It gives you a whole different view from traditional baseball and scouting the five-tool guy.”
Bonifay’s Astros are off to a strong start and defeated the Elizabethton Twins on Monday night to gain sole possession of first place in the Appalachian League Standings.