- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

It hasn't been easy for Jack Voigt in Frederick, but then nothing has ever come easy to the former Orioles jack-of-all-trades who is now managing the Keys, the organization's Class A club.

In his first year as skipper, Voigt has seen his team get off to a record-poor start the Keys lost their first eight home games at Harry Grove Stadium. During one three-game home stretch, they allowed 23 runs and committed 10 errors. It got so bad that the club announced a "Guaranteed Win Week," where fans would receive a free ticket to any home game in May if they were still in the ballpark at the end of a game that the Keys won.

At one point, the Keys had a 3-17 record the worst in club history and the worst in the entire minor league baseball system in America.

It might have shaken a lesser man. But this was nothing that 36-year-old Jack Voigt hadn't seen before in his well-traveled 12-year major league career. He spent much of that career as the 25th man on every roster he was on, and he was on a few Baltimore, Texas, Milwaukee and Oakland. And it wasn't as if he had a permanent locker in any of those clubhouses. Voigt was sent up and down so much from Class AAA and back you would have thought his name was Transactions.

In other words, he was the perfect man for the job in Frederick.

"No question what I had to deal with has helped me with all kinds of players," he said. "Look at the start we have had here. If I didn't have all of my own personal experiences to draw on, with all of the different teams I played on or played for a lot of other managers might have ripped up a clubhouse, but I know these guys are going to get better."

Faith. Voigt has the faith of a Bible Belt congregation. How much faith did he have? He was so convinced that he would be a major league ballplayer that when he played for the Keys in the Orioles organization in 1989, he convinced the Louisville Slugger company to manufacture a signature bat for him the only Class A ballplayer at the time to have his own Louisville Slugger bat.

It was what made him so much fun to write about when he played for the Orioles on and off from 1992 to 1995. One time a new baseball writer covering the Orioles wrote in spring training of 1995 that Voigt was "on the bubble" when it came time to deciding the 25-man roster.

"You're new here," Voigt said, pulling the writer aside. "Let me fill you in. I'm not on the bubble," which was, of course, ridiculous, because Voigt was on the bubble so much he might as well have been called Bubble Boy. Reflecting on his seven-year career, he realizes that. "I was able to stay around the big leagues with very minimal talent with four different clubs," Voigt said, summing up his major league career that saw him appear in 294 games with 588 at-bats, score 84 runs, hit 32 doubles, 20 home runs, drive in 83 runs and bat .235.

He may have had minimal talent, but he has maximum personality. He was the kind of player who got to know everyone who worked at the ballpark, and went out of his way to talk to any of them who would listen. He became a fan favorite because he played with such intensity when he did get into games. In Milwaukee, Voigt played for the Brewers in 72 games in 1997, getting just 151 at-bats. But he made his mark enough that someone actually named a drink after him called the "Jack Voigt" one-half shot of Captain Morgan's spiced rum, one-quarter shot of amaretto and one-quarter shot of creme de banane. It's listed on webtender.com as a drink created "from a once great Milwaukee Brewer baseball player named Jack Voigt. This is in honor of his wonderful one year spent in Milwaukee."

And for one brief spell at Camden Yards, he was a star. The second time he was called up to the Orioles, in 1993, Voigt produced his career season, with six home runs, 23 RBI and a .296 average in 64 games. During one particular stretch in August, he led the Orioles with a .348 average for the month, and over a four-game span went 8-for-12 with four doubles, one home run and two RBI. His teammates nicknamed him Roy Hobbs, after the hero in the film, "The Natural."

He was simply one of those unforgettable characters, a force of nature whose determination was entertaining and refreshing, and not just for fans. Voigt was a manager's dream. He played every position, and was willing to do anything he had to do for a chance to play. It was that attitude that made him seem like a natural for another baseball job that of a manager.

"I was always a student of the game, and always prepared and took care of all of the fundamentals," Voigt said. "My old managers would make a point of suggesting I should try managing. I figured if they were saying this, then maybe it was something I should try."

After bouncing around the minor leagues for his final two seasons, Voigt joined the Keys as a field coach last year, and was promoted to manager this season. Despite his team's poor start (they have gone 9-11 since that 3-17 start), he remains convinced they will be better. "We've seen some improvement," he said. "We have some clubhouse meetings and I was patient, but one time I had a blowup and closed the door for about 10 minutes.

He told the players, "'It's going to stop here, you need to take stock of yourselves and look at what you are doing individually and as a team to get better. You guys are trying to get to the major leagues, and I am not seeing a major league effort to get to the major leagues. I am seeing a comfortable effort to remain comfortable here at Frederick. I don't what you to be comfortable here at Frederick. You shouldn't be comfortable at Class A.'"

Jack Voigt loves his job, but he isn't comfortable at Class A, you can be sure of that. "I would like to get back to the major leagues," he said. "This is a good start to handle the low spots. It can only get better from here. But it's fun, and I'm enjoying it. I love this game."

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