WASHINGTON – Tommy Shields is no stranger to the Carolina League.
As an infielder, he played in the league with Prince William in Woodbridge, Virginia in 1986 and two years later in Salem, Virginia while in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system.
Now the former Major Leaguer is set to manage the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 2021.
The Blue Rocks are the new high Single-A farm team of the Washington Nationals in the Carolina League.
A Fairfax native, Shields, 56, who grew up near Philadelphia, has been a co-field coordinator the past few years in player development for the Nationals.
“It is something I am looking forward to,” Shields told Federal Baseball on Sunday.
Shields was a manager in the farm system of the Cardinals, Orioles, and Royals before joining the Nationals’ player development staff.
He last managed in 2014 with Burlington in the Appalachian League in Kansas City’s system.
Shields led the Delmarva Shorebirds to the South Atlantic League title in 1997, and then managed in the Carolina League the next year with the Frederick Keys while he was with the Orioles’ organization.
He played in the majors for managers for Johnny Oates with the Orioles in 1992 and Jim Lefebvre with the Cubs the next year.
So does Shields, who played in college at Notre Dame, pattern his style after a certain manager?
“Not really. You want to see what you have with a club. I would prefer to be aggressive, to steal a lot, to hit and run a lot and keep things moving and play good defense.
“All of those things and play good fundamental defense,” he said.
“All that could change with the club (you have). The style of offense depends on what you have. If we have a bunch of bangers we won’t hit and run as much.”
“If we have a lot of speed we will be running more. You just try to put kids in the best position they can to succeed,” he added.
Shields took part in the alternate site in Fredericksburg, Virginia this summer, and was at Instructional League in West Palm Beach, Florida as well.
He has shared the field coordinator role for several years with Jeff Garber, who also grew up in Pennsylvania and played shortstop in college at JMU in Virginia.
“Managing is a lot of fun,” Shields said. “I think you can have the most impact on kids and the trajectory of their career as a manager. So it is a challenge to be with those kids and I am looking forward to it.”
The Washington Post reported last week that Matt LeCroy would manage Triple-A Rochester; Tripp Keister would guide Double-A Harrisburg; Shields would lead Wilmington, and Mario Lisson would have low Single-A Fredericksburg.
Lisson was to manage low Single-A Hagerstown in 2020 – but now that city has been dropped as MLB cut back on about 40 minor league towns.
Wilmington had been an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals since 2007 and has been in the Carolina League since 1993.
Garber, a former infielder for the Royals, is a former skipper for Wilmington while he worked in player development for Kansas City.
“It was handed to us (by the Nationals) in the last month or so, all of us (managers). This is what we are going to be doing,” said Shields, who added flexibility is key with so many changes in the minors. “We are all asked to do different things this year so that is what we are doing.”
Shields has lived for than 20 years in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which is a short drive from Wilmington.
Keister was to be the Fredericksburg manager before the 2020 season was called off due to the pandemic. “I am thrilled for him. He should do great things in Harrisburg,” Shields said.
Shields can’t predict if Spring Training will start on time or if the minors will as well. “I don’t know what is going to look like. I honestly have no idea,” he said.