Billy Horn thrives in role as Bench Coach and Director of Player Procurement with the High Point Rockers
Billy Horn knew when he was four years old, baseball was in his blood despite football being his favorite sport. “I played it, lived and breathed it,” said Horn. Born and raised in the Bronx, Horn attended high school in Southern Westchester. After graduating from high school me made his way down to Florida attending Lynn University in Boca Raton where he played on the baseball team from 1998 to 2001.
In and out of the game of baseball a couple of times, Horn had opportunity to return to his alma mater as the pitching coach in 2009 and part of the Fighting Knights National Championship squad. “I’m not sure what I wanted to do, a former college teammate of mine had taken a job with the Houston Astros as a scout, Horn said. He had been the pitching coach, so it kind of fell right into it. Rudy Garbalosa, the head coach, a wonderful man and had a great group of guys including the Division II pitcher of the year in Danny Wright and Tommy Kahnle.”
Following the successful run with Lynn University, Horn joined the Ottawa Champions in the Can-Am League working as the pitching coach. In 2016 Ottawa rallied from a 0-2 deficit in the championship series to capture their first title in franchise history. “I coached with Hal Lanier, we put together a team that won a championship in the second year of existence of the organization, said Horn. A very special group in 2016, a great group of guys with pitcher of the year in Austin Chrismon, Sebastien Boucher had a fantastic season at the plate but what really changed was bringing in Adron Chambers.
“An outfielder with MLB experience and won a World Series with the (St. Louis) Cardinals. Everyone was a lot more loose and relaxed when we went down 0-2 to Rockland and just said don’t let them get Game 3”
After two seasons with Ottawa, Horn returned to the New York area taking on the role as pitching coach for the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League. Last year Horn managed the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League. “Last year in Normal I was the managed and pitching coach. I had a hitting coach that would work with the hitters,” Horn said. “The one thing I found with managing is you find a side of yourself you never knew existed, you have to really think on your feet and look two or three innings ahead.”
“Who do you want to pinch hit or run, who do you want in the bullpen and so much that goes into it. It teaches you a lot, a good testament to independent baseball. You just can’t have anybody coach or be your manager. There have to be good solid human beings that you are going to like and respect and know the game of baseball and know scouts, coaches, agents and trust to send their players.”
With the High Point Rockers located in High Point, North Carolina the newest franchise to join the Atlantic League, Horn signed on as the bench coach and procurement for the team. “It’s been outstanding so far working with manager Jamie Keefe, I have known Jamie for a number of years, having competed against him in the Can-Am League and great guy to be around and good baseball mind,” said Horn. “We have a had a lot of fun here, adding Frank Viola as the pitching coach, Albert Gonzalez as our bullpen and catching coach. When Jamie and I started putting the team together back in February we looked it at the same way and wanted to the top notch players but a really good bunch of men and we have that.”
High Point is off to a solid start in their inaugural season, in the first half finishing in third place in the Liberty Division with a record of 41-30. Thus far in the second half, the Rockers in second place with a record of 24-20 and tied with Long Island for first place and overall record of 65-50.
“We have a good clubhouse, just fantastic personalities and guys that get along and want to win,” Horn said. “We have had seven players contracts purchased by Major League Baseball and Mexico. When I managed in Normal we had four players contracts purchased and year before in Long Island as the player procurement five guys picked up with three of those guys back to the big leagues in the same season. Jamie and I have the same philosophy along with Jamie’s outstanding success and putting teams’ together and managing for 18 years or so and a lot of players picked up.”
“We have a good plan of attack and a lot of connections to all 30 Major League Baseball organizations and connections in Mexico, Taiwan and Japan. It’s been great bringing in great talent and moving guys along. A real testament to independent baseball itself and to see guys not only from Can-Am League, American Association and Frontier League but former major league players with Double and Triple A experience. It just goes to show you how Independent Baseball is the real deal and second or third chances for most guys and some a first chance that were overlooked in the draft or did not get a chance after high school or college.”
Horn understands the demands of the job that require a lot of multi-tasking and long hours and days but with the experience of Keefe and Frank Viola help lessen that burden. “Having Frank around is great because he brings that old school mentality and great personality. He was with the New York Mets last eight years and understands the changes with the game and analytics. A regular guy, very humble and when you talk to him you would not know he is a World Series MVP and CY Young Award winner. He doesn’t talk about that stuff, a great guy who really enjoys baseball and loves helping the younger players. It’s really cool because I never worked with a pitching guy when I managed and been the pitching guy. Being around Frank has been very helpful for myself.”
“It’s very special because you just don’t look at guys numbers, saying he is good and can play here. We will call at three guy that this player has played with and at least one manager or coach to get a feel for their personality and see what kind of guy he is now. Now every day we are trying to make our team better and never know when major league organizations are going to give you a call and say we are going to purchase this guy’s contract. You just don’t when it’s going to happen so you have to be always prepared with extra guys in your pipeline and things can change minute to minute here in independent baseball because you are just not the manager, bench or pitch coach You are a scout and do everything.”
However, Horn points to the front office of the High Point with Team President Ken Lehner and Assistant General Manager Christian Heimall and High Point community. “They have been so gracious with coaching staff and players. Getting us all set up with a place and making it feel like home for the summer because these people become your family. They have constructed this beautiful ballpark (BB&T Point), it’s clean and gorgeous and brand new and feels like you are going to the big leagues every day. A beautiful community and the fans come out every night and cheer for their favorite players and welcomed us into the city. Thankfully we had a little success coming out of the gate, want to continue to play good baseball and hopefully bring a championship to the city of High Point.”
“The coolest part of what we do is when we put on these uniforms and go out there and these little kids look at our players and think they are Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle. There is a baseball game to be played but so much else and fun time for the family to get together. For a couple of hours watch a game, have a hot dog and right after the game whether win or lose a couple of players sign autographs and take some pictures.”
This season Horn has been able to see plenty of family when High Point visits Long Island, Somerset and New Britain. “It’s pretty awesome, I get to see my brother, aunt, uncle and friends. I’m pretty biased when it comes to the food as it doesn’t get any better with chicken parm and pasta. Down here in North Carolina is a lot of barbecue and southern comfort.”
Furthermore Horn is busy concentrating on his company Meet A Prospect. “Being a medical salesman for many years I made a lot of money but never really happy doing that,” said Horn. “Being in the game, helping players get jobs and signing contracts is just awesome. There is nothing more satisfying that seeing one of your own players picked up by an organization and making it to the major leagues. Only better high or satisfaction seeing your former players grow up to be young men, wonderful husbands, fathers’ and leaders in the community.”
Sunil Sunder Raj
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