Talk about your tough acts to follow.
When Mike Boulanger joined the Boston Red Sox organization last month to become the Augusta GreenJackets' manager, the 50-year-old knew what he was getting himself into.
Under manager Billy Gardner last season, the Jackets turned their fortunes around after a miserable first half, embarking on a storybook run to the South Atlantic League championship.
Last season was Augusta's first as a Red Sox affiliate after an 11-year relationship with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and for Boston, the SAL title was its first minor-league championship in 15 years.
"I've known Billy for a long time and heard nothing but great things about Augusta," said Boulanger, who was introduced at a news conference Wednesday morning along with Jackets pitching coach Bob Kipper at Julian Smith Casino.
"When I talked to him," he said, "I told him how he's made it kind of tough for me to come in here after winning a championship."
Boulanger came to know Gardner the past five seasons while managing in the Minnesota Twins organization. The Red Sox and Twins both call Fort Myers, Fla., their spring training home.
The Tulsa, Okla., native is making a brief stop in Augusta on his way to spring training, where he will reunite with his friend and colleague Gardner, who earned a promotion to manage at Double-A Trenton.
Joining Boulanger and Kipper this season in Augusta will be hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, who was hitting coach with the Gulf Coast Red Sox (rookie) last season and coached at Sarasota from 1996-98.
Kipper, who lives in Greenville, S.C., is a former big-league reliever for Angels, Pirates and Twins. He joined the Red Sox organization last season and served as pitching coach at short-season Class A Lowell.
The only holdover from last year's championship field staff is trainer Bill Coffey, who returns for his second season in Augusta.
Red Sox farm director Kent Qualls said Boulanger's experience and philosophies on the game impressed him most.
"I think we've really found someone in Mike who will bring a lot of the qualities that the organization was looking for," Qualls said. "We brought him in to Boston in December and were very impressed, and the Twins had nothing but great things to say about him."
For the past two seasons, Boulanger managed the Fort Myers Miracle -- Minnesota's high Class A affiliate in the Florida State League. He also managed Fort Wayne of the Class A Midwest League in 1998 and spent two seasons managing the Twins' rookie team in the Gulf Coast League.
Prior to joining the Twins, Boulanger was head coach at University of Southwestern Louisiana, and is the third-winningest coach in Ragin' Cajuns history.
The former Oklahoma State baseball and football player also was a head coach for one season at Oklahoma City University, was an assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma, and began his coaching career in 1971 at Broken Arrow (Okla.) High School.
Also Wednesday, the Red Sox and GreenJackets agreed to extend their working agreement through the 2002 season.
The Jackets open the season on the road April 6 vs. the Hickory Crawdads. The home opener is April 14 vs. the Savannah Sand Gnats.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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