Family Man Budzinski Embarks on New Career
Laurel Wilder | On 03, Apr 2014
Ross Atkins might be the vice president of player development for the Cleveland Indians organization, but to Mark Budzinski, the new 2014 manager of the Lake County Captains, Atkins has taken on a new title — the facilitator of Budzinski’s career development.
Budzinski, who had an 11-year baseball playing career that concluded in 2005, embarked on work outside the realm of baseball upon his retirement, until a recent conversation with Atkins got him back in the game.
“Ross and I played together for four or five years,” Budzinski said of his relationship with Atkins. “We first got signed with the Indians and always had a great relationship. We keep in touch and speak a couple times a year. He asked me a simple question, ‘Do you ever miss the game, do you ever want to get back involved? Let me know.’”
All it took was that seed being planted for Budzinski to consider returning to the game of baseball.
“I said to him, ‘I’d like to talk more about that!’” Budzinski remembered. “So we did; we had a good conversation. I flew up to Cleveland and met with a lot of the front office, and that went well and one thing led to another. I’m excited to be here and with the opportunity. I’m very thankful to Ross for that.”
Prior to coming to Lake County and rejoining the Indians organization, Budzinski, a self-described “family man” who is married with three children, pursued a successful business career, spending time managing for a builder and managing sales personnel. This experience, he said, will guide and inform his management of the Indians’ Low-A team.
“While it’s not exactly the same, it’s all about managing people in the end,” Budzinski said. “I think that will help. You will go through things that are good sometimes and things that are not so good sometimes, and having that experience will be invaluable to having this position.”
Among his invaluable experiences are the years Budzinski spent on the field. An outfielder, the Indians drafted him at age 21 in the 21st round of the 1995 amateur draft. He played for the Indians organization through the 2001 season, and was granted free agency at that time. While with the Indians, he moved through the ranks to play for organization’s then-Triple-A team, the Buffalo Bisons. Upon his free agency, Budzinski signed with the Chicago Cubs for the 2002 season, playing for their Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. The Cubs granted him free agency at the end of the 2002 season, and he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. In June 2003, the Cincinnati Reds purchased Budzinski’s contract from the Brewers.
Budzinski made his Major League debut on Aug. 3, 2003, with the Reds when he was 29 years old. He played four games in the bigs with the Reds, going 0-for-7 in his appearances and played his last major league game on Aug. 8, 2003, before returning to the Reds Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats.
Budzinski was granted free agency by the Reds at the end of the 2003 season and finally was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies, where he spent the rest of his playing career. He played with the Phillies Triple-A team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, in 2004 and 2005.
Budzinski had an overall .274 batting average for his 11 seasons in the minors, with 1,221 hits, 56 home runs and 150 stolen bases.
Despite his playing career taking him away from the Indians organization, Budzinski has strong ties to the current team beyond his initial drafting and continued friendship with Atkins. In 2001, Budzinski had the opportunity to play under Terry Francona in the World Baseball Cup as part of the U.S. silver medal team. He was also a tournament All-Star.
“It was so special to represent our country right after Sept. 11,” Budzinski said, remembering that the tournament was a few months after the terrorist attacks in 2001. “Being overseas and representing and having U.S.A. on our chests and hearing the National Anthem was unbelievable.”
“I had known Tito a little bit from when he was with Cleveland as a special assistant, so I played for him and got to know him pretty well and learned a lot from him about how he ran the game, and got to know Brad Mills, as well,” Budzinski said. “They are just fantastic people, are true players unbelievably. What makes them happiest is players succeeding, so I’ve always seen that and learned a lot about that from him.”
Budzinski’s mentality of encouraging players to succeed and understand the ups and downs of the game of baseball fit in well with the mentalities surrounding the Captains and Low-A baseball. The Captains 2013 skipper, Scooter Tucker, constantly emphasized the importance of development in the young players on his squad, focusing on the betterment of their future performances and opportunities.
Budzinski seems poised to follow in Tucker’s footsteps, using his own playing career and experiences to demonstrate the importance of honing and improving both the physical and mental sides of a player’s game.
“I have plenty of lessons from my playing career about being mentally strong, because it wasn’t always pretty,” Budzinski joked. “This game can be tough at times. There are some great days and there are some days where it’s very difficult and you’re 0-for-21 and how do you deal with that, how do you get through it?”
“Quite honestly, at the beginning of my career, I wasn’t very good at (getting through the difficult days),” Budzinski said. “I had to learn not to take things home with me and to realize it’s a job, it’s not who you are, but to push yourself and to learn from your failures and keep pushing. I think that’s what this game really teaches you — to push through in the bad times and learn from the things you haven’t done right and do them the right way.”
As the 2014 season begins, Budzinski is filled with hope and excitement for the unpredictable journey that is to come. “I’m excited to have my family be part of this experience,” Budzinski said. “And I’ll give my best every day to make our players reach their goals and their levels, which is the Big Leagues.”