Part 4: 'I'd go to war for Rags'
While there is a considerable amount of talent on the 2019 edition of the Down East Wood Ducks, many observers credit DEWD manager Corey Ragsdale with a monster’s share of the credit for team’s success. Photo by William ‘Bud’ Hardy / Neuse News
Editor’s note: This story is the fourth of a five-part series on the historic run by the 2019 Down East Wood Ducks. The final of the series will publish tomorrow afternoon.
Corey Ragsdale, a 36-year-old native of Arkansas who was drafted in the second round by the New York Mets in 2001, is the manager of the Down East Wood Ducks.
He’s had a lot of success in his short time as a manager in the Rangers system as his team won the Arizona League rookie level championship in 2012; he also managed the Hickory Crawdads to the Low-A South Atlantic League title in 2015. In his five seasons as a manager — one with the rookie league squad, three with Hickory and this year’s DEWD squad — he’s never managed a team with a losing record.
Entering Friday’s game at Wilmington — which will mark the 600th in his career — Ragsdale’s teams have amassed an impressive 355-244 record for a .592 winning percentage.
Woodies catcher Sam Huff said the management style of Ragsdale — lovingly referred to as “Rags” by his friends, players and Wood Ducks front office personnel — and the talent of the DEWD coaching staff (including pitching coach Steve Mintz, hitting coach Chase Lambin and bench coach Turtle Thomas) has paid dividends for the team.
“I think Rags is one of the better guys I’ve been coached by,” Huff said. “What he does best is he doesn’t single guys out — he holds us all accountable. … We work as a family. If it’s my fault, it’s everyone’s fault. If it’s a pitcher’s fault or a hitter’s fault that they didn’t do their job or something, then it’s everyone’s fault.
“He works us hard every day and has taught us what baseball is all about and how to become a big leaguer. We know he always has our backs; I’d go to war for Rags.”
Baseball isn’t the only thing Ragsdale has taught Huff, one of the top prospects in the Rangers system who hit the game-tying home run in the MLB Futures Game in Cleveland during the MLB All-Star festivities in July.
“As a man, he has taught me a lot,” Huff said of Ragsdale. “He’s taught me, on the field and off it, how to one day be a good father and a gentleman.”
Wood Ducks Director of Broadcasting and Media Director Matt Present has also been impressed by Ragsdale’s management style.
“He’s struck an unbelievable balance between being a guy that is a player’s manager … and being a leader who holds them accountable and motivates them,” Present said. “To have that balance and to also be a field coordinator (for the Rangers), he’s a role model for them and a role model for me.”
Janell Bullock, an assistant general manager for the Woodies, has also enjoyed her interactions with Ragsdale.
“He’s super nice,” she said. “He’s always very accommodating; if we need a player to do something, he’s always like, ‘Sure, just remind me again!’”
Never say die
How the Woodies have gotten to 84 wins this season is amazing, in and of itself.
Under Ragsdale’s leadership, the Woodies have come from behind to win an eye-opening 27 games this year, including five games when they trailed after seven innings and four when they’ve trailed after eight innings. There have been nine games won on the final at-bat of the game.
The DEWDs are 9-4 in extra-inning games and they’ve swept 11 series this season. Perhaps the most impressive team statistic, though, is the Wood Ducks have a winning record against every other team in the Carolina League this season.
“I feel like every guy in that lineup and every pitcher has made a difference,” Huff said. “We don’t rely on just one guy to carry us. We are a family. We feel like we can do anything together.”
Present, a native of Silver Spring, Md., and a University of Maryland graduate, has called every game this season for the Down East Wood Ducks Radio Network, so he’s seen every one of those improbable comebacks.
“This is a team that’s come back time and time again,” he said. “It’s a chicken and an egg kind of thing: you can’t be successful if you’re not confident but confidence comes because of success. The reason they believe so much is because they’ve done it before.”
‘Kinston has felt like home’
The manager, coaches and players alike have enjoyed their time in Kinston. Outfielder Josh Altmann is in his third year in Kinston — he spent all of the 2017 and 2018 seasons here and has been back here half the season since being moved from Frisco.
“It’s certainly been special to be here since ’17,” Altmann said. “Kinston has felt like home the past two-and-a-half to three years. It’s certainly not the place I want to end up in my career, but this is a place where the people have made me and my family feel special and welcome.”
Ragsdale said his time in his Kinston has been great; he said he’s enjoyed trips to the Chef and the Farmer and Boiler Room in downtown, but admits his main focus is on baseball.
“I’m a little different in the sense that I know where my apartment is at and I know where the field is at,” he said. “I don’t do a whole lot. Me and (Mintz) have been able to turkey hunt a lot during turkey season and we fish a lot now. I know where all the best fishing holes are, but in the summer, it’s all baseball.”
Huff said he’s been impressed with the fans and the field at Grainger Stadium.
“I love Kinston,” Huff said. “I love the energy the fans bring to every game and the support they give all of us. The field is amazing; it has a big league vibe to it.”
The final part of this five-part series — lessons learned from the 2017 title run — will publish Saturday on Neuse News.
Notes: Sources for this series include Baseball-Reference.com, The Free Press archives, Statscrew.com, Neuse News archives, Distributed Wikipedia and Down East Wood Ducks Director of Broadcasting Matt Present. … The author of this story has been the public address announcer for the Down East Wood Ducks since the team’s inception in 2017.