Iggy Suarez is no stranger to the world of professional baseball.
The New York native spent more than a decade on the diamond as a minor league infielder and worked his way up the Boston Red Sox coaching ladder after retirement. Now he’s looking to mold the Greenville Drive’s young ball players into potential major leaguers.
Last month, the Drive, Boston’s Class-A South Atlantic League affiliate, announced that Suarez, 36, would become the team’s eighth manager in franchise history this spring and replace Darren Fenster, who was recently promoted to manager of the Portland Sea Dogs in Maine.
“I couldn’t be happier to join the Drive organization for the upcoming season,” Suarez said. “Fluor Field is a first-class venue, and to have the opportunity to continue the outstanding work this organization has done on and off the field is very special.”
Growing up in the borough of Queens in New York City, Suarez discovered his love for baseball at an early age and eventually earned a starting spot on the varsity team at John Bowne High School.
He also spent several seasons with the Youth Service League, a community sports organization in Brooklyn that’s produced notable major leaguers such as former Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez, who is among baseball’s all-time best hitters.
Following a stellar senior season, Suarez, a 5-foot-10 shortstop, was selected in the 34th round of the 1999 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers. Suarez, however, opted to get an education and play college baseball at Texas State University, where he quickly became a standout player.
In 2002, Suarez had a breakout junior season and hit .323 with 37 runs, 22 runs batted in, and 15 bases stolen. That summer, he joined the elite Cape Cod League and helped the Wareham Gatemen to a championship win alongside current Atlanta Braves pitcher Scott Kazmir.
“Those years in college helped tremendously. It helped me grow as a ball player and as a person,” Suarez said. “But there were times when I regretted not signing after high school. When I went undrafted my sophomore and junior years of college, the idea of not playing baseball after my senior year started to kick in, and it took a toll mentally. That feeling of not knowing was going on in my head. But it all worked out.”
Suarez continued to demonstrate a strong bat and reliable glove throughout the remainder of his collegiate career, earning a reputation as one of the nation’s top collegiate prospects. He was ultimately selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 24th round of the 2003 MLB Draft and assigned to the Lowell Spinners, a short-season affiliate in Massachusetts.
After toiling for three seasons, Suarez was promoted to the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s Double-A affiliate. His most productive season came in 2008 when he hit .242/.307/.328 with five home runs, 15 steals, and 50 runs batted in. In 2009, Suarez was promoted again and sent to the Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston’s Triple-A affiliate. But he only appeared in 20 games.
Suarez’s contract with the Boston Red Sox was terminated following the 2009 season, so he decided to join the independent Atlantic League. In 2013, after playing four seasons with six different teams, Suarez was forced to call it quits when his hand was broken by a pitch.
“It got me on my left hand and broke two bones,” Suarez said. “But that wasn’t the deciding factor. The grind of multiple baseball seasons was taking [a] toll [on my] body and it became difficult to prepare for a full season. … That’s when I knew that my time was up.”
After his playing days, Suarez settled down in Texas and began coaching third base for a local youth baseball team. But it wasn’t enough to keep him away from the big leagues. Luckily, when Suarez wanted to return, he had the connections in Boston to make it happen.
Suarez returned to the Boston Red Sox in 2014 as a hitting coach and assistant instructor for the Lowell Spinners. He was then promoted to manager during the offseason. In 2016, Suarez led the team to a 47-29 record and first-place finish in the New York Penn League.
When he comes to Greenville, Suarez will have likely managed most of the Drive team at some point in their career. “As of right now, our roster is not set. But most likely I will have a lot of players I had last year in Lowell, which is good because having familiarity can be easier for players making that jump to the next level,” Suarez said.
Suarez added that his experience as a minor league player will help him tremendously as he takes over the Greenville Drive. “Grinding through a baseball season is tough,” he said. “I just try to always remind myself that at some point I was in their shoes … I try to let players know that I understand the hard times.”
Luckily, Suarez will have some help. Bob Kipper is set to return to the Drive for his third stint as pitching coach. The 53-year-old Greenville resident, who held the role in 2006 and 2009, has spent the past three seasons with the Pawtucket Red Sox. He replaces Walter Miranda, who will serve as Boston’s Latin America pitching coordinator in 2018.
Kipper, who was drafted by the California Angels out of high school in 1982, spent eight seasons as a major league pitcher. His best season happened in 1989 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he logged a 2.93 ERA in 52 appearances out of the bullpen.
The Greenville Drive staff will also feature hitting coach Wilton Veras and athletic trainer Phil Millan, who are both returning for their second season. The team’s assistant coach will be announced at a later date. Corey Wimberly, who served in that role last season, will receive his first managerial assignment with the Lowell Spinners this summer.
“This year’s coaching staff shares Boston’s organizational passion for player development, and the outstanding young talent that will be coming to Greenville for the upcoming season is in extremely good hands,” said owner and team president Craig Brown.
The Greenville Drive will play its first home game of the 2018 season on Thursday, April 12, against the Rome Braves. For more information, visit greenvilledrive.com.
Did you know?
The Greenville Drive was the only Boston Red Sox affiliate to make it to the playoffs last year. The team faced off against the Kannapolis Intimidators in September to take home its first South Atlantic League Championship in franchise history.