When it comes to the sport of baseball, there isn't much Wally Backman hasn't seen or done.
A resident of Prineville since 1995, the Aloha High School graduate was drafted by the New York Mets organization before he was old enough to vote. He played in his first major league game before his 21st birthday.
Six years later, the first-round draft pick started at second base for the Mets in the 1986 World Series, an event he reminds himself of daily when he places his championship ring on his right hand.
While he played in 1,102 professional games as a player, Backman's expertise of baseball extends beyond fielding a ball or swinging a bat. After his final year in the major leagues in 1993, the .275 career average infielder turned to coaching.
Backman enjoyed visiting Crook County during his childhood days, and decided to move here after meeting his future wife in Prineville in 1994.
In his tenure so far as a coach, Backman enjoyed a stint as part of the staff of the Crook County High School baseball team beginning in the 1996 season. He coached the Catskill Cougars in upstate New York in 1997, headed the Bend Bandits a year later and coached the Tri-City Posse until last year.
At the age of 41, Backman has received another coaching offer, this one with the Chicago White Sox organization. He accepted it just a month ago, a spring board, perhaps, back to the major leagues--only this time in a different role. He will be contributing off the playing field instead of on it.
"It's a lot different," explained Backman about coaching the sport as opposed to playing it. "To me now, it's trying to give back to the game the things that I learned, and I'm still trying to further my own career.
"I wanted to be back within an organization," he added. I sent out a few resumes and got calls back from most all the teams I sent out resumes to and the White Sox seemed to be a good fit for me."
Backman will be the manager for the Winston-Salem Warthogs in North Carolina, a high advanced "A" league team. The season opens April 6, with spring training beginning March 1. Backman plans to live in North Carolina in the summer months, during the club's 140-game schedule.
His one-year contract with the Warthogs is another stepping stone for Backman and his career. The opportunity with the White Sox as a coach is similar to the opportunity he received with the Mets as a player.
"I'm excited," Backman said. "I had talked with the Dodgers and a few other teams and the White Sox is a classy organization, one of the top five organizations in baseball I would say."
Although he has seen a great deal in his professional career, Backman wants to see more. His goal is to do the best he can with the Winston-Salem team before ultimately trying to earn his way back into the major leagues.
"When you get within an organization, it's really development, Backman explained. "My main goal is to get a player in April and make him a better player by the end of August so he can further his career as well as myself, trying to make myself a better manager.
"I'm looking at about two or three years before I can get back to the major leagues as a coach or a manager and I think that with the people I've talked to, it's something that's within reach with the right dedication."
Backman isn't sure how long he wants to stay with the White Sox organization. Perhaps, somewhere down the line he'll get to work once again with the New York Mets, a team he still routes for when the major league season begins. Backman took his step-son to the World Series this year to support the Mets. To his step-son's surprise, Backman was still remembered by the fans.
"He was amazed at how many people knew who I was when we were there," Backman said.
With the New York Mets in 1986, Backman hit.320 and started in six games out of seven in the World Series. Backman was also in the dugout during the famous fielding miscue by Boston's Bill Buckner, which arguably could have cost the Red Sox the World Series.
Backman said he felt sorry for Buckner after the Series was over, and added that Buckner wasn't the only player to make a similar error that season.
"That happened to a lot of guys in the regular season that nobody knows about," Backman explained. "Things like that cost a lot of teams games, a lot more than one would realize."
Now in his third decade around professional baseball, Backman is able to look back on his career and enjoy what he accomplished.
"I overcame a lot of things, like being one of the smaller guys to play the game," he said. "I'm happy with my career and disappointed in certain aspects because I probably could have been a better player, and that would be one of the things I would tell a kid is that there's always a way to improve."
Backman adds this advice to those who one day dream of playing baseball professionally.
"It takes hard work and dedication. Do whatever you can to fulfill your dream. It's a tough dream to fill and unfortunately everyone doesn't make it who has that dream and desire. But I would give the same suggestion to everyone in life, if you want something bad enough, you have to work for it. It's not going to come easy. It's going to take a lot of dedication and effort."
That same dedication and effort helped land Backman in the World Series as a player. Perhaps it's the same formula that will land him someday in the World Series once again--this time as a coach.