FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks will have a new manager who is a familiar face to start the delayed American Association baseball season, which is scheduled to start July 3.
The RedHawks named Chris Coste interim manager, team president Brad Thom said Monday, June 15. The team informed Jim Bennett he would not return for his second season with the independent club late last week.
Coste is a former RedHawks player and Major Leaguer who has been a bench coach for the team the past two seasons. The Fargo South graduate is also the head baseball coach for the Concordia Cobbers.
"If you would have told me back in 1996, I never could have envisioned it to be honest with you, everything that has happened along the way," Coste said. "I never envisioned even in the last couple years I would be manager, I was plenty happy with the role that I was given the past two summers."
Coste played for the RedHawks in the Northern League from 1996 to 1999 and went on to win a World Series Championship with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. He was recently named the catcher for the franchise's 25th anniversary team.
"He gets this league very well," Thom said of Coste. "He's a very smart baseball guy. He's always been a RedHawk in our hearts and we're just excited to name him in interim manager."
The RedHawks have a press conference scheduled for Tuesday to announce Coste as the interim. As much as he loves the RedHawks organization, Coste said Concordia remains his first priority.
"With my role at Concordia, this is not a position I was striving for by any means," Coste said. "I want to emphasize the interim situation. Who knows where life is going to take us in the next several months, the next year. But for now, I'm willing to fulfill the interim manager's position in the short term certainly."
Bennett said he was informed of his release as manager last Friday after leading the RedHawks to the North Division championship series last season. The team had a 63-37 record in 2019 before losing to the St. Paul Saints in the postseason. Bennett was named American Association manager of the year last season.
“They released me,” Bennett said. “I didn’t quit. I was planning on coming back. … I loved the fans there, I loved the players, I loved the coaching staff and I really enjoyed my time.”
The RedHawks will start the season with a different opening-day manager for a fourth consecutive summer. Doug Simunic was the opening-day skipper in 2017, Michael Schlact in 2018 and Bennett in 2019. Simunic was the team’s manager for 22 seasons, while Schlact and Bennett each managed the club for one year. Schlact left his role as RedHawks manager to take a coaching job in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
"Jim was a great guy, we just need everybody to be on the exact same page all the time," Thom said of Bennett. "Nothing against Jim, he is a great guy, a great human being, but we just felt now was the right time to make the move."
Coste played for Simunic and was a bench coach for Schlact and Bennett.
"Having worked with Michael Schlact and Jim Bennett and of course playing for Doug Simunic ... I was incredibly happy in the role that I had, and I would have done that with a smile on a face for the next 15 years if that's what it was," Coste said.
Coste said Anthony Renz is set to return as the team's hitting coach and Robbie Lopez as the team's bullpen coach. Jeff Bittiger is the team's player personnel consultant.
Late last week, the American Association announced it would start the regular season July 3 after the season’s start was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. The abbreviated 60-game season will have six teams in three hub cities, including Fargo.
"It is certainly going to be a daily challenge given the circumstances we are all dealing with, with COVID," Coste said. "It's going to be a daily reminder of the effort it's going to take make this, not only work, but have baseball thrive again."
The RedHawks will share their stadium with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the Sioux Falls Canaries will share their stadium with the Saints and the Milwaukee Milkmen will share their stadium with the Chicago Dogs.
The 12-team league, which normally has a 100-game regular season and opens in May, will have six teams that won’t operate this summer, including Cleburne, Gary SouthShore, Kansas City, Texas and Sioux City. Those teams plan to return to full operations in 2021.
The American Association released its complete schedule Monday for the upcoming season. The RedHawks play Winnipeg at 7:02 p.m. July 3 at Newman Outdoor Field for their season opener. The regular season runs through Sept. 10, followed by a best-of-5 game championship series between the best two teams in the league.
"We're overjoyed that we get to have a season," Coste said. "My biggest focus isn't necessarily managing the team, it's being part of baseball again regardless of what position I'm fulfilling."