In 1955, Ray Burris' family business called for the then 5-year-old — who had yet to master reading a children's book — to pick cotton, milk cows and work in the hay, barley and tobacco fields in Oklahoma's small southwestern town of Duke.
"We had to work to eat," he recalled.
Two years later, Burris developed a passion for baseball and used the work ethic he learned in the fields to eventually become a major-league pitcher and, later, a pitching coach.
Sal Rende, Dave Brundage and Mickey Morandini were born into different circumstances in different parts of the country.
Like Burris, they quickly grew to love baseball and recognized the importance of hard work from tough labor jobs during their youth.
They, too, became professional baseball players and, when those days ended, stayed in as teachers of the game.
The four baseball lifers now comprise the coaching staff of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Decades after their initiation to the sport, their passion for it remains strong.
"Baseball was like a graduation to a better life," Burris said. "An easier life, a more rewarding life."
DAVE BRUNDAGE, manager
Brundage was born in 1964 in Portland, Ore., to parents Dennis and Marsha. They moved 47 miles away to Salem, the state capital.
Brundage started playing Little League baseball as soon as he was old enough, but his father led him down a path that forever changed his life. He began boxing lessons at age 6.
"Arguably, it was the best thing I ever did in my life," Brundage said. "It taught me so many different things. Not about boxing, but about discipline, work ethic. It gave me a lot of coordination, agility and strength. So many intangibles.
"I knew, as I got older, how much easier the other sports were."
By 1978, Brundage thought he had the greatest job in the world. He was a ballboy for the Salem Senators, a rookie league team in the Northwest League.
He didn't get paid, but he got to shag balls during batting practice and talk to professional baseball players.
Brundage's first real employment came a short time later when he and his boxing club teammates were hired to work at the state fair in Salem. They picked up garbage, cleaned up animal manure, whatever was needed.
"I thought it was a great job," Brundage said. "It was the first time I got paid."
Brundage found out the kind of job that could be waiting for him if his athletics and academics didn't work out at Oregon State University.
During the fall seasons, Brundage was a member of the Beavers' football team. In the spring, he played baseball. In the summer, he built deer fences for the St. Helen's dam along the Sandy River.
He worked with guys who were doing this kind of labor for two to three decades.
"I was the only one who could carry the fence posts up the side of a big hill," Brundage recalled. "The others would sit and take a break. I'd carry the posts and they'd put them in the hole. Then, I'd go back down the hill to get more fence posts."
In 1986, Brundage was drafted in the fourth round by the Phillies.
On Dec. 9, 1987, Brundage was traded to the Mariners, where he finished a 10-year minor-league career without having reached the majors.
He did play center field before being replaced by a younger, slightly better player.
"I got to play [center field] there for half a season in Vermont until a kid by the name of Ken Griffey Jr. came along," Brundage said. "He was a little better than I was.
"I had to scoot over."
Brundage's transition from playing to management came in 1993, when he was a player-coach with Calgary in the Pacific Coast League.
During the latter stages of his playing days, he was converted to a relief pitcher. He then managed games in his head from the bullpen during games.
Brundage's managerial career started in 1995 with Class A Riverside in Seattle's organization. He has been in Triple-A since 2006, the last two in the Lehigh Valley.
RAY BURRIS, pitching coach
Burris, the second youngest of five brothers, was taken by the Chicago Cubs in the 1972 major league draft out of Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
Even though Burris remains Southwestern Oklahoma's most prominent baseball alum and still owns most of the school's pitching records, there was no guarantee he was going to be drafted out of the NAIA school.
"But I did have a guarantee that if I got my education, I had something to fall back on," he said.
"I understood hard work. I was not afraid to work. So, I was going to give baseball a shot. If it didn't work out, there was no fear for me because I had my education."
Burris needed just 14 months to make the major leagues.
In 1981, Burris shined on the national stage. He pitched a five-hit shutout in Game 2 of the 1981 National League Championship Series for the Montreal Expos against the Los Angeles Dodgers, outdueling phenom Fernando Valenzuela.
"When I was drafted, it was a feeling of relief," Burris recalled. "I immediately started thinking about what I was going to do with this opportunity.
"I was thankful for that. God gave me the ability, the opportunity. I had the right people in my path. They put me on the path to excel."
Burris, who spent 1989 playing the inaugural season of the Senior Professional Baseball Association, had a two-year stint (1990-91) as the Milwaukee Brewers' bullpen coach before taking on four other roles in the organization.
He later worked in the Rangers, Cardinals and Tigers organizations before coming to the Phillies system in 2013.
The 63-year-old, who moved this spring from Fort Worth, Texas, to Dunedin, Fla., said his lifestyle growing up prepared him for everything he has dealt with as an adult.
"No regrets," he said. "One thing that it did was make you mentally tough. Me hanging a slider and a guy hitting it out of the ballpark, that was nothing compared to going two weeks without food in my belly."
SAL RENDE, hitting coach
Rende was born in Blue Island, Ill., 16 miles south of Chicago.
His dad, Sal, had a tile installation business. It was at age 5 in 1960, when Rende did what he could to help his dad. He unpacked boxes, cleaned up the mess from the job and swept floors.
Softball was a big sport in Chicago. His father was paid $100 to play in a prestigious tournament there, but a knee injury cost him a major league tryout with the Cubs.
"The guy [from the Cubs] called when [my father] wasn't at the train station," Sal said. "When my grandparents told him what happened, the guy said, 'Sorry, he'll never play [baseball].' "
In 1977, Sal Rende was drafted in the 27th round by the Cleveland Indians out of St. Xavier University in Chicago, another NAIA school.
Rende was given a chance to be a pro baseball player because his college coach, John Boles (who later became a major league manager), had connections in the Indians organization.
Rende was sent to Batavia, N.Y., with a clear message.
"They gave me five games to see what I could do," he recalled. "If I did bad, I would not be here today."
Rende ended up as the MVP that season of the Class A short-season New York-Penn League, so his pro career continued.
By 1983, Rende's playing days were over before he made the major leagues. He immediately turned to managing in the minors. He led Class A Appleton (White Sox) to the Midwest League title in his first year in 1984 and later guided Triple-A Omaha (Royals) to the 1990 American Association championship.
After the 1996 season, Rende transitioned from Triple-A manager to hitting coach and roving instructor. Once a manager, always a manager, he said. But one thing is different.
"My wife [Toni] always said that when I managed, I brought it home every night," Rende said.
MICKEY MORANDINI, bench coach
Morandini was born in 1966 in Kittanning, about 45 miles northeast of Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River.
Six years later, the future Philadelphia Phillie was drafted by the Phillies at his local Little League.
"Their colors were green and yellow, though," he said with a wry smile.
By 1980, Morandini had his first job at the pool in Kittanning. He cleaned the pool, cut grass, worked at the concession stand and took out the garbage for $5 to $6 an hour.
Morandini painted houses while playing in the Cape Cod League one summer and worked on a dairy farm when he played in another wood-bat league in Illinois the next summer.
The Pirates drafted him after his junior season at Indiana, but he wanted to play in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Morandini played in Italy, Japan, then in Seoul with future major leaguers Tino Martinez, Ben McDonald and Robin Ventura.
"It was the best experience of my life," he said.
The Phillies picked Morandini in the fifth round of the 1988 draft.
Morandini played shortstop in his first pro season at Class A and Double-A. In 1989, he was moved to second base because club officials didn't think his arm was strong enough to play shortstop.
He played the next season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, then was a September call-up to the Phillies. Morandini hit .241 in 25 games in 1990.
Morandini became the first major league second baseman to record an unassisted triple play in 1992, but doesn't get through any interview without a reference to 1993.
That year, aging veterans had career years and teamed with fresh faces such as Morandini to make an improbable run to the World Series.
Morandini hit nine triples that season, but the most famous one of his career came in Game 6 of the NLCS against future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. The two-out, two-run shot down the right-field line gave the Phillies a 6-1 lead en route to the series win.
"Really good pitchers, guys who threw hard, I had success off," Morandini said. "Against guys that nitpicked, Bob Tewksbury, Dennis Martinez, guys who didn't throw the same pitch twice, I struggled."
Morandini, who is tied for the third-most hits (32) off Maddux, noticed a pattern of how the former Braves great pitched to him.
"I had 17 3-2 counts on him," Morandini recalled. "Sixteen times, he threw me a changeup.
"When I got the triple, they walked Lenny [Dykstra] to get to me. He threw me a first-pitch fastball for a strike. The rest were all changeups."
Morandini was traded twice by the Phillies in the latter stages of his career. A partially torn rotator cuff pushed him to the other side of the game.
Morandini began coaching his three sons — Jordan, Griffin and Braydon — in Valparaiso, Ind., where he and wife Peg settled after meeting in college.
He coached Griffin's 12-year-old team to the final eight of a monster tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"Picking them up and taking them to school, doing homework with them, throwing the baseball around, going on vacations with them," he said, "you can't do that when you're playing.
"I thought that if I got back in the game a little sooner, I would be where I want to be — managing in the big leagues. But I don't think I would want to give up all of that with the kids."
Morandini managed at Class A Williamsport (2011) and Lakewood (2012-13) before joining the IronPigs this season.
All four want to stay in baseball until they retire, though Burris has maintained a backup plan for years by running a sports management company.
"You understand going in that [baseball] is a business," he said. "You're hired to be fired. At the minor-league level, there's a little more hesitance and patience than the big leagues."
Brundage and his staff invest themselves in cultivating relationships with the players. It is one thing they enjoy as much as teaching. They also recognize the needs for fan interaction.
When Brundage was 10, he attended the Hayward Banquet in Salem, where the state's top amateur and professional athletes were honored.
He met Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, then a catcher for the Reds' "Big Red Machine."
"From then on, he was my favorite player," he said. "I relay to players today to let them know that something like that resonates in someone's head for life. A signed ball, a signed shirt, you don't know how far that goes."
Despite all the player personnel moves at the Triple-A level, the coaching staff's toughest part of the job is the time away from family.
"[My wife] was a principal at a school, so she was on call the whole winter," said Rende, who also has two adult sons. "I'm on call the whole baseball season, so it isn't much of a trade-off."
Morandini moved his family from Indiana to suburban Philadelphia, so the distance wasn't so great and the in-season visits weren't so infrequent.
Brundage's family comes to the Lehigh Valley once every month or so from Gwinnett, Ga.
"Some of the toughest years were when the kids were born," he said. "I was on the East Coast and they were on the West Coast. There were times when I didn't see them for six, seven months, then go home and want to wrap everything of being a dad into five months."
Family time is Brundage's yearly highlight.
"My ideal day is a Saturday, when we put our Beavers stuff on to watch a football game, get a BBQ going and the kids are swimming in the backyard," he said.
Every spring and summer, they remain committed to the game that has been a part of their lives since elementary school.
Retirement is closer for some, but none of them are in any hurry to get there.
"I like playing golf twice a week," Rende said. "I don't want to play it every day."
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