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Warren gobbles up victories in rookie season
Warren has led the Grizzlies to a 36-10 record as the manager.
No, it's not the major leagues -- or even Class A, for that matter.
But, as one of a select group of people across the country making a living managing a professional baseball team, Phil Warren doesn't see how life could be much better.
"It's very special any time you get to do what you love," said Warren, a Southeast Missouri State product. "I thank God every day. I'm very lucky."
Warren, a St. Louis native who played at Southeast from 1997 through 2000, is in his first season managing the Gateway (Ill.) Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League.
And Warren, a former standout player with the Grizzlies, is having quite a debut campaign in charge of the team. He will manage the South Region squad at the Frontier League All-Star Game in Florence, Ky., on Wednesday night.
Warren, 29, earned the right to manage in the contest becauase his team has the Frontier League's best record.
The Grizzlies, located in Sauget, Ill., near St. Louis, are 36-10. They enter the All-Star break with a franchise-record 12-game winning streak.
"It's definitely exciting to get to manage in this game," Warren said. "For my first year as manager, not really knowing what to expect ...
"It's an honor and it will be a lot of fun. But I'm getting to do this because my team has played so well. Without the way we've played, I wouldn't be doing this."
Prior to becoming the Grizzlies' manager, Warren played for six seasons in the Frontier League, including three with Gateway.
Warren, a former Frontier League All-Star, is the Grizzlies' all-time hits leader with 297. He retired following the 2005 season holding many of the Grizzlies' career offensive records, including games played (270), at-bats (1,016), home runs (45) and RBIs (181).
Warren also appears in the top five in five career Frontier League categories, including second in hits with 420. He is third in games played (387), third in at-bats (1,426), fourth in RBIs (251) and tied for fifth in homers (54).
After hanging up his spikes as a player, Warren spent the 2006 season as the Grizzlies' director of player personnel.
When former Cardinals pitcher Danny Cox stepped down as the Grizzlies' manager last fall after four seasons, Warren decided to pursue the position.
"Last year I took it all in from off the field, kind of learned the business side of baseball," Warren said. "Then when I heard the [manager[']s] job might be open, I went to our owner and general manager and said I'd like to throw my hat in the ring."
Somewhat to Warren's surprise, he was hired.
"I wanted to get into managing, but I never anticipated it would happen this fast. It's pretty amazing," he said.
Warren's first season at the helm has seen a marked improvement in Gateway's play -- the Grizzlies went 42-52 last year -- although the Vianney High School product again points to his players.
"They're doing a good job and they deserve the credit," he said.
Not only is Warren thriving in his first season as the Grizzlies' manager, he gets to do it basically in his hometown, and with former college teammate and good friend Darin Kinsolving helping out.
Kinsolving, also a former Frontier League standout, is in his first season as Warren's bench coach. He will join his boss as one of the coaches for Wednesday's All-Star Game.
"It's special to be doing this basically at home. Any time I can see my mom and dad in the crowd, it's awesome," said Warren, who is married with no children. "And it's a blast having DK here with me helping out. We've been buddies since our SEMO days."
Like Warren, Kinsolving played at Southeast from 1997 through 2000. As sophomores, they were key members on Southeast's 1998 team that advanced to the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time in program history.
Warren, an all-Ohio Valley Conference honorable mention selection, batted .343 with 11 homers as a senior. He ranks among the top 10 on the school's career doubles list.
Kinsolving was all-OVC first team as a senior, when he batted .380 with 17 homers.
An East Prairie native, Kinsolving ranks high on many of Southeast's records lists, including tied for second in career homers (49), fourth in career RBIs (157), tied for fourth in career runs scored (151), seventh in career hits (200), tied for sixth in single-season homers (17) and tied for sixth in single-season RBIs (57).
Kinsolving spent five seasons as a Frontier League player, and he also played professionally in the independent Northern League.
A two-time Frontier League All-Star, Kinsolving finished his Frontier League career fourth all-time with 56 homers and fifth all-time with 248 RBIs.
"He was getting ready to play in the [independent] Atlantic League, but he got hurt," Warren said. "I had wanted him to be my bench coach when I got the job.
"It's a shame he got hurt, but it worked out perfect for him to be one of my coaches."
Warren said he and Kinsolving often reminisce about their days at Southeast under coach Mark Hogan.
"We both have fond memories of SEMO. We never forget our roots," Warren said. "Coach Hogan was up here recently for a game and we all got together. I know he was proud."
Another Southeast connection with the Grizzlies is Chris Gibson, a current Gateway player who was with the Redhawks in 2005 and 2006. The son of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson is batting .279.
"He's doing a good job for us and he's a good kid," Warren said.
Although Warren is certainly not getting rich managing the Grizzlies, his job is full-time and year-round as he also serves as the organization's youth programs director. In that position, Warren directs Grizzlies' summer camps and works closely with Little Leagues in the St. Louis and Metro East areas.
"It's an enjoyable part of my job," he said.
The dream of many young baseball players is to eventually reach the majors, but getting there through independent leagues is normally a real longshot.
That probably goes for managing or coaching as well, but Warren hasn't given much thought to joining an affiliated minor-league team and trying to work his way up the ladder.
"I would cross that bridge when I get there, but I really like helping hungry kids coming out of college, kids who might have been overlooked, kids who people said weren't good enough," Warren said. "That's how I feel about me and DK. I feel like we could have played with the guys who were picked up [by major league organizations].
"I've seen how the Frontier League has grown over the years, how popular it's gotten, how it keeps expanding."
And besides, he enjoys what he's doing now.
"I really love everything about the job I have, and the biggest thing is, it's in my own backyard," he said. "I want to do this as long as I can, as long as they'll have me."