Chickasaw manager leads MLB Pirates’ Class A affiliate
FAIRFAX, Va. – Chronic injuries ended the professional baseball career of Chickasaw citizen Wyatt Toregas in 2011. Mr. Toregas (pronounced Tor-ree-gus) maintains it probably was a blessing in disguise.
With his playing days behind him, the Pittsburgh Pirates approached him about managing and coaching the Pirates’ Short Season ‘A’ affiliate The West Virginia Black Bears. Mr. Toregas had hoped he would get the opportunity to manage.
“I thought I was a really good player, but I think I’m doing what I was meant to do as a manager. I believe I may be better at this than I was at playing,” Mr. Toregas explained. The Black Bears won the 2015 league championship. The team was at its peak in the key areas of batting and pitching, according to Mr. Toregas.
“There is a great satisfaction I get when (a skill) we’ve been working on with a specific player … shows up in a game,” the 32-year-old explained. “I just think I have a much better feel for this (managing),” he added. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved having personal success on the field, but there is something very emotionally satisfying when someone else you’ve been working so hard with succeeds. I kind of like it more. There is nothing that compares to it,” Mr. Toregas said about his duties as manager.
THE CROWD WENT WILD
Youngsters envision professional greatness when they enter Little League. It’s a rite of passage standing in the sandlot dreaming of thousands of cheering fans when you knock in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of a phantom World Series game.
Mr. Toregas knows. He did it, too, admittedly, but he took it steps ahead of most youngsters. He excelled in Little League and junior high and at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia. In high school, he wrestled, played on the golf team and distinguished himself on the baseball diamond.
The Virginia Tech Hokies saw the talent and Mr. Toregas played his college career there on scholarship. The pros came courting in 2004 just as he was finishing his junior year at Tech. He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.
“Most people don’t understand all players start their careers in the minor leagues before they are called up,” Mr. Toregas said. “You can count on one hand the number of players who didn’t go to the minor league to begin with.”
IN THE ‘BIGS’ BUT INJURED
From 2004-09, Toregas played catcher for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Lake County Captains, Kinston Indians, Akron Aeros and Columbus Clippers; teams running the gamut from ‘A’ to ‘AAA’. He was called up to the “Bigs” and got his first hit in Major League Baseball in August 2009.
That’s when the injuries started.
“I had three injuries that did me in,” Mr. Toregas recalls with pained inflection in his voice. “The first was an elbow injury in a collision with another player. The second was more serious – a dislocated shoulder after a slide into second base. That one really slowed me down, but I fought through it,” Mr. Toregas said.
The injury “that tied the bow,” as Mr. Toregas bluntly describes the end of his playing career, happened while running to first base after a hit. Mr. Toregas pulled a groin muscle – the one that runs all the way to the knee.
“My body never healed to the point where I could run, or have any confidence in running. Every time I ran, I could feel it trying to pop again.”
He was willing to tough it out, but professional scouts saw right through it. “They (scouts) are really good. They can tell when you’re hurt. I tried to trick them as long as I could,” Mr. Toregas laughs. “The smallest injury can be so devastating because at the professional level you’re playing against elite opponents. When an injury slows you down, it shows.”
By this time, his contract had been purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mr. Toregas stated he was interested in managing. He already was a player/coach for the team. The team offered him the management job for the Bears and the team is enjoying great success under its Chickasaw manager.
The Bears won their division, won the playoffs and won the 2015 league championship by defeating the Staten Island Yankees.
Mr. Toregas is the grandson of Jalna Wenonah “Maw” Wolf Toregas, who was a professional ballroom dancer and actress. She lived to be 103. Born in Norman in 1911, she died last March. Her final resting place is in Virginia.
“She was very proud to be Chickasaw,” Mr. Toregas said. “She would tell us stories and remind us we are Chickasaw.”
Before his grandmother’s death, Mr. Toregas was moved by his Chickasaw blood to request citizenship with the tribe. “I’ve been a proud citizen of the Chickasaw Nation for about two or three years now,” he said.
And, Mr. Toregas brings with him the Chickasaw Warrior spirit, particularly in baseball.
“We do what is necessary to win baseball games. We (Bears) played the hottest baseball in the league. We were in a great spot to win the championship,” he added.