By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- Butch Barnes is stepping away from the Strasburg Express after three seasons of managing the club, but he's not really leaving.
Barnes, the only manager the Valley Baseball League franchise has had, is moving to the front office to serve as the team's vice president of baseball operations. He won't be on the bench to fill out lineup cards, juggle the bullpen or direct defensive positioning, but he'll still have a major impact on the team.
"He'll be kind of a mentor to the new coaching staff," Express General Manager Jay Neal said. "He knows a lot of baseball and he's coached a lot."
Barnes said he knew this past season would be his last managing the Express, and actually was a season longer than he'd originally anticipated leading the teams. Barnes informed Neal that he wouldn't be back as manager about three-quarters of the way through this past season.
"This has been in the works since we started," Barnes said. "I was going to get things rolling in terms of the philosophy of the Express board with the intention of stepping away after a year or two. It ended up being three.
"Things are changing in my life -- I'm a grandfather now, I want to spend time with my family. It's hard to go to the ballpark at 1 p.m. every day and continue to sell real estate and have time for my family when I'm not getting home until 1 a.m."
Under Barnes, the Express made huge strides in just three seasons of VBL play. Strasburg made the VBL playoffs in just its second season as a franchise, and this summer the Express reached the championship round of the playoffs and came within one win of securing the James W. Lineweaver Cup as league champions. Strasburg lost to Waynesboro, 6-3, on its home field in the deciding Game 3 of the best-of-three series.
Neal said Barnes, who "never took a dime to coach the Express," was the driving force in Strasburg's success on the field, including this past season as he masterfully constructed a dominating bullpen and found effective roles for his players throughout the lineup and on the pitching staff.
"His approach to managing this team was to make it all about the playoffs," Neal said. "That certainly bore fruit."
Barnes deflected that credit to his players and coaching staff.
"I consider myself a facilitator, or someone giving people an opportunity," Barnes said. "Yes, I wrote the lineup card. Sometimes I did good, sometimes I didn't."
In addition to managing Strasburg to the VBL championship round, Barnes considers the opportunity to manage one son and later coach with two as highlights of his tenure as manager.
During Strasburg's inaugural VBL season in 2011, his younger son, Nick, spent the summer playing away from the University of Charleston to play infield for the Express. Last year, Nick and his brother, Jay, served on Butch Barnes' coaching staff during the VBL season.
Next Wednesday, the Express plan to announce their new manager for the 2014 season. Barnes said his successor should have a strong foundation to build off, with seven to nine former Express players tentatively committed to returning next season.
Barnes will be back, too, albeit in a different role.
"He was going to stay involved, no matter what," Neal said. "He'll still be involved, but this won't be nearly as time-consuming as showing up at the field at [1 p.m.] every day for a game that night."
Barnes confirmed that he'll still be a fixture at First Bank Park next summer.
"I'll still be there," he said. "It's a great organization, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's a good baseball community, and the volunteers we have are amazing."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>. Follow on Twitter @J_NationsNVD