Former Ranger Wilkerson Has New Challenge

By Kelly Morris
Updated: May 27, 2007

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS – Curtis Wilkerson has been itching to coach baseball again since he last managed a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates in Lynchburg, Va., in 2001.

Wilkerson, 46, who won the Texas Rangers’ rookie of the year honors in 1983 and played for Texas from 1983-1988 during an 11-year major league career, wanted to make sure his next job kept him close to wife Brenda, sons Brandon, 19, and Christopher, 17, and daughter Briana, 14. Wilkerson moved back to Arlington two years ago.

Brandon graduated from Arlington Lamar High School in 2005 and Christopher will be a sophomore at Lamar next year. Both play in the infield as their father did.

After coaching at the minor league level for seven seasons — three as a manager — Wilkerson’s next move was an easy one: He was offered the job of manager of the new Continental Baseball League’s Tarrant County Blue Thunder, which began play this weekend.

If he does his job right, Wilkerson knows he won’t see the players on his roster for long.

“My biggest thing is to hopefully get these guys to get an opportunity in pro ball again in the minor leagues,” Wilkerson said. “That’s what an independent league is all about. You never know who is watching.”

Eight of the Blue Thunder’s 23 players have professional experience. Outfielder Hanssel Pena is the brother of Boston Red Sox right fielder Wily Mo Pena. Catcher Billy Schmitt (St. Louis) and pitcher Mark Hamilton (Houston) went to a major league spring training camp two years ago.

What should fans expect from this league?

It’s tough to say because I haven’t seen any independent teams. I would say, depending on our pitching, we could compete with some Double A guys.

What is the team’s strength right now?

Our strength is pitching and defense. Zach Duncan pitched at TCU. Eric Diaz was a junior college pitcher of the year in California and [former TCU player] Mark Hamilton pitched in the minor leagues and pitched in an independent league last year.

Mark has the most experience and is also our pitching coach. He moves the ball around inside and out. Our other pitchers should watch Mark. They can learn a lot from him.

You played under Jim Leyland with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Don Zimmer with the Chicago Cubs. Which manager has inspired you the most?

Don is an old-school guy. He expected you to do the little things. Show up on time and play hard. Jim Leyland was very positive and never negative. He made the utility guys feel like they were more important than the superstar. I was that utility guy.

There are only four teams in this league, yet you play 60 games. Are you going to get bored playing the same opponent?

We’re going to play these guys a lot, but I just tell the guys to play their game. For some of these guys, it might be their last shot.

NOTE: The four-team Continental Baseball League also includes the Lewisville Lizards, Bay Area Toros and Dallas Heat. For more information on the Blue Thunder, log on to