BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jim Thrift mills around the four baseball fields at Pirate City looking like one of the 100 or so players taking part in the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league camp.
But there are two big differences between Thrift, 25, and the others.
The biggest is he is their boss. Thrift will manage the Pirates' Appalachian League rookie team in Princeton, W.Va., this summer. And his father, Syd, is the general manager of the Pirates.
Thrift is the youngest manager in the Pirates' organization by several decades. The Pirates' major-league roster is the youngest in baseball, but only six of the players are younger than Thrift.
Thrift said his age and name are not factors in the pursuit of his goal.
'I decided a long time ago I would get to the big leagues one way or another,' he said. 'It would be either as a player or a manager. But I would get there.'
His days as a player ended in 1984 when he developed severe tendinitis in his right elbow after a season in the Class A Northwest League with the Oakland A's organization.
Primarily a third baseman, Thrift played on a national high school all-star team along with his good friend Bobby Bonilla, the Pirates' third baseman. Thrift then played at the University of North Carolina and at Winthrop College in South Carolina before being drafted by Oakland.
Thrift did not bemoan the end of his playing days since he spent them preparing for the day he would be a coach.
'I took pride in wanting to study the game while I played it,' he said. 'I didn't want to be an idiot on the field.'
Syd Thrift said his son was like a coach on the field during his playing days.
'I remember when he was a freshman playing college ball in North Carolina, the seniors would come up to him and ask him about the mechanics of hitting,' Thrift said of his son. 'He was always a very analytical player.'
And one who grew up with his father by his side.
Syd Thrift spent 27 years in professional baseball as a player, scout and coach with the New York Yankees, Pirates, Kansas City Royals and Oakland organizations before leaving in 1976 to pursue a career in real estate.
Out of the professional game, he had time to watch his son grow up. He even served as a coach on his son's American Legion team in northern Virginia.
'Dad was just getting out of baseball as I was getting in, so he was always there for me when I played,' said Jim Thrift, who lives with his parents in Pittsburgh during the off-season. 'I was in the eighth grade when he left the A's. He was at all my games. He gave me tremendous support.'
But when he told his father he wanted to pursue a career in coaching, Syd Thrift warned his son of the pitfalls of the profession.
'I didn't encourage him. If anything, I discouraged him,' Syd Thrift said. 'He's seen all the bad things that go into baseball -- the low pay in the minor leagues, the disappointments, the frustrations, the anxieties you experience.'
Thrift joined the Pirate organization last summer as a roving minor-league instructor. He also coached one of two Florida Instructional League teams in Bradenton last fall.
He is spending the spring working alongside the Pirates' other minor-league coaches, instructing players who are separated into various groups by age. The Princeton team he will manage won't be assembled until after the June free-agent draft.
Once the Appalachian League season begins, the pace is non-stop. The team will play a 72-game schedule in 73 days. The players on the team will be 21 years old and under, and many of them will be away from home for the first time. That fact is not lost on their manager, himself a rookie of sorts.
'The first thing I'll do is explain why we're here,' Thrift said. 'They need to know this is not summer vacation.
'It's important that I can talk to them with the uniform on or off. Communication is the key. I'll help them, but at the same time they've got to grow up on their own. I'm not going to baby-sit them.'
Thrift is a firm believer in the creed his father preaches throughout the organization: You build your program from the ground up through solid instruction.
'Some organizations get lost in trying to have all winning teams in their minor-league system,' Thrift said. 'They end up stacking their teams with older players just so they can win a few more games.
'If you develop your players and stay on the path of solid instruction, the winning will take care of itself. The key is preparing them for the next level. We try to win every game -- but our way.'
'He's got a lot of his father in him,' Bonilla said of his former teammate. 'He's a good man. I'm glad he's on our side.'