As the Baseball Man travels the Carolina League, there are abundant reminders that this isn't the big time. Before a recent road trip to Wilmington, Del., the Hillcats' bus broke down and the new bus took the team to the wrong motel. A pregame buffet consists of a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a bag of Fig Newtons splayed on a folding table. The Hillcats ballpark is a sparse bandbox framed by the Blue Ridge Mountains that rise behind the outfield. The walls are adorned with placards for local car dealers and insurance agents. All that's missing is the hit bull, win steak promotion.
But this is where Salazar wants to be. "At this level you can still teach baseball," he says. "The kids still listen." He team is filled with Braves prospects, most in their early 20s, born shortly before he retired. Still, Salazar can impart the Code of Baseball, whether it's digging a ball out of the dirt, sloughing off misfortune or showing how treating your colleagues right will one day pay you back in spades.
"You know the best part of this level?" Salazar asks. "When players you coached get called up. They've made it, and you feel like you've done something to help them. They call you, so excited. You know what I tell them? Look around. And then don't look back."
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