Manager’s Road Back to Baseball Took a Trucking Turn
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On most nights during baseball season, you’ll find Phillip Wellman inside a dugout managing the San Antonio Missions, the San Diego Padres’ AA farm team.
At the end of 2014 and all of 2015, though, Wellman was out of baseball — and not of his own choice. However, he says an office job at Covenant Transport Inc., in Chattanooga, Tenn., as a fleet manager overseeing 80 drivers changed his attitude and put him back in a dugout.
“There are only 30 jobs at AA, 30 at AAA, they’re hard to come by,” he said. “Thirty-years in baseball, I woke up on a November day with no job and no insurance.”
The big-league club was changing its farm system around, and Wellman was out. And a YouTube.com video was making it tough for him to get back in baseball.
Wellman, 59, has been in professional baseball as a player or manager since 1984.
On June 1, 2007, when he was managing the AA Mississippi Braves, Wellman got into an argument with an umpire. The dispute became so heated, it ended up on ESPN, and the clip went viral. Every June, around the anniversary of the ejection, it draws a lot of attention.
Ejections in the minor leagues rarely make it to SportsCenter, but this was an epic rant.
Even today, he is asked about the blowup that still ranks No. 1 on the network’s “Top 10 Meltdowns in Sports History.”
Out of a job and with a wife, two children, and a grandchild, and with the phone gone quiet, Wellman needed a break.
For a while it looked like one major-league team would promote him to be its assistant hitting coach, but Wellman said the team’s general manager vetoed that because of PR concerns over the 2007 outburst.
Then came an unlikely break. Covenant called, and after some discussions, Andy Vanzant, then senior vice president of operations, hired Wellman.
“Phillip managed all different types of people with different types of backgrounds,” Vanzant told Transport Topics. “He brought all of them together to form a team. In trucking, you can have 35, 40 truck drivers with different backgrounds and personalities. It was a perfect fit.”
Vanzant said Wellman learned quickly and gained the respect and admiration of the drivers and back-office staff.
“He was the top fleet manager of the 40 on the floor," Vanzant said. "Phillip brought to Covenant a coach’s mentality, and his demeanor was, ‘Hey, we can work together. We’re trying to win a game here and we can win together.’ ”
Wellman worked at Covenant for a year and likely would have stayed, but the Padres’ front office called and wanted him back in the dugout.
Wellman (right) is shown with truck driver Jonathan Thompson during his tenure as fleet manager at Covenant Transport. (Photo courtesy of Phillip Wellman)
“That year, I wouldn’t trade for anything. Because of that year, life has made a lot more sense,” he said. "I realized that the guy who is sitting in the stands with his family at the park and spends a hundred dollars for the entertainment works hard for his money, and I’ll never take that for granted because I was that guy for a year. Deep down, it made me appreciate what I have. I’m out here on a field with green grass, red dirt, and blue skies. I am grateful."
Even though he’s been gone from Covenant for five years, Wellman stays in contact with the drivers and he could see a return to trucking, once his baseball career winds down.
“There are friends at Covenant I still stay in touch with,” Wellman said. One driver even spends the Christmas holidays with Wellman and his family.
“I never set an alarm in baseball. I was getting up at 6:20 to be at work at 8 a.m. I came to really respect the drivers for what they do.”
Vanzant said Wellman would be welcomed back into the trucking industry if he’d like to restart that part of his career.
“I’d hire him today. He was just that good,” Vanzant said, adding that they remain close friends.
I’d like to think I’ve accomplished a lot more in baseball than being a YouTube video hit.
San Antonio Missions manager Phillip Wellman
Wellman said he still gets ejected on occasion, to protect his players and keep them in the game, but his days of pulling bases out of the ground and throwing a pitcher’s rosin bag onto an umpire’s shoes are over.
“It’s not my proudest moment in the game. I’d like to think I’ve accomplished a lot more in baseball than being a YouTube video hit,” he said. ”There’s no reason to yell at a ballplayer or an umpire when he’s out there hustling and working hard.”
Covenant Logistics Group ranks No 43 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.
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