(Editor's note: Mustangs release)
BILLINGS - The Billings Mustangs on Monday announced Joe Kruzel as their 2021 field manager. Kruzel is a long-time minor league manager who started his managerial career with the Mustangs back in 2007.
Kruzel, 55, has spent the past thirteen years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, most recently having served as manager of the Cardinals’ AA affiliate in Springfield, MO, in 2019. He had signed to manage the AA club in 2020 as well, before the minor league season was canceled due to the pandemic. Kruzel had been working his way up the ladder within the Cardinals’ organization; he served as manager at their Rookie League affiliate in Johnson City in 2013, then at their Single-A affiliate in Peoria from 2014-2016 and their short-season A affiliate in State College from 2017-2018.
Kruzel’s coming back to Billings, not only brings him back to where he first started as a manager, and first worked with Mustangs General Manager Gary Roller, it also reunites him with Mustangs team owner Dave Heller. Prior to managing, Kruzel spent five seasons (2008-12) as hitting coach for Heller’s Single-A club in the Quad Cities, the River Bandits. In his final year (2012) in Quad Cities, Kruzel helped his team lead the Midwest League in home runs (109) and RBI (649).
“Joe Kruzel is everything you could want in a manager,” said Mustangs owner Dave Heller. “He is smart, savvy, dedicated and determined. He’s a winner. Most of all, though, he’s a great teacher, a man who has helped shape and mold countless major league stars along the way. I could not imagine a better choice to lead the new Mustangs, since we will be for many players their first stop on the road to the big leagues.”
Throughout his eight years as a minor league manager, Kruzel has enjoyed tremendous success. In 2017, he led the State College Spikes to five consecutive campaigns of at least 40 wins and was the manager of the winning club in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game. He also managed Peoria (A) to the Midwest League postseason in 2015 and again in 2016. Across seven seasons as a manager in the Cardinals organization, Kruzel’s squads have a record of 392-382 (.507); he holds a career mark of 423-413 (.506).
Prior to being promoted to the Mustangs, Kruzel was hitting coach for the Cincinnati Reds’ Gulf Coast League club in 2006. Before that, Kruzel in 2005 was assistant baseball coach at Miami (Ohio) University where he tied the school record with 45 wins. Previously, he was the head baseball coach at the University of Toledo, where he served from 1993-2003 and was named Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year in 1999. Before starting his coaching career, Kruzel played second base at Toledo from 1985-1988.
Kruzel was elected to the Toledo City Athletic League Hall of Fame in 2018 and the Toledo Central Catholic High School Hall of Fame in April 2020. He resides in Hamilton, Ohio, with his wife Amy and three children A.J. (28), Jaime (24) and Abby (22).
The Mustangs open their first season as an MLB “Partner League” club on Saturday, May 22nd, on the road against the Idaho Falls Chukars. The Mustangs kick off their season at Dehler Park in Billings on the following Wednesday, May 26th, against the Rocky Mountain Vibes. That first homestand of the season will continue through the Memorial Day weekend, as the Mustangs host the Vibes for six games, concluding with an afternoon game on Memorial Day Monday, May 31st, when all veterans, reservists, guardsmen, and active-duty military will be able to attend for just $1.00.