Billy Horn, serving as the High Point Rockers’ bench coach, spent the latter part of the 2021 Atlantic League baseball season battling with the Charleston Dirty Birds for a playoff berth, which ultimately went to the Dirty Birds.
Now, a couple of months later, Horn is taking over the team he and the Rockers were chasing down.
The Dirty Birds announced Horn as their new manager for the 2022 Atlantic League baseball season Tuesday morning.
“They knocked us out of the playoffs,” Horn said Tuesday afternoon. “My job coming in is to pick up where they left off.”
Horn, 42, served as the bench coach and director of player procurement for the Rockers over the past two seasons. He replaces Mark Minicozzi, who managed the Dirty Birds in their inaugural Atlantic League season in 2021 and led Charleston to the South Division second-half title and into the playoffs.
Minicozzi was hired Monday as manager of the Atlantic League’s as-yet-unnamed Kentucky team.
This will be Horn’s second managerial post in professional baseball. In 2019, he guided the Normal CornBelters of the independent Frontier League to a 48-47 record, good for a fourth-place finish in the 12-team league.
“I’m very much a players’ manager, laid back,” Horn said of his leadership style. “What I ask out of my players is to play the game right, play the game hard, respect the game, respect your opponents. I believe in hard work, grinding it out.”
Horn has seven years of professional baseball coaching experience, including time with the Long Island Ducks (Atlantic League), the CornBelters and the Ottawa Champions (Canadian American Association).
Horn worked alongside former major-league pitcher Frank Viola on the Rockers’ staff, where Viola served as pitching coach, and cited Viola as one of his influences in the dugout. Other former big-leaguers with whom Horn has worked include Hal Lanier, who was the manager of the Ottawa club in the Can-Am league, Butch Hobson and Stan Cliburn.
“I’ve been so blessed to work with so many great human beings and great baseball men over the years,” Horn said.
High Point posted the Atlantic League’s second-best overall record (64-55) in 2021, behind only the Long Island Ducks’ 68-52 mark.
The Rockers finished in second place in the North Division in both halves of the 2021 season, behind eventual league champion Lexington in the first half and 2½ games behind the Dirty Birds in the second-half standings.
High Point posted a 13-12 record against Charleston in 2021 but lost nine of the last 12 games against the Dirty Birds when the teams were battling for the South Division second-half title and playoff berth.
“I’ve known Mark [Minicozzi] for a while now, we’re good friends,” Horn said. “It’s a friendly rivalry, but once we get between the white lines, that gets thrown out the window and you’re playing to win.”
Horn pitched for Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, and professionally for Long Beach of the independent Golden Baseball League in 2005 and for Grossetto of the Italian Baseball League in 2010.
In between those stints, Horn returned to Lynn University as the pitching coach and helped guide the Fighting Knights to a NCAA Division II national championship in 2009.
His first order of business with the Dirty Birds will be putting together a coaching staff.
He’s already tabbed Anthony Coromato as his bench coach, and expects to name the Dirty Birds’ pitching coach and hitting coach in the coming days.
“We’re still hammering out the details on the rest of the staff,” Horn said.
Coromato was Horn’s teammate in the Italian League in 2010.
“He’ll be doing what I was doing in High Point last two years, bench coach and bringing in players,” Horn said of Coromato.
The final pieces of the puzzle will come together when the Dirty Birds roster is determined for the 2022 season.
“We’re gonna offer probably 10 to 12 of the core players [from the 2021 Charleston roster] to come back if they’d like,” Horn said. “That will be a work in progress but not that difficult.”