By Mike Christensen
It’s a few days before the Lexington Counter Clocks’ season opener, and Barry Lyons’ enthusiasm is palpable. “I’m energized,” Lyons said in a phone interview as he came off the field from a team workout. “It’s given me a new sense of purpose.”
At age 62, Lyons has seized the reins as the new manager of the Kentucky-based Counter Clocks, who play in the independent Atlantic League. The former Biloxi High, Delta State and major league catcher — a recent inductee into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame — is back in uniform some 25 years after he last managed a professional team.
“I loved managing when I did,” Lyons said. “I only got out after my daughter was born.”
Lyons stayed engaged in the game. He did some broadcasting for a minor league team in Nashville, and he has been deeply involved with the Biloxi Shuckers since the Double-A team moved from Huntsville, Ala., in 2015. He also administers summer and fall wood bat leagues for amateur players on the Coast.
Lyons has endured some personal hardships along the way, but he is in a good place now, personally and professionally.
“I missed being out on the field,” he said.
As fate would have it, Lyons’ nephew Nathan — a former Ole Miss pitcher — and Nathan’s wife Keri purchased the Lexington Legends franchise back in October. (The nickname was changed to Counter Clocks in recognition of early Kentuckians racing horses in a counter-clockwise direction, opposite of the tradition in England.)
Naturally, Barry Lyons’ interest was piqued.
“I have a lot of friends in the league — Stan Cliburn, Wally Backman, Frank Viola,” he said. “I had kept up with the league. After he bought the team, I talked with Nathan about getting the ball rolling there. He didn’t know that I had any interest in managing again. But one thing led to another, and he asked me about the job. Basically, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I couldn’t be more excited and thankful for this opportunity.”
He took the job in mid-December.
Lyons was a Division II All-America catcher under Boo Ferriss at Delta State, led the Double-A Jackson Mets to the Texas League championship in 1985, made his big league debut with the 1986 world champion New York Mets and spent parts of seven years in the majors, his career curtailed by injury issues.
His first managerial job was in an independent league, the Big South, in 1996, and he worked for two seasons with a Class A team in the Cincinnati Reds’ system.
“Barry’s experiences in baseball have equipped him with a unique understanding of all aspects of the game,” Nathan Lyons said in a team release, “and we can’t wait to see what he does with the team on the field.”
In independent ball, there is no major league affiliate to supply players. You have to stock your own team and comply with a salary cap. With the help of coaches Cameron Roth and Enohel Polanco, both indy league veterans, Lyons has put together what he feels is a competitive club.
The Atlantic League is the premier independent league — aka, MLB Partner League — in the country, and many former major leaguers dot the rosters of the 10 teams. Lyons has landed a few, including pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, infielder Abiatal Avelino and outfielder Ronnie Dawson. He has recruited some players with Mississippi connections: former Ole Miss first baseman Thomas Dillard, ex-Delta State pitcher Cooper Brune and catcher Logan Brown, who played for the Double-A Mississippi Braves in 2022. Former LSU star Brandt Broussard is also on the roster.
“I’m very pleased with everything we’ve seen (in training camp),” he said. “We have a lot of experienced players and a few younger ones to balance it out.”
Lyons said he is looking forward to matching managerial wits with Cliburn, the Jackson native and ex-big league catcher now running the Southern Maryland team, and Backman, Lyons’ teammate with the New York Mets and current skipper of the Long Island Ducks.
“I saw Stan at a golf event a few weeks ago and he was beating his chest about stealing a player we wanted,” Lyons said. “I told him, ‘O.K., the stakes just went up.'”
That meeting won’t come until June. First up is the Friday (April 28) season opener at home against the York Revolution.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” Lyons said.
Lexington won its opener and is off to a 7-2 start.