New Boise Hawks skipper will make his pro debut as a manager Thursday

Thursday represents Opening Day for the Hawks, when 13 players will put on a professional uniform for the first time. The emotions of a dream come true can cause butterflies to flap and hearts to quicken, even for the manager.

New Hawks manager Frank Gonzales will lead a professional club for the first time when Boise hosts the Tri-City Dust Devils at 7:15 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

The 47-year-old former left-handed pitcher from La Junta, Colo., wrapped up a 10-year playing career that topped out in Triple-A in 1999 with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League. Later that year, he took over as the manager of his alma mater’s club team at Colorado State until 2005, then coached Fort Collins High from 2009-12 before joining the Rockies’ organization.

He tutored the Rockies’ pitchers in Tri-Cities the past two years before snatching up an open managing job this offseason when the Rockies moved their Northwest League affiliate to Boise.

“You don’t ever expect anything, especially when you’re in the minor leagues,” Gonzales said. “Your job is to come and show up and do something every day. If it ends up where you get an opportunity to move up or to do another position and advance your career, I’m all about it. I’m all about doing it at the highest level, just as our players are.

“For me, getting an opportunity to manage was a really nice honor. But now it’s day-to-day and pitch-to-pitch, just like we tell our players.”

Gonzales said the offseason provided a crash course in the life of a manger. Since the first of the year, he’s worked with the Rockies’ front office to shape a roster of 35 players (and counting) into an Opening Day roster.

Gonzales is bringing his own philosophy to Boise — one with a focus on pitching and aggressive baserunning, and one he’ll have to balance with developing players in the lower minor leagues.

“We really want to have a winning atmosphere, not only for our clubhouse and for our organization, but for our fans. But there is no guarantee on the winning side,’’ he said.

Gonzales, the father of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Marco Gonzales, got in a quick racquetball game Friday and said he’s looking for games to join in town. But his focus remains on Thursday — and the coincidence of starting his managing career against the team he served as the pitching coach for the past two years.

“That’s going to be bittersweet. ... “I may take a little hazing, a little heckling, but it’s all in good fun,’’ he said.

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