From Comcast SportsNetCINCINNATI (AP) -- Numb. Grieving. Distracted. The Cowboys were all those things on Sunday, dealing with the death of one teammate and the tribulations of another.Winners, too, though they hardly felt like it.Dan Bailey kicked a 40-yard field goal as time ran out, sending the Cowboys to a 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that ended a tough afternoon with a little bit of relief and their playoff chances enhanced.Didn't last long, though. There will be a lot more emotional days ahead in Dallas."It's a hard, hard situation we're in," quarterback Tony Romo said. "There's no playbook for this sort of thing in life."The Cowboys overcame a nine-point deficit in the closing minutes behind Romo, who held his hand over his heart during a moment of silence to honor teammate Jerry Brown before the kickoff. The linebacker died in an auto accident early Saturday.Defensive lineman Josh Brent, who was driving, was still jailed in Texas on Sunday, charged with intoxication manslaughter.The Cowboys (7-6) learned about Brown's death on their flight to Cincinnati on Saturday. Coach Jason Garrett told his team that the best way to honor him was to play well in a game with playoff implications for both teams.One of the visitors' metal lockers at Paul Brown Stadium had a strip of white athletic tape with "53 JERRY BROWN" attached to the top, a wooden stool inside sitting upside-down. Brown's No. 53 jersey was on the sideline during the game -- defensive tackle Jason Hatcher held it up after Bailey's kick decided it.It wasn't much of a celebration by an emotionally spent team."I don't remember crying this much other than maybe the day I was born," defensive lineman Marcus Spears said. "With Josh's situation and Jerry being gone, you felt it."Players couldn't keep the tragedy out of their thoughts during the game, finding their minds wandering on the bench."I rarely let my emotions get the best of me," fullback Lawrence Vickers said. "Today they did, but this was the place to do it."Owner Jerry Jones described his team as grieving when it took the field. It was the second consecutive week that an NFL team was playing a day after losing a teammate. Kansas City beat Carolina 27-21 one day after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend and then himself at the Chiefs' practice complex.When Bailey's kick ended it, the Cowboys had a lot of thoughts racing through their heads."The last 24 hours has really been something I've never experienced," Romo said. "It's something I've never experienced, and I think a lot of guys will tell you that. It's just been a roller coaster of emotions."It was a very -- and still is -- a very difficult thing that this football team is dealing with."The Cowboys salvaged the game by scoring on their last two drives against the Bengals (7-6), who had won four in a row and had a chance to move into position for an AFC wild-card berth with a victory.Romo threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant with 6:35 to go. Anthony Spencer's sack of Andy Dalton forced a punt, and Romo completed four passes on the drive to Bailey's winning kick.Romo finished 25 of 43 for 268 yards with a touchdown, an interception and three sacks. DeMarco Murray converted a third-and-5 play to extend the final drive and ended up with 53 yards on 21 carries.Newcomer Josh Brown kicked field goals of 25, 33, 25 and 52 yards for Cincinnati, which wasted an opportunity to move ahead of Pittsburgh for the second AFC wild card."They came here in an emotional situation, and you knew they were going to fight all the way," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "That game meant a lot to them. They played great."Dallas played a sloppy game until the closing minutes -- nothing out of character there -- and had a few especially bad moments.Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan went onto the field and yelled at a Bengals player who had said something to the Cowboys bench, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Dallas in the third quarter. Dallas also was penalized for 12 men on the field during the drive, which ended with Brown's third field goal and a 16-10 Cincinnati lead.In the end, a defense that has allowed only three touchdowns in the last four games couldn't hold on. And the Bengals made it tough on themselves by using all three of their timeouts early in the second half, leaving them unable to stop the clock on Dallas' final drive.Dalton was 20 of 33 for 206 yards with five sacks, one touchdown and an interception that Brandon Carr returned 37 yards to set up Murray's 1-yard touchdown dive in the second quarter.NOTES:Bailey's game-winner was his second of the season. His 38-yarder beat Cleveland in overtime. It was Bailey's sixth game-winning FG, second in Cowboys history behind Rafael Septien's seven. ... Bryant caught four passes for 50 yards, leaving him with 1,028 yards for the season. It's his first 1,000-yard receiving season and the first by a Cowboy since 2009 (Miles Austin and Jason Witten). ... Bryant has caught a TD pass in five straight games, the longest streak of his career. ... Romo's 25 completions gave him a club-record 349 for the season. He completed his last 12 throws the previous game and his first five on Sunday, setting a club record with 17 straight completions. ... Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 89 yards on 12 carries, breaking his streak of three straight 100-yard games.
Most minor league managers have graying sideburns, wrinkled skin and a birth date well before 1980.
They’ve been through the battles of baseball and life, placed in rural dugouts across the country to teach the younger generation how to play the game.
But in a town outside Charlotte, North Carolina, the White Sox are bucking this trend with a fresh-faced millennial who one day could be sitting in a major league manager’s office with his name on it.
Justin Jirschele is the manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators, the White Sox Class-A affiliate. At 27 years old, he is the youngest manager in all of professional baseball.
Jirschele (pronounced JIRSH-ah-lee) goes by “Jirsh” to those who know him and who play for him, which last season included top prospects like Jake Burger, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease.
When Jirschele played the game, he was a guy every team would have wanted.
Not for his speed: He never stole more than four bases in a season during his minor league career. Not for his power: He didn't hit a single home run in 622 career at-bats.
But because he treated every game like it could be his last.
“I never took a play off. I never took an at-bat off,” he said.
This was his mindset even in his very last minor league at-bat for the Birmingham Barons in 2015.
“I remember walking up and I said out loud to myself, ‘This is it. Do something.’ I’m getting the chills right now thinking about it.”
Jirschele knew his playing days were over. So did the White Sox. They signed him out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Nobody else wanted him. Over the next four seasons, he played for five White Sox minor league teams. The results on the field were overwhelmingly average.
Then one day, Nick Capra, then the White Sox Director of Player Development, came to Jirschele with an idea and an offer that would change his life.
“He asked, ‘Are you ready to start coaching yet?’ Jirschele recalled. ‘And I looked at him and went, ‘What do you mean?’”
The White Sox offered Jirschele a job to be the hitting coach for the Grand Falls Voyagers, the team’s rookie league affiliate.
“I was in shock. It was the end of May, the season was still young. I was at three different levels. I started at Winston-Salem, went to Charlotte and came back to Birmingham. It was a whirlwind. When he first said it, my first feeling was excitement. That kind of told me right there that it was the right time to do it.”
So Jirschele took the job.
He was 25 years old.
Then he went out and took that final minor league at-bat for Birmingham, which turned out to be a fitting conclusion to his playing career.
“I think it was the second pitch, right down the middle and I was tardy, hit it off my fist, a dribbler to the shortstop and I bet you I ran as hard as I had in my entire life. It wasn’t that I was fast, but I was running as hard as I possibly could to first and I don’t think there even was a throw I hit it so soft, perfectly past the pitcher. I just said to myself, that’s it right there.”
An infield dribbler for a base hit to close his playing career.
Coaching made sense for Jirschele. His father, Mike, is the third base coach for the Kansas City Royals. He won a World Series in 2015. His older brother, Jeremy, is the head baseball coach back at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Pretty soon, the younger Jirschele would be leading a team of his own.
In 2017, the White Sox gave him the managerial job with Kannapolis. Sure, some of his players would be around the same age, but the White Sox looked past the birth date on his driver’s license and recognized a person who was wise beyond his years.
“It was identified early on that he has the leadership qualities we look for in a manager regardless of his age,” said Chris Getz, White Sox Director of Player Development. “He has good baseball knowledge, good communication skills, a willingness to learn and adapt, and carries out a consistent message. We feel lucky to have him and think he has a bright future ahead.”
Although the ages of the Intimidators players ranged from 19 to 25 years old, it didn’t matter that their manager was slighty older than them.
“Never once had an issue with the age thing,” Jirschele said about his players. “I think from Day 1 when I showed them the respect like I’m not going to be the guy that’s two years older than you hammering things down your throat, I’m going to have that respect and you’re going to show it back.”
While the White Sox prospects spent the season developing their playing skills, Jirschele was honing his managing skills, which go beyond what happens on the field. A big part of the job is handling issues that arise off of it.
“It’s a long grind season and there are so many things that are going to come up non-baseball related to where you might be in that clubhouse and you might feel alone,” Jirschele explained. “You might feel like you’re on an island all by yourself even if you’ve got three best friends that are going to stand up in your wedding one day, you might not feel comfortable talking to those guys about that. Come on in, we’ll talk about it at 12:30 in the afternoon or 7:30 at night or midnight. I tell the guys you’ve got my phone number. Call or text no matter what time if you need to talk.”
Following his thirst for managing knowledge, Jirschele often reaches out to his dad for late-night phone calls, rehashing the game that night. He’ll even text an opposing manager, like Patrick Anderson, a friend who has managed the Hagerstown Suns, the Nationals Class-A affiliate for the last four seasons.
“He’s a guy I could pick his brain about things," he said. "Once the series was over I’d send him a text and ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ At the end of the day we’re all in it together and first and foremost it’s all for these players and making them better each and every day and doing whatever we can to get them to the top. But at the same time we’re developing ourselves as well along the way.
“I’m sure I annoy a lot of people of asking questions but that’s how you learn. I was brought up that way.”
Jirschele’s impressions of some White Sox top prospects he managed last season:
Alec Hansen: “When he takes the ball, you feel like you have one of the best chances in the country to get a win that night in minor league baseball. His stuff is just off the charts.”
Dane Dunning: “It would be the 8th inning, he wanted that complete game and he wouldn’t be too pleased with me coming out there to take him out, but you want that. You want that out of a competitor on the mound every 5 days. He’s definitely a guy you want in the foxhole with you, no doubt.”
Micker Adolfo: “He has a special, special arm. I don’t know if there’s a better one right now.”
Jake Burger: “Looking forward, the ceiling is unbelievably high for him. 100 percent no doubt in my mind, someday he will be a captain in the big leagues.”
Like many of his players, Jirschele left an impression with the White Sox in his first season as manager. He helped lead the Intimidators to their first playoff berth since 2009 and their first trip to the South Atlantic League championship since 2005.
Earlier this month, the White Sox named him their Minor League Coach of the Year.
“First and foremost, it means we had good players this year. It’s those guys between the lines,” he said. “As coaches, we can’t go out there and pitch. We were fortunate to have a great group of guys. We came up a little short (winning the championship), but we got there and it was fun.”
Once upon a time, Jirschele’s dream was to make it to the majors. That dream still exists. Just now instead of having his own baseball card, he wants to get to the big leagues holding a lineup card.
“I think I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a goal, but at the same time I don’t worry about it. I know I’m 27 years old," he said. "I’m just fortunate to have the job I do right now with the White Sox. I go out and do my job every single day and the rest will just take care of itself.”
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