Monday, August 31, 2015

Interview Part 1: Keith Bodie, The Reward

Bowie Baysox hitting coach Keith Bodie, top left, and one of his hitters David Freitas at New Britain in August 2015. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: The Reward | Part 2: Tuesday Night

When Keith Bodie first met Craig Biggio way back in 1987, Bodie knew Biggio was special, he recalled recently.

Bodie was managing single-A Asheville that year in the Astros system, still only a few years into his own coaching career. Biggio was fresh out of Seton Hall University, taken by Houston with the 22nd-overall pick that year.

"He was mature beyond his years," Bodie recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days. "His passion for playing was exemplary every time he stepped on the baseball field. He was going to be the best.

"No excuses," Bodie recalled of Biggio's approach to the game at that early stage. "He had thick skin. He accepted criticism very well, which a lot of players don't. That's why he's a special player who ended up in the Hall of Fame."

Biggio was one of what has become a lengthy list of players who played for Bodie over the years. Bodie's coaching career has lasted for three decades now, all after a decade as a player.

His coaching career has taken him from short-season Auburn on up to AAA Calgary and more recently Round Rock and Oklahoma City.

"You like to think that you had a lot of influence on their careers," Bodie said, listing off some of the players he's coached. "Some of them really appreciate it and many years later say 'thank you.' So that's the reward that you get giving them the best of your efforts day in and day out."
Bowie Baysox hitting coach Keith Bodie in August 2015 at New Britain Stadium in Connecticut. (Greatest 21 Days)
"That's what it's all about," Bodie said. "It's their time now and I have the knowledge and experience that I can share to expedite their progress. I can't make them good. I just make them better by giving them the experience and advice that they need."

Bodie is continuing his coaching career in 2015, serving as hitting coach for the AA Bowie Baysox in the Orioles system. He spoke to The Greatest 21 Days in August 2015 at New Britain Stadium in Connecticut, where his Baysox were preparing to take on the New Britain Rock Cats.

Bodie's long career in baseball started back in 1974, when his hometown Mets took him in the third round of the draft out of Brooklyn's South Shore High School.

Bodie grew up playing the game in his native Brooklyn. He recalled always loving playing the game.

"I played all sports growing up, but my passion was for baseball," Bodie said. "I played baseball all the time."

Bodie played well enough to get scouted as early as his freshman year in high school, he recalled. Despite the attention, he recalled trying to concentrate on what he was doing and that was playing.

That he was gaining notice from scouts wasn't the point, he recalled.

"I played baseball because I wanted to do good at it," Bodie said. "There was a point where I did a lot better at it than other kids, but I didn't take notice of that. That wasn't my focus. My focus was simply playing for the love of the game."
Keith Bodie throws batting practice in August 2015 at New Britain Stadium. (Greatest 21 Days)
He would play and all those other things would fall into place, he recalled.

They even fell into place after he missed his entire senior year to injury. The Mets had already seen enough to use their third-round selection on him.

"It was pretty good," Bodie recalled. "I was excited about getting drafted by the Mets. It was a dream come true, so it was very exciting."

Back from his injury, Bodie went directly to the rookie Appalachian League and Marion, Va.

He recalled the culture shock of going from Brooklyn, where his high school had 8,000 kids to a town that had about as many people in the entire town.

But also, he recalled, the game was the same.

"You're playing baseball, so I didn't pay much attention to that other stuff," Bodie said. "They were paying me. They gave me money, but that wasn't important either. I was out there playing baseball against the best players in the world and just trying to compete and fit in."

Bodie played at Marion for 1974 and 1975. He then moved to single-A Wausau for 1976 and then AA  Jackson for 1977. 
Bowie hitting coach Keith Bodie watches batting practice at New Britain in August 2015. (Greatest 21 Days)
"You're excited about being there," Bodie said of his early time in the minors. "You're appreciative of the opportunity. You think you're going to be a big leaguer. That's what you're shooting for."

That's what he was shooting for, but he also said it wasn't the same as players today.

"They think about circumstances," Bodie said of players today. "I thought about playing. That's all I cared about."

"When I played, everybody was afraid that that game was going to be their last," Bodie said. "There was no six-year free agency. There was no bouncing around. It wsa a different ballgame."

It was a different era, a different culture, he recalled.

"I didn't give a whole lot of thought to the political part of the game. I just tried to do the best I can and I knew if I did well, you went higher."

Bodie stayed with the Mets through 1979, having played at Jackson for three seasons. He moved to the Astros and AA Columbus for 1980. He then made AAA Tucson for 1981, his only time at AAA. He didn't get a call up to Houston.

Soon Bodie's playing career was over and he had a new opportunity, as a coach. (Part 2 Soon)

Part 1: The Reward | Part 2: Tuesday Night

Watch for Part 2 Tuesday Night

Jalal Leach, Passion For - 3420

Jalal Leach's power numbers were up at AA Albany-Colonie in 1993, but he knew he still had a lot to prove, he told The Schenectady Daily Gazette that August.

"For some reason, maybe it's just to motivate himself, I think I have to go out and prove myself every day," Leach told The Daily Gazette, "whether it's to the Yankees, the team we're playing against or to my peers."

Leach eventually did prove himself, but it took him eight more years to do it. He was in his fourth professional season that year in 1993. He went on to make the majors, but he didn't make it there until 2001 - his 12th season as a pro.

Leach made with the Giants, getting into all of eight games with the big club. He's since gone on to a career working to help others to success in the game, working as a scout, as well as a mentor.

Leach's long playing career began in 1990, taken by the Yankees in the seventh round out of Pepperdine University in California.

Leach started with the Yankees at short-season Oneonta. He hit .288 in 69 games. He moved to high-A Fort Lauderdale in 1991, then AA Albany-Colonie in 1993.

He first made AAA in 1994 at Columbus. It then took him seven more years to take that last step to the majors.

Leach returned to AAA with the Yankees in 1995. He then moved through the Expos, Mariners, Giants and Phillies systems.

In 2000, Leach was with AAA Scranton in the Phillies system. He told The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader that May why he was still playing.

"I could probably make more money doing something else," Leach told The Times Leader. "But my mom knows how much baseball means to me. She says life is about choices, and that I should keep playing baseball as long as I enjoy it."

Leach returned to the Giants system for 2001. That September, he got his call to San Francisco. He debuted Sept. 5 against Arizona.

Knowing how long it took him to get there, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote.

"I was so focused going up there on swinging at a good pitch," Leach told The Chronicle, "I didn't really hear the crowd until I hit the ball. The ball came up there and I thought, 'That's in my happy zone,' but I got out in front of it."

Leach flew out on that at bat. He ended up getting a total of 10 major league at bats. He got one hit, an RBI single against the Astros Sept. 19.

Leach returned to the minors for 2002 and 2003. He also had time in independent ball and in Mexico, playing his final game in 2004.

Leach has since gone on to be a scout, serving with the Yankees in 2015. He also runs his own youth baseball program called the Baseball Mentoring Program, according to The Sacramento Bee.

"It's like I have two full-time jobs," Leach told The Bee in 2015. "I have a passion for the game."

Read more here:
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,120
Made the Majors: 917-43.3%-X
Never Made Majors:1,203-56.7%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 390
10+ Seasons in the Minors:228-X

Steve Murray, Big Difference - 19

Originally published Nov. 10, 2014
The College World Series game was high scoring and Oklahoma State coach Gary Ward pointed to a Steve Murray double that cleared the bases as the turning point, according to The Omaha World-Herald.

Murray's double turned a three-run lead for Arizona State in that 1984 game to a six-run lead, Ward noted to The World-Herald.

"He hit it off the hands, and it fell a step away from Whisler," Ward told The World-Herald. "That stretched the game out from 10-7 to 13-7 quite a difference."

Murray went on from his college days to play as a pro. He played for seven years, serving as a player-coach at the end. He never made the majors.

Murray's career began that year in 1984, taken by the Mariners in the 10th round of the draft out of Arizona State.

At Arizona State in February 1984, Murray knocked in four runs in a 9-5 Arizona State win. Two of those runs came on a triple.

Murray started his Mariners career at short-season Bellingham. He hit .174 in 60 games. In a July game, he hit another bases-clearing triple. He knocked in seven runs over two nights, according to The Eugene Register-Guard.

"The bag hops tend to average out," Bellingham manager Gary Peliant told The Register-Guard. "(Murray's) come up with the last couple nights with some key hits."

Murray moved to single-A Salinas for 1985 and then stayed there for three seasons. His best average was .257 in 1986. He also knocked 20 doubles that year.

Murray split 1988 between single-A San Bernardino and AA Vermont. In 72 games at Vermont, he hit .178. He had an RBI single in an August game.

His last season with significant playing time was 1989. He got into 58 games between single-A Wausau and AAA Calgary. He hit .247 between them.

For 1990, Murray turned player coach at San Bernardino. He didn't get into a game there, but injuries forced his activation and plane ticket back to Calgary. He hit .292 in 22 games there.

Murray's final playing time came in 1991, with five games back at San Bernardino, ending his career.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Stevie Perry, Fell Short - 3370

King High School in Detroit, Mich., can claim at least seven pro baseball players among its alumni.

One of those players, Kerwin Moore, went on to a career that saw time in the majors. The other six went on to pro careers that fell short.

King High's Stevie Perry's career was one of those six players who fell short. He went on to a pro career that saw time in three seasons, but he never made single-A.

Perry's career began in 1988, taken by the Yankees in the 19th round of the draft out of King High. Perry has also been credited as Steve Perry.

He started with the Yankees in the rookie Gulf Coast League. The left-hander got into two games there his first year. In three innings, he gave up two earned runs. He also struck out five.

He returned to the Gulf Coast League for 1989. He got into 15 games that year, starting one. He went 2-2 overall, with a 4.73 ERA and he picked up one save.

For 1990, Perry moved to short-season Oneonta. He got into 20 games there, starting three. He also picked up six wins to one loss and saved one game. He ended with a 4.64 ERA. It was his final season as a pro.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,119
Made the Majors: 916-43.2%
Never Made Majors:1,203-56.8%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 390
10+ Seasons in the Minors:227

Darren Hodges, His Own - 3377

Darren Hodges improved on the mound in 1993 and it showed on the field, according to The Schenectady Daily Gazette.

Hodges' pitching coach Dave Schuler told The Daily Gazette in late May why Hodges had improved.

"His execution has been outstanding," Schuler told The Daily Gazette. "He's really coming into his own as a pitcher. He understands which pitches compliment each other."

Hodges appeared to come into his own that year, his fourth season as a pro. He went on to get into one more season, before abruptly retiring and ending his career in May 1994.

Hodges' career began in 1990, taken by the Yankees in the 10th round of the draft out of Ferrum College in Virginia.

Hodges played his first year at short-season Oneonta. He went 6-3 over 14 starts, with a 1.67 ERA. He then moved to high-A Fort Lauderdale for 1991. He had a 2.66 ERA there over 25 starts.

Hodges split 1992 between Fort Lauderdale and AA Albany-Colonie. His time at AA saw his ERA balloon to 6.05.

Then came 1993, when his first half seemed as good as any other. He came on that April as an unexpected starter. He'd been pegged to come in in relief. His first win came on a five-inning outing, The Daily Gazette wrote.

"Last year here, walks killed me," Hodges told The Daily Gazette after that first win. "Once you get guys on base, you've got to go to the fastball, especially up here in AA. When you know it's coming, it's not hard to hit it."

By mid-July, Hodges was 8-4. He got his eighth win after a poor outing at Bowie. Hodges told The Daily Gazette he had the bad outing and moved on.

"Nothing bothers me at all now," Hodges told The Daily Gazette. "I'm a little bit more settled down now. I have a wife, and it makes it easier to go home after a game like that."

Hodges finished the season 10-10, with a 4.72 ERA. He then returned to Albany-Colonie for 1994. He went 5-1, with a 3.62 ERA in eight starts. But, by the end of May, he retired.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,118
Made the Majors: 916-43.3%
Never Made Majors:1,202-56.7%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 390
10+ Seasons in the Minors:227

Isaiah Clark, Mature Person - 7

Originally published May 17, 2011
Fifteen games into his professional career, Isaiah Clark's career was put on hold. A knee injury forced the Brewers first-round pick to sit for the rest of that season - and the next.

"It was really the most terrible time of my life," Clark told The Milwaukee Journal in May 1986 of the surgeries and rehab. "I'd never had so many bad moments, so many downs. It really made me a mature person. I learned a lot."

Clark came back from that 1984 injury to play in six seasons, but they were seasons spent in the minors. Clark only got as high as AA, never making the majors.

Clark's career began that year in 1983, taken by the Brewers in the first round out of Crockett High School in Crockett, Texas.

Sent to rookie-league Paintsville, Clark played in just those 15 games, getting 10 hits in 57 at bats. Then came his knee injury.

Coming back nearly two years later, Clark played 1986 at single-A Beloit and rookie league Helena. He hit .277 with 12 home runs between them.

For 1987, Clark moved on to single-A Stockton. He hit just .230, with four home runs. It was his final full year with the Brewers system. He started 1988 back at single-A Beloit. Then, in May, the Brewers traded him to the Athletics, getting three players in return.

He played the rest of the season back in the California League at Modesto, hitting .265. Clark got two hits in one early June game, contributed to a run with a double in an August outing.

Clark moved on to the Padres system for 1989, playing at single-A Riverside. Clark finished out his career in 1990, with the Mariners. He started that season at single-A San Bernardino, finishing it with his only trip to AA at Williamsport.

While Clark never made the majors, two of his brothers did, Phil and Jerald Clark. Phil Clark played parts of five seasons in the majors, from 1992 to 1996. Jerald Clark played parts of seven, from 1988 to 1995.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Trey Hillman, Adapt and Adjust - 3389

Originally published April 11, 2011; Updated August 2015
After his third season as a player in the minors, Trey Hillman had the choice between returning as a player for a fourth year, or taking a job as a scout, The Hartford Courant wrote in 1997.

Hillman chose to become a scout.

"It was probably one of the toughest decisions I've ever made," Hillman told The Courant. "I was very realistic about what my opportunity and chances were to play at the big-league level. As far as the physical tools go, I was a good defender, but I never got an opportunity to develop as a hitter because of limited playing time."

While he never got to the majors as a player, Hillman did get to the majors, as a manager. He served just over two seasons as the manager of the Kansas City Royals. It was part of a more-than two decade post-playing career for Hillman that includes stints managing in the minors, and in Japan.

His brief playing career over by 1987, Hillman spent two seasons as a scout for the Indians, moving to the Yankees system in 1989 as a coach with Fort Lauderdale. He then started his managing career in 1990, helming short-season Oneonta after a stint coaching with AAA Columbus.

At Oneonta, Hillman watched over young Dutch prospect Robert Eenhoorn. Eenhoorn, Hillman told The New York Times, played shortstop like Cal Ripken.

"The anticipation, the ability to play the position like a little man, it's all there," Hillman told The Times. "All he needs is to work on his hitting in the minor leagues and he'll be fine."

Hillman stayed with the Yankees system for more than a decade, through 2001. He also moved up the system, managing AA Norwich by 1997 and then AAA Columbus in 1999. After a brief stint with the Rangers in 2002 as director of player development, Hillman made the big jump, to Japan.

In Japan, Hillman took over the Nippon Ham Fighters, a team that had finished fifth of six the year before, and hadn't come in first in two decades, according to The Associated Press.

"I'm not coming over here to rewrite the game," Hillman told The AP in March 2003. "One of the things I've learned over the years is you have to adapt and adjust to different situations."

Hillman spent five years with the Fighters, taking them to two straight Japan Series, winning it in on their first visit in 2006. It was enough for the Royals to hire him for 2008.

"He is an exceptional person with a great passion to lead,'' Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement after hiring Hillman. "He is the perfect choice for our organization.''

But Hillman couldn't turn things around in Kansas City like he did in Japan. In two-plus seasons, Hillman went a total of 152-207, finishing in fourth place in each of his two full seasons.

Fired in May 2010 after a seven-game losing streak, Hillman managed one more game, getting the win.

"I was thankful to get to manage today," Hillman told after his final game. "You don't want to go out on a seven-game losing streak, that's for sure."

In 2015, Hillman is serving as bench coach for the Houston Astros.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,117
Made the Majors: 916-43.3%
Never Made Majors:1,201-56.7%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 390
10+ Seasons in the Minors:227
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