Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Keiji Abe, American Game - 23

Originally published Dec. 19, 2013
The Hiroshima Carp sent several players to the United States in 1989, and again in 1990, to learn the American game. Sent there with them was coach and former Carp player Keiji Abe.

"It is very important to be here and to learn and study American baseball," Abe told The Newport News Daily Press in May 1989, through an interpreter. "The method of coaching in Japan is to take care of players, somewhat spoil them. Coaches in Japan don't approach the players, the player approaches the coach when he needs him."

Abe coached with his Carp players in 1989 with the Peninsula Pilots. In 1990, it was with the rookie Gate City Pioneers.

Abe has since gone on to a long career as a coach in various capacities with the Carp, including in China.

Abe's career in baseball began in 1983, taken by the Carp in the sixth round of the 1979 draft, out of high school in Japan. The Japanese form of Abe's name is 阿部慶二.

With the Carp, Abe didn't make the first team until 1984. When he got there, though, he made his presence known quickly. In his first at bat, as a pinch-hitter, Abe hit a home run, according to his Wikipedia Japan page.

That home run turned out to be his only one in the Japanese majors. He got into nine games that first year in 1984, then 16 two years later in 1986. His final games then came in 1988, two games. In 18 career at bats, he picked up just two hits. One of those was the home run.

Abe then turned to coaching. He most recently is recorded as coaching in 2010, serving as base running and infield coach for the Carp's second team. In 2006, Abe was a third base coach for the Carp. In 2008, he served as a coach for the Carp in China, according to his Wikipedia page.

Hideki Mizusawa, Did Play - 17

Originally published Dec. 17, 2013
Coming out of high school in Japan, Hideki Mizusawa pitched well enough to get himself drafted into Nippon Professional Baseball.

He never made it into a game in the NPB, but he did play a season in the United States. And he later continued in the game as a batting practice pitcher and scout in Japan, according to his Wikipedia Japan page.

Mizusawa's career began in 1987, taken by the Hiroshima Carp in the fourth round of the draft, out of what is now known as Akita University Keihodai High School. Mizusawa's name has also been spelled Hideki Misuzawa. The Japanese form of his name is 水沢英樹.

He stayed with the Carp on its second team through 1991. In 1990, he was sent to the United States, on loan to the independent Gate City Pioneers of the rookie Pioneer League.

With the Pioneers, Mizusawa got into 17 games, starting five. Over 42.1 innings, he gave up 35 earned runs, for a 7.44 ERA. He also went 2-3, with one complete game.

Back in Japan for 1991, Mizusawa was unable to make the top Hiroshima club and then retired, according to his Wikipedia Japan page.

He then went on to be a batting practice pitcher for Seibu Lions until 1997. He then turned his sights on scouting, signing several players for the Lions.

Keith Casey, Stayed In - 5

Originally published Dec. 23, 2013
Keith Casey had a brief professional career, but he has stayed in the game.

He's stayed in as a youth coach, and he's worked as an independent scout, looking for talent to send off to college.

Casey's brief pro career began and ended in 1990, signed by independent Gate City as a free agent out of college.

Casey attended San Diego City College. He went to San Diego out of Alhambra High School in Martinez, Ca.

With Gate City, Casey got into seven games, all in relief. In 10.1 total innings, Casey gave up 18 earned runs. He struck out four and walked nine. It was the extent of his pro career.

Casey has since settled in the Sacramento area, learning scouting from Sports Management WorldWide.

Casey also works as a youth instructor, and coach, heading up the Fair Oaks Crawdads travel baseball team.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ed Creech, Life Blood - 24

Ed Creech joined the Giants after the Pirates let him go in 2007, The Moultrie Observer wrote.

He's been a top scouting adviser in San Francisco since, continuing into 2015. Along the way, the Giants have won three World Series titles.

"I was in the right place at the right time," Creech told The Observer. "I've been blessed."

Creech joined the Giants after more than 30 years in the game. He spent six seasons as a player in the minors and he's spent much of his time since as a scout, minor league manager and coach.

Creech's long career in baseball began in 1973, taken by the Expos in the second round of the draft out of Mercer University. Creech has also been referred to as Pat Creech.

Creech started with the Expos at AA Quebec. He hit .202 in 83 games. He returned to Quebec for most of 1974 and 1975. He also got brief time at both years at AAA Memphis. His final games as a player came in 1978 with the Expos at AAA Denver.

Creech then embarked on his post-playing career. By 1983, he was manager at rookie Calgary. In 1985, it was short-season Jamestown.

In 1986, Creech was a scout, leading the Expos' efforts in the southeast. He tried managing a couple more times, including at rookie Gate City in 1990, but then turned exclusively to scouting.

By 1998, Creech was scouting director with the Cardinals. For 2002, he was named scouting director for the Pirates.

Creech's Pirates drafted Neil Walker in 2004 and Creech compared Walker favorably to Hall of Famer Gary Carter, according to The Beaver County Times.

"Neil reminds me of Gary a lot," Creech told The Times, noting he'd played with Carter in the minor leagues. "They are the same type of person and that's why I think Neil will make a quick transition into professional baseball."

Creech then moved on to the Giants after leaving the Pirates in 2007. In 2015, Creech was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in Charleston.

After joining the Pirates in 2001, Creech explained to The Times how important he believed scouts are.

"I feel scouting is the lifeblood of any organization," Creech told The Times. "In my mind, there are no more important people in your organization than the area scouts who go out and find the talent in the amateur ranks."

(Joining Creech on his 1990 Gate City card appears to be his daughter Kacey. In 2015, The Charleston Post and Courier noted Creech and his wife Mary Ann have three children, two boys and a daughter, Kacey.)
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,105
Made the Majors: 910-43.2%
Never Made Majors:1,195-56.7%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 387
10+ Seasons in the Minors:226

Paul Hutto, Pretty Impressive - 13

Originally published Dec. 31, 2013
Paul Hutto's high school coach described Hutto's junior season to The Lakeland Ledger simply.

It was a spring 1987 season in which Hutto went 16-0, struck out 165, had 14 complete games and a 1.57 ERA.

"I think he had a pretty impressive year," Hutto's coach at Auburndale High School Paul Porowski told The Ledger as the paper named Hutto one of the area's top athletes of the spring. "I think he deserves it."

Hutto turned pro two years later, after a season in junior college. But he couldn't duplicate the success he had in high school in the pros. His professional career lasted just two seasons.

Hutto's pro career began in 1989, taken by the Expos in the 41st round of the previous year's draft, out of Auburndale. Hutto signed the next May, after spending a season at Manatee Community College in Florida.

At Auburndale in 1987, Hutto struck out 15 batters in an April game, while throwing a one-hitter. By May, he helped his team to the state tournament for the first time in four years. By then, he had thrown 30-straight innings without giving up an earned run, according to The Ledger.

After Auburndale, Hutto went on to Manatee. He went 7-3 there, then signed with the Expos.

With the Expos in 1989, Hutto played mainly in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He got into 25 games there mainly in relief, with a 1.55 ERA. He also got two games at short-season Jamestown.

For 1990, Hutto moved to rookie Gate City. In 26 relief outings there, though, his ERA hit 7.49. It was his final season as a pro.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Interview Part 2: Sal Rende, Good Stuck

Lehigh Valley hitting coach Sal Rende, center, talks with Cord Phelps during a July 2015 game at Rochester. Tyler Henson is at right. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Performed Well | Part 2: Good Stuck

Sal Rende's Omaha Royals infielders asked for a break. Rende offered it, just as soon as the team had a 20-game division lead.

This was summer 1990 and Rende was Omaha's manager. Teams sometimes skipped outfield practice, but never infield.

"I told them jokingly that when we get a 20-game lead, we'll do it," Rende recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days.

By the time the team concluded an early-August road trip, that 20-game lead was in-hand and Rende found himself hitting balls to the outfield. "The infielders were loving it," Rende said.

Rende's Omaha Royals team went on to take that large lead on to the 1990 AAA championship. It was his seventh season as a minor league manager. He also wasn't even 35.

Rende's managerial career started in 1984, after his playing career ended short of the majors. His first assignment was single-A Appleton in the Midwest League.

Rende recalled his first few years managing, he was barely older than his players.

"My one thought was if there was any way you could have your young players manage for three or four games, it would do them a world of good," Rende said, "because in three or four games you're going to see everything you do as a manager.
Lehigh Valley hitting coach Sal Rende, left, with manager Dave Brundage, center, before a game at Rochester in July 2015. (Greatest 21 Days)
Not necessarily on the field stuff," Rende added, "but off the field, trying to get through a day with players and understanding what they're going through. So it was a bit different being that young and starting as a manager, rather than a coach."

Rende has since moved to coaching, spending much of the last 18 seasons as a hitting coach in the minors. Since 2004, he's served as hitting coach at AAA with the Phillies. He's continuing that at Lehigh Valley in 2015.

He spoke to The Greatest 21 Days in July in the visitor's dugout at Rochester's Frontier Field as his IronPigs prepared to take on the Rochester Red Wings.

Rende's first two seasons as a manager were spent heading up the Appleton Foxes - his first year there his team won the league championship. He moved to the Mariners system for two seasons, managing one at AA Chattanooga. He then arrived with the Royals and AA Memphis in 1988.

He arrived at AAA Omaha in 1989. He's then spent much of his career since at the AAA level.

His 1990 team, the one that won the AAA championship and earned a day of only outfield practice, Rende recalled that one as probably having some of his best memories managing.

It was the best, he said, because of the group of guys he had. There were no superstars on that team, but they won the title. Russ Morman, he recalled, was the glue of the team.

"He kind of motivated everybody," Rende recalled. "He was the leader in the clubhouse."
Lehigh Valley hitter Russ Canzler at the plate in a July 2015 game at Rochester. Canzler's hitting coach is Sal Rende. (Greatest 21 Days)
Rende had also had Morman previously at Appleton. In fact, over their careers, Rende had Morman on his team for seven seasons, six of those at AAA.

"He's probably the one player that I would say I impacted the most," Rende said, noting Morman also pursued a career as a minor league manager and coach after his playing days were done. (Read the 2012 Greatest 21 Days interview with Morman)

Regarding the rest of that 1990 team, Rende rattled off the names of several of the other players, including Tim Spehr, Paul Zuvella, Bobby Meacham, Jay Baller and Mel Stottlemyre, Jr.

"It was a unique blend of veterans and a couple young guys mixed in," Rende said. "The thing about it is every day, every day was a game and they prepared and they played to win and they knew how to play to win."

The difference between managing and coaching players at AAA, versus the lower levels, Rende said, is the older guys are more established. Their maturity level is usually better, too, he said.

"Sometimes it's harder, sometimes it's easier," Rende said of coaching at AAA. "In A-ball it's more of a coach-player relationship, I think. At the AAA level, it's more a man-to-man situation. But it is also tougher because you have the guys who think they should be in the big leagues sometimes and it blocks them from doing the things they need to do."

Rende's task is to figure out how best to approach each player to get them to the proper things. "Every guy is a little different," Rende said.
Lehigh Valley hitting coach Sal Rende seated at the rail during a July 2015 game at Rochester. (Greatest 21 Days)
Rende spent seven seasons as a player himself, two of those with time at AAA. He hit three home runs in a short-season game. He also had 10-straight hits at AA. But that time is now more than 30 years old, so there isn't much that carries over, he said. But there is one thing that never fades, Rende said. That's competitiveness.

"You never lose your competitiveness," Rende said. "That's the one thing about the daily grind of baseball because as a baseball player, you're geared up for that daily competition. It sometimes looks like a routine, but man-oh-man, when that first pitch is thrown, it's game on and you're kind of looking for that action."

Rende has also tried time as a roving coordinator. From 2008 to 2010, he was roving minor league hitting coordinator for the Phillies. He's been back at AAA since 2011.

Being a coordinator makes it easier to be home more. He got to watch his son play college golf and be home with his family more. But, as far as the time spent in the game, being a coach is better than being a coordinator, he said.

"Being with the guys daily is more fun to me," Rende said, "because you get more personal with them and you go through the ups and downs and the grind with them every day."

With all his time at AAA, is Rende looking for action in the majors? He's spent at least 19 seasons patrolling AAA dugouts. Is the majors the goal?

He's thought about it in the past. Maybe there'd be a good situation. But he's also happy doing what he's doing.

"We're doing what we love to do," Rende said. "And at this stage in life, there's not much else you can do you've been doing this for so long. So you're kind of stuck, but for me it's a good stuck because I really enjoy it."

Part 1: Performed Well | Part 2: Good Stuck

Be sure to read Part 1: Sal Rende, Performed Well

Jim Heilgeist, Came Together - 11

Originally published Dec. 25, 2013
Jim Heilgeist had success on the field, but he credited a teammate with helping, his running back.

"When Aaron Armstrong starts running, defenses usually come up," the tight end Heilgeist told The Spokane Spokesman-Review in December 1988 after a two touchdown performance, "and that leaves the passing lanes open for me."

When everything came together, Heilgeist's Liberty High School Patriots were state champions.

At Liberty High School in Washington State, Heilgeist had success in two sports, baseball and football. His success in his other sport ended up getting him drafted, but it couldn't get him a long career.

Heilgeist's pro career began in 1989, taken by the Expos in the 19th round of the draft, out of Liberty High School in Renton, Wash.

At Liberty, Heilgeist's success in both sports brought him honors. He won All-State in football and All-State in baseball, according to The Issaquah Press.

With the baseball team, Heilgeist helped Liberty to the 1989 state playoffs, but the run didn't end like the football team's. They ran into a pitcher no one on the team could hit, according to The Press.

"He really had us psyched out," Heilgeist told The Press of the opposing pitcher. "He was fast, but fast doesn't matter. He was throwing it right down the tube and we couldn't hit it. He just intimidated us."

With the Expos, Heilgeist started in the rookie Gulf Coast League. In 14 games, he hit .158.

For 1990, the Expos optioned Heilgeist to rookie Gate City. He got into 33 games there, but couldn't improve his average. He ended with a .097 mark, ending his professional career.
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