Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pat Rice Interview, Part 1, Original Path

Fresno Grizzlies pitching coach Pat Rice in the Fresno dugout in July 2012. Rice made the majors in 1991 starting with 13 scoreless innings. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Original Path | Part 2: Successfully Reinvented

FRESNO, CA - Going into the 1991 season, Pat Rice learned the Mariners definitely had a spot for him, just not the spot he was interested in.

Rice hoped that year would be his sixth as a pro, one where he might even get his first shot at the majors. And he felt like he was on his way to doing that, working that previous off season to correct some of his problems from the previous year.

"I showed up at spring training and the coach I had the year before came up to me and said, 'I don't know if we're going to have a job for you or not, but we want to make you a coach,'" Rice recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently.

"I go, at least if this path's not working, I have another path I can go on," Rice recalled.

For Rice, his original path did work.

Less than two months into the season, as he sat in the stands working the radar gun between starts for AAA Calgary, Rice got the news he'd been waiting for: He was going to the major leagues.

For Rice, it would be his only call to the majors, getting into just seven games, starting two. But he also showed he could play in the majors. He started that run with 13 consecutive scoreless innings. He didn't give up his first run until his fifth outing.

Fresno starter Clayton Tanner on the mound at Chukchansi Park in Fresno, July 27, 2012. Tanner's pitching coach at Fresno is Pat Rice. (G21D Photo)
Rice spoke with The Greatest 21 Days in late July 2012, at Fresno's Chukchansi Park, where Rice is continuing on that other path, the one as a coach.

Rice is serving as the Giants' AAA pitching coach for 2012, his fourth season with the club. In all, he's served as a coach or coordinator now for 18 total seasons.

Rice spoke with The Greatest 21 Days about his origins in the game, how he went undrafted out of college, only to sign on with an independent team and then with the Mariners. Then his move through the minors and that choice on whether he would end his career before ever making the majors.

He also spoke about his efforts to contact his parents, to relay the news of his call up, finally getting them on the phone at 4 a.m., after he'd already arrived with the big club in New York, and his assurances to his coaches for that first big league outing that he could pitch as long as they needed him.

Then there was the year after that, a year of failure, failing on the mound and failing to make the majors again. It was that year, most of all, that Rice points to as helping him, as he went into coaching, more than any other.

Rice was born in South Dakota, but, with a father in the military, he spent his youth around the country, including Hawaii and Colorado.

Fresno's Chukchansi Park July 27, 2012. The pitching coach at Fresno is Pat Rice. (G21D Photo)
His father played baseball, but not professionally, so Rice recalled just gravitating toward it as a youth.

By the time the family arrived in Colorado, Rice had grown a bit and pitched well enough to make it to junior college. He then pitched well enough to make it to the University of Arkansas on a partial scholarship.

At Arkansas, Rice helped the team to the 1985 College World Series, the team making it one win away from the final.

"We had tremendous players there, good coaches," Rice said. "I just kind of walked into a really good situation."

In his senior year, 1986, though, Rice got injured, contributing to his draft position: He didn't have one. With no team wanting to take a chance on him, Rice prepared for life after college.

After getting a job lined up selling pharmaceuticals, though, Rice did get a call. The call came from the independent Pioneer League team in Salt Lake City. It was an invitation to a tryout at Pepperdine.

"I had a couple weeks before I had to actually go to work so I said 'ehh, I'll go do that,'" Rice recalled. "I tried out and made it."

The pharmaceutical company would have to make due without him.

Rice ended up getting into 18 games for the club, starting six of them, and posting a 3.34 ERA. He also helped the team of undrafted, unsigned ballplayers to the Pioneer League championship.

Fresno starter Clayton Tanner delivers to the plate July 27, 2012, at Fresno's Chukchansi Park. Tanner's pitching coach at Fresno is Pat Rice. (G21D Photo)
The night the team won the championship, Rice also won. His personal win came with an offer from a scout to go play baseball in the Seattle Mariners organization.

The offer came after the game ended, and as the championship celebrations continued, Rice recalled.

"It was a good day," Rice said. "It was a really good day. People talk about their first day in the big leagues and all that. But that was really exciting for me because I didn't really know what I was going to do after the season was over.

"So it kind of at least put me on a path to go somewhere."

With the Mariners, Rice started at single-A Wausau, going 12-11, with a 3.84 ERA. The next year, he moved to single-A San Bernardino.

At 23 and 24 years old those first two years with the Mariners, Rice recalled always seeming like the oldest guy on the team.

He also recalled knowing his status as an undrafted player, and working to change that.

"I knew that there was a pecking order and I somehow or another had to show that I wasn't at the bottom of that pecking order," Rice recalled.

But, as far as trying to do that, Rice recalled he just tried to go out and play.

"There was never a chip on my shoulder, that I didn't get drafted, but it was a motivational tool for me, kind of a prove-them-wrong kind of thing," Rice said.

"For me," Rice added a short time later, "it was just the fact that I loved playing. It didn't matter what I was doing. As long as I was getting to play, I was happy."

Within a few years, the pitcher signed as an undrafted free agent, was playing in the big leagues.

Go to Part 2, Pat Rice, Successfully Reinvented

Part 1: Original Path | Part 2: Successfully Reinvented

Note: This is the fifth of 10 interviews picked up on The Greatest 21 Days' late July trip to central and southern California. Links to other interviews are on the righthand column.

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