Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Interview Part 2: Hector Berrios, Nice Core

Williamsport pitching coach Hector Berrios, center, talks to his hurler in summer 2016 at Troy, NY. (Greatest 21 Days) 

Part 1: Tried It | Part 2: Nice Core

Hector Berrios finished up his playing career after the 1992 season. He played eight seasons, but never made the majors.

He did, however, learn a lot in those seasons, understanding both the mental and physical sides of the game. He eventually got back into baseball as a coach and he's been passing that knowledge on since.

"You have things in your mind that you know that you can help," Berrios told The Greatest 21 Days. "The great thing is that you mix all of that stuff that you've learned and then you're going to relearn some other things from the coaches from the organizations. I've been with five different organizations, which has been a plus."

Berrios offered a list of the pitching coaches he's been around and had the opportunity to learn from over the years.

"You start developing your own style and wherever you go, you tailor your style to whatever the umbrella of your organization is, what they want to teach as an organization, and then you use your creativity from there."

Berrios is continuing in 2017 as Phillies minor league coach. He's scheduled to return to short-season Williamsport, where he served 2016. Berrios spoke to The Greatest 21 Days in summer 2016 on his team's visit to Troy, NY.

Berrios began to amass his knowledge of the game over two seasons in the Royals system, 1984 and 1985. Shoulder problems forced him out for a year. He then returned with the Tigers at single-A Fayetteville.
Hector Berrios, right, during warmups at Troy, NY, in summer 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
He also played winter ball in San Juan with future major leaguers, helping his team win championships.

Berrios made AA Glens Falls in 1988, high-A Lakeland, but didn't return to AA until 1991 at Midland with the Angels.

"I was having tremendous success and in my case it was my injuries that set me back and then I couldn't go on," Berrios said. "I was an outfielder for so long and mechanically pitching coaches were adept to teaching proper mechanics because it was a new thing.

"I got caught in that point where the injuries just overcame me and i wasn't able to continue to play," Berrios said.

Berrios also made AAA Edmonton in 1991 for 17 outings. He then played 1992 at AAA between the Cubs and the Dodgers.

He played spring training 1992 with Los Angeles. Berrios recalled the Dodgers opening up spring play against his hometown Mets.
Williamsport pitching coach Hector Berrios, left, working with a pitcher in the bullpen at Troy, NY, in summer 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
"I'm from New York City, so everybody's watching that game and I ended up pitching in that game," Berrios recalled. "I told my father to record the game because I knew I was going to pitch in that first game."

Berrios recalled striking out Bobby Bonilla and Howard Johnson back-to-back and getting Willie Randolph to flight out.

"It was amazing," Berrios said of the experience. "Pitching against your hometown team, the team that you rooted for for all those years, to pitch against them."

Finally, though, his elbow went out by the end of the season and he underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his career.

"That was tough," Berrios said. "I remember crying like a baby because I knew that that was it in my career and I knew that I was going to have to retire. It was almost like grieving, like a death in the family."

Once he got over that, Berrios started thinking about what he wanted to do. He always liked to coach and he eventually got the opportunity to do so professionally.

Berrios started sending out letters to teams and kept at it. It took until 1997, but Berrios found a team. His old team the Tigers hired him to serve as pitching coach at short-season Jamestown.
Hector Berrios, right, in the Williamsport dugout at Troy, NY, in summer 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
He then moved through the Blue Jays and Mets systems, including six seasons at short-season Brooklyn.

Along the way, he's worked with many players, and spotted talent. He recalled working with future major leaguer Dillon Gee at Brooklyn in 2007.

Gee, Berrios recalled, was a 21st-round draft pick. Berrios looked at him and thought the Mets got a steal.

"I remember calling the organization and telling them, 'listen, we have a guy here that was drafted in the 21st round and he's better than anybody we have on the staff. This guy throws more strikes, has a better delivery. I mean, he's got everything that you would want in a pitcher.'"

As for his approach as a pitching coach, Berrios said it's a combination of everything he's experienced.

"You take everything that you did as a player, you take everything you've done as a coach," Berrios said of his approach as a coach, "you kind of bottle all that stuff up, all things that work, all the things that don't work, you just get it out of the way and you have that nice core."

Part 1: Tried It | Part 2: Nice Core

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