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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview, Tracy Woodson, Part 2/2, That Opportunity

Valparaiso head baseball coach Tracy Woodson, coaching third, talks to Valparaiso runner Tanner Vavra during a game in April 2012 at Youngstown State. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Hardest Part | Part 2: That Opportunity

Tracy Woodson started some games, substituted in others. What was constant, though, as the Dodgers were closing in on the 1988 NL West title, Woodson didn't know when he was going to play.

The key, though, Woodson recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently, was he had to be ready.

"You've just got to be ready," Woodson said. "You don't know when he's going to call your name. When he does, you've got to be ready.

"I tell my guys that all the time," the Valparaiso University head coach added, "you never know when you'll get an opportunity. When you get that opportunity, you've got take advantage of it because you might not get another one."

Woodson tried to take advantage of the opportunities the Dodgers gave him in 1988. Called up in July, Woodson got into 65 games down the stretch. He even got time in the World Series.

Valparaiso head baseball coach Tracy Woodson coaches third during an April 2012 game at Youngstown State. (G21D Photo)
Woodson, though, spent the next three seasons trying to get that next opportunity. But when that next opportunity came - with it another year and a half in the majors - Woodson almost missed it. By then, he'd almost called it quits.

Woodson is in his sixth season as head coach Valparaiso University in 2012, after nearly a decade as a manager in the minors and a playing career that lasted 13. Woodson's major league career lasted parts of five seasons, the final two coming after he'd wondered if his playing career was over.

Woodson spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently before a game at Eastwood Field in Niles, Ohio, his Valparaiso Crusaders visiting Youngstown State.

By the time 1988 came, Woodson had already played a good portion of a season in the majors, 53 games with the Dodgers in 1987. In 1988, he hit .249 in his 65 games. He also hit three home runs.

He also earned a spot on the Dodgers' playoff roster. In the NLCS, he got four at bats, one hit. In the World Series, Woodson got another four at bats, no hits but one RBI. For Woodson, though, it was the introductions in the World Series that sticks out the most.

Valparaiso's Michael Morman delivers to the plate in April 2012 at Youngstown State. Morman is coached by Tracy Woodson. (G21D Photo)
"It's exciting," Woodson said, "you see the camera moving up player by player ... it's hard to describe."

From those highs though in 1988, Woodson returned to the minors in 1989. He got called up, but for just four games.

By 1990, he was with the White Sox at AAA Vancouver. Then, in 1991, the Richmond-native returned home, playing with the Braves at AAA Richmond. He didn't make the majors with either the White Sox or the Braves.

"I was close to... I didn't know what to do," Woodson said of his time back in the minors. "I didn't know whether to call it quits and start coaching, or continue playing."

Then Ted Simmons called.

Simmons was the director of player development for the Cardinals. He was also one of the greatest switch-hitters of all time.

Woodson recalled meeting Simmons back in 1987 and Simmons seeming to take to his style of play. Woodson signed. "It got me another year and a half in the big leagues," Woodson recalled.

Called back in August 1992, Woodson got into 35 games for the Cardinals that year and 62 final games in 1993.

As for what kept him going in those years away from the majors, Woodson said it was "the taste."

Valparaiso head baseball coach Tracy Woodson at Eastwood Field in Niles, Ohio in April 2012. Woodson's Crusaders were visiting Youngstown State. (G21D Photo)
"It's the taste," Woodson said. "It's the taste of it. You want to get back. There's nothing like being in the big leagues. It's, you know, how you travel, the stadiums. You just want it.

"That's why you see guys hanging around, because they want to get back to it."

Woodson hit .307 in his first stint with St. Louis and .208 his second. He played three more seasons back at AAA, ending his playing career.

By then, he knew he wasn't getting back to the majors. He also knew he wanted to coach. By 1998, he was managing at short-season Erie, then single-A Hickory in 1999. He moved to AA Mobile in 2001. In 2004, he made AAA Albuquerque.

"I liked managing all the way up to AA," Woodson said. "In AAA, it was just guys that were like me. All they were worried about was making the big leagues."

In 2006, Woodson signed on with Valparaiso. He's now in his sixth season.

"I love it here," Woodson said. "I like working with the young kids. I like doing my own thing, the scheduling, you recruit your own players. In pro ball, you're handed players and told who to play, for the most part. Here, I can pretty much do what I want, so I like it."

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