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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Interview Bill Haselman Part 2, Certain Breaks

Inland Empire manager Bill Haselman, right, congratulates Kaleb Cowart after a first-inning home run July 25 at San Bernardino's San Manuel Stadium. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Same Game | Part 2: Certain Breaks | Interview: Paul Sorrento | Thoughts on C.J. Cron

Bill Haselman made the majors in 1990 for seven games. The next year, though, that hardly mattered much.

The catcher spent the next year back in the minors, at AAA Oklahoma City. His average dropped to .256 and Haselman admitted recently he wondered when he would get back, if he would get back.

"It goes through your mind," Haselman told The Greatest 21 Days recently in San Bernardino, Ca. "You know you're good. You know you can play. But you're wondering if you can stick up there. You have to have certain breaks, too, if you're not a superstar."

For Haselman, the break he saw as his biggest didn't come until three seasons later, in 1994 - when he was sent to the minors.

Haselman ended up returning to the majors for parts of 13 seasons, not playing his last big league game until 2003.

Haselman is now the manager at high-A Inland Empire, the Angels affiliate in the California League. He spoke with The Greatest 21 Days in late July before his 66ers took on rival Rancho Cucamonga at San Bernardino's San Manuel Stadium.

Inland Empire manager Bill Haselman coaches third and watches a runner on second as Kaleb Cowart waits for a pitch July 25 at San Manuel Stadium. (G21D Photo)
Haselman saw his major league debut in 1990, called up to the Rangers in September straight from AA Tulsa. He went 2 for 13. He then spent that entire next season at Oklahoma City.

In 1992, Haselman was taken off waivers by the Mariners, making it back to the majors again that September. He got into eight games there, going 5 for 19.

His second year there, Haselman's playing time ballooned. He got into 58 games, hitting .255. He returned in 1994 for another 38 games. His average that year, though, bottomed out at .193.

By July 1994, Haselman was back in the minors. And he remained there as the major league players went on strike. The minor leagues were unaffected by the strike and played on, concluding the season.

Haselman pointed to that time spent back in the minors as helping him get to his next, and best, stop, the Red Sox.

 "I went to Calgary and had a great six weeks," Haselman recalled. "Boston caught on to me there and it was the best thing that ever happened. I loved Boston."

Inland Empire manager Bill Haselman, No. 21, meets on the mound with pitcher Lay Batista and other 66ers late in the game July 25. (G21D Photo)
When the strike was over and Haselman and the rest of the players were back on the field, Haselman was right there competing for a big league catching spot. By the time the year was out, Haselman had posted a career high in games played, at 64. He hit .243, with five home runs.

That July, Haselman proved his worth as a backup. Haselman came in in mid-second inning, after the Red Sox starting catcher went down with an injury. With a runner on third, the task was made all the more difficult as the Red Sox starting pitcher that day was knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

"It turned out good," Haselman recalled, after admitting he was nervous. "Wakefield pitched great. He was right around the plate. I got through that game without screwing that up."

In between handling Wakefield's knuckleball, Haselman also found success at the plate: He hit what turned out to be his only major league grand slam.

"It was just one of those things," Haselman said, "all of a sudden I was in the game, I was worried about Wakefield more than anything. I didn't even care about hitting, because he was so hard to catch.

"You just try to do what you can as a hitter," Wakefield added of the grand slam. "You work hard, sometimes you run into one and that's what happened."

Inland Empire manager Bill Haselman walks back to the dugout before a game July 25 at San Manuel Stadium. (G21D Photo)
The next year, Haselman got a chance to catch Roger Clemens, and he did so in Clemens' second 20-strikeout game. Haselman recalled calling pitches, and the veteran All-Star Clemens shaking him off. "It was just a great game, best game I ever caught," Haselman recalled. "He just spotted the ball perfectly."

Haselman started that game with Clemens in September 1996. For Haselman, while he went on to play in the majors each year through 2003, he never was able to win a full starting job behind the plate.

It was in his 1996 season that he saw the most playing time, in 77 games. Looking back now, Haselman flatly says he just wasn't good enough to be a regular in the majors.

"It was something you always strive for," Haselman said of being a starter, "but it was something, you know, I just wasn't able to do. I wasn't good enough. There were better players.

"I tried like crazy," Haselman added, "but I just wasn't able to do it."

As a backup, Haselman said good managers let backups know when they will be playing. But he also had to remain ready for those games like he had with Wakefield.

That required constant preparation. He noted his playing time back with the Rangers. He returned to Texas in 1998 and 2000-2002. There, he backed up one of the game's best, Ivan Rodriguez.

"Mentally, you've just got to stay prepared the whole time," Haselman said. "I used to visualize a lot of stuff like I was playing, as much as I could. I backed up Pudge for four years - not very much playing time. So I just tried to do my best to visualize and work out on the field."

Inland Empire manager Bill Haselman in the dugout before the game July 25 at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino, Ca. (G21D Photo)
In between those starts, Haselman said he would also work with pitchers, helping to prepare them as much as he could.

"And, as a manager, too, I really appreciate catchers that do that. I really do," Haselman said. "It's a big asset to have that. It's another coach, in a way. So I think that's what really kept me around for a while."

Haselman ended his playing career in 2003, returning to the Red Sox for four final games. He then stayed with Boston the next three years, as first base coach and bullpen coach.

In 2010, he returned to the field as a manager with the Rangers at high-A Bakersfield. He then returned to the California League in 2012, with Inland Empire.

Haselman said he always wanted to manage and coach. And now he's doing it.

"I like it, it's a challenge, for sure," Haselman said. "There's a lot of guys you've got to find what works for them, different terminology for different players. You're always trying to find out how to make somebody better. Not everybody's the same. That's the challange of a coach, I think."

Part 1: Same Game | Part 2: Certain Breaks | Interview: Paul Sorrento | Thoughts on C.J. Cron

Read other interviews from The Greatest 21 Days: Todd Haney, Rich Tunison, Bruce Crabbe, John Leister, Tracy Woodson

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