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Friday, August 24, 2012

Pat Rice Interview, Part 2, Successfully Reinvented

Fresno pitching coach Pat Rice, left, in the Fresno dugout July 27, 2012 at Chukchansi Park. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Original Path | Part 2: Successfully Reinvented

Pat Rice knew he wasn't going on full rest. His coaches did, too.

Rice, though, was ready to go that night as long as needed.

"They told me before the game, 'you give us five innings, that's all we need,'" Rice recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently. "I said, 'I'm staying out here as long as I can, you don't have to take me out.'"

Rice didn't mind because this was his major league debut. He also lasted into the sixth inning, without giving up a run.

Rice debuted for the Mariners that May in 1991, the team visiting Yankee Stadium. He went on to pitch 13 total scoreless innings to start his big league career, innings pitched over four separate outings.

Those four outings also represented more than half of Rice's major league career.

Rice spoke with The Greatest 21 Days in late July 2012, at Fresno's Chukchansi Park, where Rice is in his fourth season as the pitching coach for AAA Fresno. Rice turned to coaching after a playing career that spanned seven seasons and included that one brief look at the majors.

Fresno's Boof Bonser at Chukchansi Park in July 2012. Bonser's pitching coach at Fresno is Pat Rice. (G21D Photo)
Rice made the majors in 1991 after five seasons in the minors and not getting drafted out of college. He also made it after a season that saw him start at AAA Calgary and end back at AA Williamsport.

After being sent back down to Williamsport mid-1990, Rice realized he needed to improve if he was going to make it. And that's what he set out to do, he recalled.

"I got sent back down to AA and I needed to reinvent myself a little bit," Rice said. "There were some things I needed to work on, get better at."

The season over, he set about improving. Arriving at camp the next spring, though, Rice brushed back an offer to coach and set about proving he could still pitch.

Taking the mound that spring, Rice pitched well. With a trade, a spot opened up and Rice was back at AAA, as a pitcher.

By May, Rice had pitched well enough to get his call. He had also done so without ever making a major league camp. None of the Seattle coaches really knew him, except for Mariners bullpen coach Dan Warthen.

Warthen, the Mets pitching coach for 2012, had coached Rice the previous year during Rice's 15 outings at AAA Calgary. Rice believed it was Warthen who suggested Rice for the call-up.

Rice got word between starts, as he sat in the Calgary stands clocking that day's pitcher.
The view from the home team dugout at Fresno's Chukchansi Park in July 2012. Pat Rice serves as Fresno's pitching coach. (G21D Photo)

It was the team owner, Rice recalled, rushed up to him. Rice needed to get on a plane. "You don't have time, just get your stuff, we're going to the airport," Rice recalled the owner saying.

It took Rice a couple questions to comprehend what was happening. What was he talking about? What was in New York?

"You're getting called up to the big leagues, you're going to New York," the owner finally said.

Rice recalled responding with calm. He grabbed a couple things and, with the clothes on this back, took off for New York. Flying through Dallas, Rice finally arrived at his destination. "It was a long day," he recalled.

He arrived early the next morning in New York. All the while traveling, he tried to contact his parents with the news.

"This is pre-cell phone time, Rice said. "I didn't have time to call my folks, or call anybody. I was just rushing to the airport and getting on the plane."

He finally got through after arriving in New York. Rice's message was simple: "In case you catch a game on TV, I might be pitching."

About the experience, the rush to New York, the debut at Yankee Stadium, and simply his debut at all, Rice called the whole thing "kind of surreal."

"Two months before, I was about as far away as you could get from being there," Rice recalled. "And, all of a sudden, you're there and, not only are you there, but you're having a lot of success."
Fresno reliever Boof Bonser on the mound at Chukchansi Park. Bonser's pitching coach at Fresno is Pat Rice. (G21D Photo)
Soon though, after pitching in seven games, starting two, and giving up seven earned in 21 innings, Rice was sent back to Calgary.

He then set about trying to get back. Through the whole of 1991 at Calgary, Rice went 13-4, with a 5.03 ERA. "I knew that I needed to keep pitching well, if I wanted to get called back up," Rice said.

But Rice didn't get called back up. The next chances went to the younger guys.

"I understood the reason. It didn't mean I liked it, but I understood it," Rice said. "I thought, well, next year, I'll go and do the same thing. The next year, I struggled. I just didn't pitch very well."
Rice ended up going just 3-8 for Calgary in 1992, his ERA ballooning to 8.21. Throughout the year, too, his arm hurt. To put it simply, he struggled. It was also his last season as a player.

Rice, though, pointed to that season as the one that helped his coaching abilities more than any other.

"The big thing is the fact that I did play and had some really good years and had a really really bad years," Rice said of the impact of his playing days on his time as a coach. "I know kind of both sides of it and know when things go wrong for a guy.

"Believe me, I wasn't the superstar who had 20 Hall of Fame years," Rice said. "I was the guy that had an awful year. That awful year probably taught me more and helped me in coaching as much as anything did prior to that."

Rice is now in his 18th year as a coach or a coordinator. He spent his first 13 with the team that originally signed him, the Mariners. He coached at Appleton and New Haven and spent eight years as minor league pitching coordinator.

He joined the Giants for 2008, coaching that year at high-A San Jose and moving the next to Fresno, where he remains for 2012.

Part 1: Original Path | Part 2: Successfully Reinvented

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