When I was down in Vegas I was fortunate enough to be allowed to talk to 51's manager Marty Brown. The 51's don't play a lot of games in Vegas in August, as it is pretty hot, so there were a lot things going on. Sportsnet had folks down there filming interviews. So I was lucky to have the PR guy Jim Gemma allow me a few minutes to talk to Marty Brown.
The interview was on the Monday I arrived in Vegas. In hindsight, it would have been better to talk to him after I had seen a game or two. That Monday was a long day, flying out fairly early from Calgary, checking in the hotel, then heading out to the ballpark. On top of it being a long day and talking to him before I had seen the park, I had pretty bad laryngitis that night, I guess something to do with the flight and the being in air conditioning when I got to town. My voice was back by the middle of the game, I could cheer for Moonraker.
Marty Brown he came up, as a player, in the Cincinnati Reds system and played a couple of seasons for them and the Baltimore Orioles back in the late 80's and early 90's. He started his minor league managing career in the Pirates system in 1997 and managed for several levels of their system, until 2002. Then he became the manager of Buffalo Bisons, the Indians Triple-A team for 3 years. After that he went over to Japan and managed the Hiroshima Toyo Carp for 4 seasons and thne Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for a season before coming back to North America this year. I'd love to talk to him again, one day, just about his experiences in Japan, but with us talking before game time, I didn't want to keep him away from his real work for too long.
We talked in his office, having to pass through the assistant coaches small room and the players clubhouse on the way to it. The players were playing poker and ragging on each other for the dumb bets. Their room was not large, there was enough room, but you wouldn't have wanted it any smaller.
Marty had his dog with him, roaming the clubhouse and his office, gotta like a guy who brings his dog to work. After each game I saw him out running his dog, I can imagine the dog doesn't like extra inning games. I enjoyed talking to him, every time I talk to someone in baseball, I'm reminded how much there is for me to learn.
My questions in bold. It was fairly noisy in his office, so sometimes it was hard to decipher what was being said on my recorder, so some of the words might not be exactly right but no meaning has been changed.
You played for the Orioles with Cal Ripken.
I played in Baltimore for a couple of years. I played second with Cal Ripken, I was one of 32 men that played second with him.
And you managed in Japan, how does it compare to managing over here?
It is a different culture, different mind set. You play for 1 run early, get the lead and try to add on, where we are more the trying for the big inning. Tend not to bunt so much every game. Tend not to do situational hitting early in the game. We are more about score 4. They have a different way of looking at how games run. It was a good experience, for me, to go through that. But, I got back and could actually speak to players in English. Not having an interpreter talking about anything. It's good, I'm glad to be back.
It must be hard to be sure they are saying what you want.
You put a lot of faith in them, but they don't want to offend the players, when you really want to offend the players. I was fortunate in Hiroshima, my interpreter had baseball knowledge and he actually played and he wasn't Japanese. He had the baseball knowledge to be able to communicate what I meant to say in baseball language but then he didn't have the cultural background, he wasn't raised in Japan. He didn't understand the bottom line of how saying something might affect the way the players feel.
Then I had the opposite, the next team that I had, I had a guy with no baseball knowledge and yet he was very fluent in Japanese and English so sometimes he would try to make it softer, to not offend the player.
How do you do deal with the effects of the heat on the players in Vegas?
The changes are more about preparation. Certain days we'll have optional hitting, or we'll have no hitting on the field, just guys preparing in the cage. Or we might have one day, out of a whole stand, we might do everything and then maybe not take infield, we don't want to keep the players out in the heat too long. We try to use common sense. So we try to look at it with an understanding that the game is the most important thing that you are trying to build for. Certain players need it, certain players you need to shut down more.
Why is the park in Vegas so geared for offense? Is it just the thin air?
That and the heat. The heat rises, the ball hit in the air just never seems to come down, at times. There are certain nights when the ball really jumps here and then, early in the year it is cooler but the wind, the wind will pick up and just carry one out. We've have a fairly legitimate power field here. Down the line it is normal, but the gaps are kind of short and shoot straight out to center. Center is very very deep so from RF to the gaps it is very very normal if not short in gaps, but then center is 433 feet with a very high wall so it kind of evens things out in some ways.
Does it make it harder for you to decide when to pull a pitcher?
Yeah this is a tougher league for pitchers, but if a guy comes through the PCL and is among the league leaders in pitching, he has built his worth even more. So if you look at it as if you don't want a pitcher to go to Vegas because his ERA might go up or you could say I want the pitcher to go there and see if his ERA is stable, if it does you got something.
And the Jays play in the AL East...
Exactly, it is not going to get any easier.
What do you think about Brad Mills?
You know, one thing that everybody looks at Brad he doesn't throw hard, I look at it as he is very sure of his stuff. Early in the year he had good command, and he had good balance. He just trusts his stuff. He isn't a hard thrower, that scares you, thinking the 3rd time through the order he's going to get hit because they know where his changeup is going. The thing about Brad is he will challenge people. He will make pitches a lot of people wouldn't even consider trying. He is very sure of his ability. In my mind he has got a lot of heart. I could never fault that.
I wanted to ask about Brett Lawrie's defence?
He's getting there, I think that before it got hurt he was in a real good place defensively. He put in a lot of hard work from the beginning of the year till that time. And then the setback, he was gone for 3 weeks, maybe, and during that time he was in Florida trying to rehab his hand and came back and it looked like he backed up on some of that progression. He was on his way to getting back where he was, before he was called up. He still wasn't as comfortable in the field as he was before he left. He's got it in there, he's got great athletic ability, good hand, good strong arm, very accurate. It is just a matter of experience. He's done the things he needs to here, Mr. Butterfield and Mr. Rivera can finish him off up there.
How has Kyle Drabek looked?
He's getting better, when he first came down he was, with his mechanics, he didn't have anything that was consistent. He had a couple of really rough outings and then he stepped up and had a couple of really good ones. It is more about consistency, with Kyle, he's got a great arm. It is where his balance point is and where his landing point is, that needs to be consistent to put together every pitch. He is in the process of getting that done. It is just one of those things that it takes time for a young guy that is a power arm, max effort type of pitcher. It's hard to get him slowed down enough to keep everything in a row. He's getting there, he's working hard, we are hoping he goes out and has a good outing tonight.
Will he be back in Toronto this year?
I don't know, I think Kyle will figure that out for us.