There are figures who get into managing after being groomed for the position as players. St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny entered the job with no coaching or managerial experience. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose prior coaching experience was leading Team Israel for three seasons in international competition. Both, however, were seen as students of the game as long-time major league catchers.
However, most get into managing pro clubs after lengthy careers as coaches. Case in point: new Hickory Crawdads skipper Steve Mintz.
Mintz is a baseball lifer. Now 47, the native of Leland, N.C. was originally drafted as a catcher by the Dodgers out of Mt. Olive College. The Los Angeles Dodgers quickly converted him to the mound and his playing career took off. After spending time with the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox organizations, it was with the San Francisco Giants that Mintz made his big-league debut in 1995. After the proverbial cup of coffee and tenures with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres systems, Mintz got another brief chance with the Anaheim Angels in 1999. He played out his career with the Angels AAA farm team at Salt Lake in 2001 before signing on as a short-season pitching coach with the Angels to finish out the 2001 season. He then spent ten seasons as a pitching coach in the Minnesota Twins organization before coming to the Texas Rangers chain in 2012.
With the Rangers, Mintz has spent the last three years as the pitching coach at high-A Myrtle Beach and High Desert. He was slated for a promotion to AA Frisco to start this season. However, when Texas Rangers third base coach Tony Beasley was diagnosed with cancer, the wheels went into motion throughout the organization. Spike Owen, originally assigned to manage the Crawdads this season, replaced Beasley in Arlington and Mintz was assigned in late February to manage at Hickory.
Mintz had his first taste of managing this offseason with the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League. With former Crawdads players Travis Demeritte and Chris Dula on the roster, Mintz led the Bite to a 30-26 record and a spot in the ABL’s championship game.
But now, after 12 seasons as a player, 14 seasons as a pitching coach in 20 different cities altogether, Mintz will finally get his first gig as a stateside manager with Hickory. He comes into the job with a host of connections from around baseball and Mintz will quickly tell you that a lot of good baseball people had a hand in preparing him for his first managerial job. But Mintz is looking forward to creating his own style on the field and in the clubhouse.
Mintz is married to his wife Cathi, with whom they have three children: Abby, Hunter and Jacob.
(Mintz’s connection with Beasley is an interesting one to note with Mintz coming to Hickory in light of Beasley’s health issues. Not only is Beasley a former Crawdads manager (2002-2003), but both Mintz and Beasley played junior college ball at Louisburg (N.C.) College.)
This is the first time managing after 14 years, other than the Australian thing?
Mintz: I’m super excited. I thank the Lord every day. I’m a blessed man for the opportunity that the Texas Rangers have given me. Not just this, but in the previous three years in the things they’ve let me do to get better at managing, to understand managing and allowing me to go to Australia and the different things they’ve let me do. I’ve been preparing for this a long time, hoping that I would get one some time or another. Then, with the situation that took place with the organization, and then overnight, it happened. I’m very excited and very blessed and grateful, and I’m looking forward to the season. I’m ready to get started.
And you get to do this close to home?
Mintz: That’s icing on the cake, as they say. Especially last year, being in California and then going to Australia. I think I was away from my wife and kids over nine months last year, in just the one year. My wife was able to come out here this weekend and help me get set up, and being able to spend those things with her. My daughter’s at North Carolina State, so she’s two-and-a-half hours away and she can come whenever she wants. Obviously, that’s a plus with the job, but I would have took wherever it was at.
But the fact that it was back in North Carolina, and going to Louisburg Junior College and then to Mount Olive College, and all the people that I know around here, and the support and the excitement of a lot of friends and family have shown has been overwhelming at times. You just keep doing your job and try to get better in different areas and stuff, and you never know when something’s going to pop up. You just feel like, I’ve been prepared and I guess I’m going to find out if I am.
How did you find out you were coming here and how quick was the whirlwind when Spike had to go to Arlington and here you are?
Mintz: It all started with Tony Beasley, when he got his diagnosis and, obviously for health reasons, making sure that he was doing what was best for him and his family. Then they went through the process of who they wanted to be the third base coach. Spike was the one that they chose.
Knowing my desire to manage and what I had did in Australia, from what they relayed to me, it was an easy decision to offer me the position, knowing that I wanted to do it. I had managed instructional league and during the season, if the manager left, I would take over. Or, if they got ejected in a game, I would take over.
Doing the duties in and out for the last three years with the Rangers, I guess it kind of showed them that I at least had an idea of what was going on. Then Mike Daly got to come over to Australia and see the operations over there and what I was doing and such. I’m sure that helped me out a lot, him being able to come out and see exactly what we were doing over there. Obviously, when the position arose they said, “Hey, this is available. Is this something you’d like to do?” I said, “Yes, sir.” That was kind of how it happened. We had a 5:30 meeting in the morning and they sent me a text to be there. I was there already, but I didn’t really understand what it was. When they told me, I was super excited, I can tell you that. I had waited a long time for somebody to say that.
What is the biggest adjustment you will have to make as a manager? Obviously, you did some of this in Australia and got some of that under your belt, but being a pitching coach as opposed to a manager. There’s not really a lot of pitching coaches that go that route, essentially.
Mintz: What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I caught my whole life. I got drafted as a catcher by the Dodgers, and so being able to see the whole game from both sides of the plate, I think, has helped me over the last 27 years.
I think the biggest thing, for myself is, the game, I have no problem with the game. I’ll make a wrong pitching change, or I’ll put on a hit-and-run when I’m not supposed to. All those things, I’m not worried about that. Now, you basically get to take over 25 guys, as opposed to 12 or 13. Doing those relationships with the guys and making sure they understand what we’re doing, kindness and harshness, and all the things that come with being the manager and in charge of everything, and obviously letting my staff do their job – Frankie with the hitting and Jaimes’ got the pitching, and Hagen will work with the catching the most – but basically overseeing and making sure that, as an organization, the things that we have in place are being taken care of.
Obviously, you have to be the bad guy from time to time, but then encouragement and staying positive, especially with these young kids, and not getting in any kind of panic and making sure that they understand that we’re behind them one-hundred percent. They’re going to make mistakes and this is a hard game, and making sure they understand that. But, those aspects are where I will have to work maybe a little more to make sure that everything is happening as it is supposed to be, as opposed to looking at just the pitching and making sure that it is right. You’re in charge and if it’s not going right, it’s all on you and nobody else.
Is there somebody, maybe at the start that you look to and say, “I want to pattern myself as a Jim Leyland or Ned Yost, or whomever?”
Mintz: I guess I’ll have my own style. I guess I’m more of a laid-back guy. I don’t like to yell a lot. I don’t curse, that’s just some things that I don’t do. When my voice goes from here to hollering, there’s no doubt about it; I’ll just put it that way.
Guys that I came up with: Jerry Royster is obviously one of my favorites; he coached me when I was playing. A couple of years ago when I interviewed for a managing job with the Rangers, that was the first person I called; I called Jerry Royster and I asked about the interview process and what I should do. Then I played with Garry Templeton; he was another manager of mine when I was in AAA, and the wisdom and stuff that he gave me. Another huge guy is Dusty Baker. When I was in the big leagues for him, we got to be pretty good, buddy pals. Him being over with the Nationals now, I’ll call and talk with him from time to time.
I’ve had some really, really good people in my life, as far as managing and learning and understanding this game. Once again, I’ve very blessed for the people that have been in my life, playing and coach. Another guy that really gave me a lot of what I have now is Rick Knapp; he used to be the big league pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers. He was the guy that hired me on with the Twins as a pitching coach, when my shoulder went out. The things that he taught me for 8, 9, 10 years with the Twins, not so much just from the pitching standpoint, but baseball itself. The players and the caring and what you need to be able to do to develop these players and things, I owe him a ton. Even now, he’s with the Dodgers as their pitching coordinator, I still call him a lot and bounce things off him. I’ll ask for his advice for different things. Those handful of people have been instrumental on me.
If we want to go back further, Carl Lancaster back here at Mt. Olive College. I learned a great deal from him just playing one year of college baseball with him. He’s one of my best friends, even to this very day. He was one of the guys most excited about me getting this position. I’ve had a ton of people in my life that have actually helped me along the way and preparing me for this day.
What’s the biggest piece of advice that you’ll bring with you into this?
Mintz: Oooh, the biggest piece of advice? (Laughing) I’ve got a lot of them. I guess talking to Jeff Banister, our big league manager. I guess me and him got a little closer this spring training. I knew him from the past and obviously last year. I spent a lot of time talking to him this year, not so much always on baseball things, but I, myself, am big on, we’re trying to develop these guys as baseball players, but first and foremost, I want them to be good human beings. I want them to be able to be in society.
They’re going to have to be husbands. They’re going to have to be fathers. They’re going to have life after this baseball field. I spent a lot of time on that. I want to make sure that the guys are growing up and that they’re turning into men, and not just ballplayers.
But me and Banny had a talk about that one day and making sure that, we’re pouring baseball into these guys, but we’re also pouring in humility and humbleness and all these things into these guys, so they know how to react in the world when everybody’s not screaming their name out on the baseball field. That aspect, for me, is huge, being in the position that I’m in now and being able to have these guys watch me and my actions and how I go about doing stuff each day, it’s very important to me.
I have three kids that watch it every day, also. Hopefully, I’ve had the same impression on them as I have the players that I’ve been around the past 14 years in coaching. But that’s one thing, I guess as far as advice goes, is to continue doing that, even though I’m a manger, but continue pushing these things into these guys’ heart and soul, and making sure that they understand that you have to be a decent human being.