Ian Clark's On Baseball: Developing winning ways
DEVELOPING PLAYERS is the priority in minor league baseball. If you can develop a winning team at the same time, well, that's a bonus.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats entered Wednesday night's home game with the Portland Sea Dogs with a seven-game winning streak and tied the franchise mark at eight with a 4-0 victory. (Story Page D5) The parent clubs of both teams, the Toronto and Boston organizations, place an emphasis on winning at all levels.
According to Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles, developing players and playing winning baseball are tied together.
"We're trying to develop winning ballplayers. You're always looking to get guys to feel good about themselves and to have a quality clubhouse atmosphere, so I believe the winning and development go hand-in-hand," Boles said. "There's a balance there. We make sure that the guys are on the right path to the big league. That's our ultimate goal."
Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson is in his 19th season as a coach and came to New Hampshire with a coaching record of 1,032-1,148. Allenson said that winning, no matter the level, breeds a winning culture that people take note of.
It is two hours before the first pitch Wednesday and Allenson is in his office watching the replay of the MLB All-Star Game. Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista is at bat and Allenson points to the TV screen as an example.
"This guy right here, they want winners up there (in Toronto). They want to get a ring on their finger, they want to get into the playoffs," Allenson said. "When you're on teams that win in the minor leagues and you move up to a team that's a winner at the next level, people in the front office start to think 'hey, these guys are winners.' "
Boles said that Red Sox organization makes it clear that it wants the minor league teams to do well and to approach the entire organization as a single entity.
"It's definitely stressed (by the Red Sox). From our major league staff to our front office, it's definitely something that we want to feel good about and feel good about the organization," Boles said. "There's a lot of pride and a lot of history, a lot of winning history in this organization and we want to produce winning players that eventually get to the big leagues."
Because the Double-A players are young and eager to reach the next level and in some ways baseball has individualistic aspects to it (such as batting), a team concept might be tougher to sell.
Not so in Portland, Boles said.
"Not with this group. It really isn't. Since I've been with the Red Sox organization it has always been a team concept," Boles said. "We have guys that fit right in and come up from the lower levels. We have veteran guys that have been around take them in and show them the ropes and it's been a great team atmosphere and the chemistry in our clubhouse is terrific. We've got quality guys with great game makeup. Guys that compete and guys that are on a mission."
Allenson said he himself approached the game a little differently and also played with guys who were not into the team idea.
"I always tried to play the game where I wanted to show the other catcher that night on the other team that I was better than him. That motivated me," he said. "It depends on the individual. A lot of these guys already have that team concept of winning and it's not because of me. I played with some guys who were individual guys. They motivated themselves by what they did. If we didn't win, they weren't bothered. But they were really good players. You do your best you can to overlook that."
According to Allenson, it all comes together because if you take care of the team, your own development will follow.
"If you concern yourself with the team and trying to win a ballgame on a particular night, the individual stuff tends to take care of itself," Allenson said. "If you were to go out and ask these guys in the clubhouse, they're all team guys here. It's not different in the minor leagues. Everyone wants to make it to the big leagues, but you can combine it with that team concept too."
Staff writer Ian Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.