Sorry for the delay in getting this online. Consider it an early Christmas present :)
Today we present former Atlanta Braves infielder Mr. Jeff Blauser. Jeff was recently named manager of the AA Mississippi Braves, and he was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me this past week.
Joe Hamrahi (JH): Hey Jeff. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us today and congratulations on being named manager of the M-Braves.
Jeff Blauser (JB): Thank you. I'm looking forward to the challenge.
JH: Could you describe the excitement of becoming a professional manager? And how does that experience rate compared to when you first became a major league ballplayer?
JB: (Laughs) That's a good question. It's a little different because as a baseball player, we all grew up from a very young age thinking that's what we were going to do. When you become a coach or a manager, it's not like you grew up thinking that's what you really wanted to do. Kids don't grow up saying I want to be a coach someday.
But it's all interesting and exciting, and I'm still learning all the responsibilities that come with being a coach or a manager. Fortunately, I have been around some good guys. What you'll find with the Atlanta Braves organization on a regular basis is that there are coaches and managers that have been in the organization for a very long time. For example, Brian Snitker who was in AA and just moved up to AAA. I actually played for him one year. So he's been around from the early `80s at least. It makes it a little easier (making the transition from player to coach or manager).
JH: The last few years you were a roving instruction. Can you describe your responsibilities in that role, and how did that help you prepare for becoming a manager?
JB: Being a roving instructor is probably one of the lesser known positions in minor league baseball. We travel around within our own organization for some time...it could be watching a team for four or five days...and some of us are pitching rovers, infield, and hitting. We each had pretty much our own specific area. For instance, I handled infield. Dayton Moore gave me the luxury though to offer input if I saw something else that needed work. For example, if I saw someone who needed work on his base running or I noticed a kid who had to bear down on his work ethic a little more, (I'd be able to get involved). So I pretty much did that for the last three years. What I most enjoyed about it was not only did I get to work with the kids, but when game time came, I had the luxury of watching the progression of individual players and was able to just sit back and take in the game. The game is much slower from that perspective and it enables you to see areas that need work. Whereas when you're a player, things happen so fast that you don't often get the chance to understand what's happening.
A manager has a lot going on too, and has to address a situation and just let it go to move on. I was able to break down a situation and examine what just happened and why it happened.
JH: Now you are in the manager position, and you have all that activity going on around you. Do you feel this is going to be a real challenge? Obviously, you've been a player and a coach so this is the next logical step for you.
JB: It is going to be a challenge, and that's part of the appeal of it. The number one challenge is to learn about this aspect of the game. We never really stop learning about this game though. You need to be flexible and look at your surroundings, and see what you can gain from the situation. I did get to manage a little during the instructional league, but it's different during the regular season. You travel, you have your one team, and I'm sure the AA players are going to be selectively much older than the players I worked with.
JH: Who were some of the players you got to work with when you were a roving instructor or when you managed in the instructional league? Maybe some of the young shortstops?
JB: Yeah...well we lived fairly close to Atlanta...just outside of Rome where the A ball team is. When Dayton Moore first approached me to do this, guys like (Jeff) Francoeur were playing in Rome. I didn't necessarily work with those guys because they played different positions, and that's not what my specialty was. But I got to know those players probably better than anyone else in the organization because I spent more time there.
Some of the guys in AAA right now...I saw them at Myrtle Beach...Tony Pena, (Andy) Marte, of course he's gone, and many of the others now at AAA...I got to know them pretty well.
JH: The two prominent shortstops in the organization right now are (Yunel) Escobar and (Elvis) Andrus. Did you get to work with them at all?
JB: Yes...I got to see Elvis and Escobar in Florida this year. I also got to see Escobar in Rome during the year. And in the instructional league, we had two teams, and Elvis was on my team and Escobar was on the other team.
JH: You have to be excited about the kind of players this organization turns out, and they get to come through YOU now. How important was it to stay within the Braves organization for you (being a Braves player for so long) and do you feel a sense of pride because it is the Braves and not some other team?
JB: It is an honor and a privilege for me to be a part of this organization, and to have the organization ask me to come back in some capacity is the ultimate compliment.
Really, I think the whole mindset of the minor leagues starts with Dayton Moore. There is a certain sense of pride and history that we all want to continue. We all want this run to go on.
I was a player in the late 80s when it just wasn't fun. I was there during the high times and the low times. If I can provide a little more information to help a player along the way to perform at a level that will help continue this run...or if I can (instill) a thought in a player's mind so that when he reaches the major leagues it will not only help him, but the organization as well, (then I've done my job).
JH: You've had the opportunity to play with some great players during your career. Guys like (Greg) Maddux, (Ron) Gant, (David) Justice, and (Tom) Glavine. Have you had a chance to talk to any of these guys about your new job?
JB: Well I actually talked to Maddux this morning. He was out playing golf. I talked to some other players...Charlie Leibrandt who lives here.
It's a whole different feeling among players. I don't think we can ever get the game out of our blood even as we get older and have families. Charlie Leibrandt is still in the game. I talked to Paul Assenmacher. Charlie does some high school coaching and so does Assenmacher. You never truly get away from the game.
It's a great game, and I'll be completely honest with you. I feel like I owe something to the Atlanta Braves for what I have become as a person and as a professional.
JH: That's great to hear. It's not something you hear everyday from a professional athlete.
JB: Thank you. I truly believe that if I can give back to the organization through a player, then that's what I want to do.
JH: Do you have any sense of the players who may wind up at AA with you this year?
JB: It really always goes down to the end of spring training. If you look at the Myrtle Beach roster, (Jarrod) Saltalamacchia looks like someone who will be there (at AA)
JH: That should be interesting. He's one player who has stardom written all over him.
JB: He really does. He had a great offensive year and played well in the Arizona Fall League. Then I guess he went on to play in the Pan Am Games (for team USA).
He still has a lot to learn, but if he's open to learning, he'll be well on his way. If fact, he actually already is on his way.
JH: I read that you're very familiar with the Pearl/Jackson area. You have friends from the area and your wife is from Louisiana. Could you have imagined a smoother transition than this?
JB: Well so far it's been great. We're very excited about it. My wife is from nearby Louisiana, about an hour away. It has been a real blessing. My wife is looking forward to it. It's really going to be fun for the whole family and that's the way it should be.
JH: I heard the kids in the background this morning. How old are your kids?
JB: I have a little girl who's 5 and a little boy who's 2, and I'm sure he's the one who was screaming.
JH: (Laughs)...Did you get a chance to talk to Brian Snitker at all?
JB: I was in Pearl many times last year as a roving instructor and I obviously know Brian for a long time. We never talked about this managerial position (specifically). But I talked to him in the instructional league, and we knew something was going to happen, but we just didn't know where I was going to go.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Snit. He's been instrumental in my career. He's a good solid person who provides a foundation for guys like me. I'm sure he's excited for me to get this position so young. Not only is it exciting for him to see players reach the big leagues, but it's also satisfying for him to see coaches follow in his footsteps.
JH: Well it's been a privilege having you here today Jeff. You have had a great career and you've always been a pleasure to watch. It's only fitting for the Braves to bring back a guy who always gave his all and had the work ethic of a real professional.
JB: Thank you. That's very flattering. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity this season.
JH: Enjoy the holidays and we'll see you this spring.
JB: Thank you. Have a great holiday.