Sunday April 28, 2013

Darren Bush remembers when Black Bears roamed through Pittsfield. Bush, who is the bullpen coach for the Oakland Athletics, roamed Wahconah Park in 2003 as the manager of the Northeast League's Berkshire Black Bears.

"You know, that's a long ways from here, that's for sure," said Bush. Bush was in Boston last week when the Athletics rolled into Fenway Park for a three-game series with the Red Sox.

It has been a long time, and a lot of uniforms between that year with the Black Bears and his current job.

"It was a great learning experience," Bush said of his year in Pittsfield. "I was given a lot of responsibilities - budgets and signing players -- I learned a lot."

Bush joined the independent league team one year after the most disastrous season in the modern history of Pittsfield baseball.

The Black Bears arrived after the Astros departed for Troy, N.Y. It was going to be a pretty cool 2002, what with Red Sox legend George "Boomer" Scott managing. That Black Bear team went 24-65 and the baseball was awful.

"We needed to change the culture and make it known that Berkshire was a place where players wanted to come," said Bush, "because we were going to help them get [affiliated team] opportunities and we were going to win."

The 2003 Black Bears finished just 41-51. But after a slow start, Bush's team was highly competitive in the eight-team Northeast League.

The biggest challenge for Bush was handling the player personnel duties for the Black Bears, such as when he had to replace starter Tim Bausher after one start. Bausher struck out eight in four innings in his first start and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers organization the next day.

"The game is the game. The most nerve-wracking part was when you lost a player, when a player either went to an [affiliated] organization or got hurt," Bush said. "You need to have a guy there the next day. There was nobody else to do that."

Some of Bush's 2003 Black Bears -- during his first stint as a pro manager -- actually have gone on to have some pretty good careers. Chris Briones, who caught for that team, is a pro scout in the Texas organization, while infielder Brady Williams (Jimy's son), is managing in the Tampa Bay organization.

Two of Bush's former pitchers have no-hitters to their credit. One belonged to Rick Guttormson, whose no-no in 2006 for the Yakult Swallows in Japan was the first interleague no-hitter in Japanese baseball history.

Two years after leaving Pittsfield, Bush was hired to be a minor league hitting coach in the Oakland organization. He has been with the A's ever since, finally making it to the big leagues as part of manager Bob Melvin's staff in 2013.

"I've been very fortunate to have had great players, players that were good character people," he said. "Let's get them [to the big leagues] and work on getting them there. Fortunately, we've had a lot of guys that have worked their way through the system and have gotten up here. It's a good feeling."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.