Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Former Pittsfield players now teaching the game
I can't exactly remember who said it to me or when. But sometime during the summer, I was asked, 'what's in the water in Pittsfield?' The question concerned all of the baseball and softball success the local youth teams had been having.
The question got me thinking about all the baseball I've seen at Wahconah Park, and the success rate of the pros who made it their home.
Today, the discussion isn't about who played there and made into "The Show," but rather about those who played there and are now teaching the game.
One name came up in a story about Red Sox third baseman Travis Shaw. Shaw went to Kent State, and while he didn't play for the current coach at the Ohio school, the coach got his professional start in Pittsfield.
That would be Jeff Duncan, who played for the Pittsfield Mets in 2000. Duncan has been the head coach at Kent State since 2013. He came to Ohio after serving as the top assistant at Purdue.
He is one of two major college baseball coaches who put on Pittsfield uniforms.
Greg Beals just finished his sixth season at Ohio State, taking the Buckeyes to the NCAA Division I tournament. Beals was a catcher on the 1991 Mets — my first year covering the team — where he split time with Tony Tijerina. Tijerina is now a member of the Kansas City Royals organization.
Another former player was Angel Espada. The infielder started the 1997 season in Pittsfield but got called up to Class A Columbia. So he missed the clinching of a New York-Penn League championship almost three months later.
"We were a pretty good ball club, and when I left, we were still playing well," Espada, who manages the New York-Penn League's Batavia Muckdogs, told me. "I thought they had a chance to be in the playoffs when I left."
Tijerina became a coach on that team and later managed the 2000 Pittsfield Mets.
Alan Zinter, who played for the 1989 Pittsfield Mets, is now a hitting coach for the San Diego Padres. Former P-Mets Brian Daubach and Tripp Keister are coaching and managing in the Washington Nationals organization. Daubach, who once managed the Pittsfield Colonials of the independent Can-Am League, is the hitting coach with Class AAA Syracuse where his field manager is former Mets coach Billy Gardner Jr. Keister, meanwhile, manages Potomac of the Class A Carolina League.
"It's what drives all of us, the passion for the game and the love of the game," said Espada on his recent trip to Troy, N.Y., for a series with the Tri-City ValleyCats.
"To impart instruction and teach these kids how to play the game and give them the love of the game," he said. "Baseball's a great sport. It's been very good to me and it's been very good to all the guys you mentioned."
I would be remiss if I didn't remember that former Pittsfield Mets pitcher Pete Walker is the Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach, while Charlie Sullivan is now an area scout with the Milwaukee Brewers. That's the same organization that employs Pittsfield native Tom Mooney as a pro scout.
Even farther back, you have former Pittsfield Cubs like Gary Varsho, Mike Harkey and Gary Jones earning big league paychecks.
Varsho is an advance scout with the Los Angeles Angels, Harkey is the Yankees' bullpen coach and Jones coaches third base for the Chicago Cubs.
Phil Stephenson is the head coach at Dodge City Community College while Paul Noce, who spent 20 years as a college coach, is the manager of an independent team in the United Shore Professional Baseball League.
There are undoubtedly more out there.
So maybe there is something about Pittsfield at all levels.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.
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