MLBI Coaching Development - Oakland Athletics: Jonathan Southey
FOREWORD by Ryan Flynn -
As the sport of baseball grows and is strengthened across New Zealand, a number of important partnerships are also being strengthened including those with professional and amateur baseball organizations across the globe. One of the most important relationships producing tangible results for our players, coaches, administrators and umpires is our relationship with Major League Baseball(MLB), the premiere professional baseball league in the world.
Baseball New Zealand is routinely tapping into a number of MLB programmes, including theAmbassador and Envoy programmes, two important initiatives that have assisted us in bringing top MLB stars and coaches like Curtis Granderson, Mark Melancon, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Woodward, Nick Hundleyand others to our shores in recent years. Future plans with MLB include continued assistance to bring out additional coaches and players, the launch of a nationwide baseball entry program, longer-term coaching assistance and much more.
For the third straight year, Baseball New Zealand has taken advantage of the MLB Coaching Development Programmein Arizona, which allows foreign coaches to train with MLB teams in Spring Training, Extended Spring Training, or in the Arizona Fall League.
Over the last two years Major League Baseball offered a spot for one of New Zealand’s young coaches to train with the Oakland Athleticsat the team’s Spring Training/Fall League complex in Arizona. Formerly based in Wellington and the president of their regional body, Dave Bishop was selected in year one, while last year National Development Officer and Diamondblacks pitcher Riki Paewai attended.
This year Baseball New Zealand chose Auckland based coach Jonathan (Johnny) Southey to attend this important camp. With a high energy approach and an elite sports background, Southey has risen quickly in the junior coaching ranks in Auckland, based at the Howick-Pakuranga Baseball Club while working with the club to move into Otara and eventually start a new club in the near future to bring more children from South Auckland into the sport. Southey ran a successful 11U tournament earlier this year, and has been chosen to lead an Auckland Development Team travelling to Australia in January.
Southey has been in Arizona for over a week now, and like Bishop and Paewai previously, he’ll be training with some of the top coaches and players in the world, learning from the likes of former All Star infielder Bret Boone, ex-Major Leaguer Scott Emerson, Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and many other top coaches and players in the A’s system. He’ll also provide updates of his time in Arizona with photos and interesting tidbits describing his trip and the life of a professional baseball coach; the long days on the field, huddled in strategy sessions, discussing prospects, organization and baseball philosophy and much more.
Today was an early 5:30am start for me and my Australian comrade, Kerry Gassner. We had already been in Phoenix for a few days and we were amped to get things started.
The night before we were discussing our expectations, the skills we’d like to learn and who’s going to stuff up first!!! Little did we know, our first day on the job was going to destroy any preconceived ideas we had!!!
The Oakland Athletics had moved to a new facility in Mesa from Papago Park, which is where Dave Bishop and Riki Paewai had visited previously. This facility (Hohokam Stadium and Fitch Park) use to belong to the Chicago Cubs. Before the Athletics moved in, they invested $20 Million into upgrading both ball parks, so you can imagine the type of facility we’re dealing with here.
We arrived at Fitch Park approximately 6:45am where we were greeted by Keith Lieppman, Director of Player Development within the A’s organisation.
When I introduced myself as the coach from New Zealand, Keith instantly reminded me of Dave Bishop’s visit and the haka he performed… A tough act to follow I think!!!
James Gibson (Equipment Manager) then made himself available and we were whisked into the Team Equipment room. Now when I say ‘equipment’ I mean everything to do with baseball you can imagine!!!
We were given tools of the trade and kitted out head to toe in Oakland Athletic Coaches practice AND game attire… Stuff’s getting real right about now!!!
As soon as we entered the Coaches locker room, there it was…SOUTHEY #22…My own official MLB locker…I could not believe what I was seeing.
My mate from Australia looked over and we started laughing and unleashed a hi-five… Lucky we were the only ones in the locker room at the time!!!
We hustled into our first coaches meeting and they were discussing the objectives they would like to accomplish over the course of the morning and then implement these objectives during the game in the afternoon… Today’s game was against the San Francisco Giants… More about that later.
Since the objectives discussed in the meeting were about hitting, I decided to attend the meeting held by Greg Sparks – Hitting Coach.
Greg spoke to the players about the ability to make ‘Adjustments’ with the approach to hitting. Adjustments can be made in your mechanics, mindset or game situation. Players need to make adjustments when required. Trust the process, develop and improve.
MLB coaches are looking for players that can ‘adjust’ to any situation they face.
Next was the Early Work session with the Infield players and was run by Bret Boone and Mark Ellis, both former MLB Second Baseman.
This session was AWESOME!!! Bret Boone is on another level when it comes to infield technique, but more importantly infield mentality.
Here are a few of his favourite sayings:
LAZY FEET ARE BAD FEET!!!
GET TO THE SPOT!!!
ALWAYS BE READY… ANTICIPATE THE PLAY!!!
When this guy speaks, everyone listens.
We ran through a few drills to implement the skills and technique Bret discussed with the players.
What I saw over the next 30 minutes was so impressive, it had to be seen to be believed!!!
Glove work – Immaculate
Footwork – Graceful
Arm Strength – Ridiculous!!!
Especially Richie Martin the A’s first round draft pick from Florida University… Keep an eye on this kid, he’s on another level!!!
After a quick breather, the ground crew swooped in and set up 3 out of the 4 available diamonds for BP (Batting Practice).
This is where I was initiated in as an Oakland A’s coach…” Southey!!! You’re up… Group 3!!!”…Oh shucks… Time to put my game face on!!! Group 3 took an age to come around and when it did, I was on point!!!
I’ll tell you one thing though, I never heard baseballs fly past my ears or over my head like these ones… Geez these kids can hit!!!
After a quick bite to eat for lunch, it was game time and we were hosting the San Francisco Giants at 12:30pm.
Watching the players warm up and the coaches prepare was an experience in itself, all cogs are in motion and need to be for the machine to be in prime working condition… Again it’s pretty impressive to see.
I settled into the dugout, ready to help out where I could… One of the coaches joked that I was 3rd Base Coach… Before he could say anything else, I quickly grabbed a helmet and gave the players a crash course in the signs I was going to give them…Kiwi style!!!
The dug out erupted with laughter!!! It’s awesome to be in an environment where you can have fun while competing in a high performance environment.
Defence was on show in the 1st and 2nd inning, with both infields making impressive plays.
We had a pitching change in the 3rd inning and the Giants went on a tear and scored 5 runs.
We could not buy a hit against the Giants pitching, until the 8th inning where we scored 6 runs and took the lead 6-5.
The Giants scored a run in the top of the 9th to level things up and unfortunately we could not score and the game ended in a draw, 6-6.
After a quick debrief in the Conference Room, we were dismissed and told to prepare for another day at the ballpark tomorrow.
I think me and my mate from Australia wouldn’t have it any other way.