Alexandria Blue Anchors field manager Al Newman has already been in town helping to stir up excitement for the upcoming Northwoods League baseball season.
I sat down with him on Tuesday afternoon to talk about why he wanted to coach in Alexandria and what he wants out of his players this summer. You can read much of that interview in Friday’s issue of the Echo Press. Here is more of what we talked about that didn’t fit in the print edition.
EM: What did you know about Alexandria before you took the job with the Blue Anchors?
AN: What I knew about Alexandria is that I loved coming here in the winter to snowmobile with the Dan Gladdens and the Kent Hrbeks back in the day. We would come and stay at the Arrowwood. We met some nice people.”
EM: Some may look at this and see that you have played and coached at the highest level of baseball and ask why you would want to take this job in the Northwoods League. So why did you?
AN: I would say to anybody who would ask me that question, because I know what I feel inside my heart, is that after I retired as a player and became a minor league manager for the Twins, I felt like I wanted to be a teacher of the game. When you teach the game, you love the game, and it’s not so much getting the credit.
EM: You have coached at the major league level and you’ve also coached legion ball and younger kids at the Minnesota Baseball Academy. Are you excited to work with guys who are kind of in-between those levels and guys who will be hungry to reach that upper level?
AN: For sure. Felipe Alou told me when he was my Triple-A manager that he enjoyed the lowest levels of the game because that’s when you teach and you see the feedback of hard work. So these kids are coming here as college players. They’re looking to become a professional player and the Northwoods League is a pretty good test of that.
First of all, you play 70 games in 75 days. You travel on buses, which is something you would do in rookie ball. I can tell these guys what it was like. Now there’s players in the big leagues that were rookie ball players when I managed – Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Torii Hunter, I can tell them that these guys were just like you fellas, and we had to teach them to have that work ethic. Not taking any credit for anything those players have accomplished, but first you must learn the work ethic to get there. If you claim you want to get there, you have to be ready to practice more than a high school player.
EM: Many field managers in the NWL are assistant coaches in college who are getting a taste of leading their own teams and will use the experience to move up in the coaching ranks. You are obviously in a different situation. How long could you see yourself managing this team in Alexandria?
AN: I’m planning on being here until I’m tired. I know right now, the plan is a couple two or three years…If I wasn’t doing this I would probably be coaching legion baseball or trying to put together a travel team to travel in the summer to compete.
The game is in the blood, and if it’s in the blood, it’s life sustaining. I just don’t want to sit around and not do anything. I watch enough baseball as it is. I’d like to extend a helping hand to players who aspire to get to the next level. I hate to say the major leagues because I know how hard that is to accomplish. There’s only 800 of them and now it’s truly an international game, but there’s plenty of opportunity to make money in the game of baseball.
EM: How much does your experience in the game and playing in the major leagues, winning a couple World Series titles, how much does that help you when it comes to trying to get your point across to some of these younger players?
AN: I don’t use that. That speaks for itself, but I know one thing, I know how hard it is to get there. And having been a bench player, a backup, as people like to say, a bench warmer, I know how and what it took to be able to sustain and build a career in the major leagues and that’s by hard work, desire, dedication and determination. That’s where I think a lot of players fall short. They’re quick to try to blame. The reason I didn’t make it is because…as a manager, I can take that away from them and let them know that it’s mostly internal fortitude and desire to get it done.
EM: How would you describe yourself as a coach?
AN: The same way that I had to play and earn my time. You put your time in and the coach recognizes that you’re working hard, you get love. You don’t put your time in, you have no expectations of playing and you make that self determination. I like to say I treat everybody the same but different. I have no favorites, but I know I love the 25th man on the team because I know he’s getting after it every day because he wants to play.
Sometimes the guys that, I like to say the guys who sit down and eat, sometimes they don’t work hard. They don’t have to. They’re at the upper echelon of ability of everybody. A Kirby Puckett, he worked hard though, Joe Mauer, they work hard, they’re just better than everybody else. The rest of us must sit around and serve these guys. There aren’t but two or three of them that are elite, elite. The rest of the guys have to work extra hard to maintain their spot.