Believe it or not, we are only 10 days away from Opening Night at The Ballpark at Jackson. The Generals begin the season at home for the first time since 2012 and only the second time since 2005 on April 7 against Montgomery.
One of the big storylines to follow this year for Mariners fans is that of the revamped farm system. Jerry Dipoto made a bold choice in Andy McKay as the team’s Director of Player Development. McKay previously served as the Colorado Rockies’ Peak Performance Coordinator, a role that many might not have known existed prior to its hiring. The Mariners are hoping that mental skills are the new frontier in player development.
Many writers in Seattle have done a fantastic job covering McKay and the hire as part of larger changes in the front office, but I thought I’d do my best to provide some perspective of my own.
I spent two summers broadcasting for the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod Baseball League while I was in college. For those unfamiliar, the Cape League is the premier summer circuit for collegiate baseball players. Buster Posey, Chris Sale and Kyle Schwarber are just three alums that I can come up with off the top of my head.
John Schiffner (pictured above) has managed in Chatham since 1993 and is the winningest manager in the history of the league. Schiff, as he is known on the field, is an institution. He won his 500th Cape League game last summer. He has coached the likes of Mike Lowell, Andrew Miller, Kyle Seager, Matt Harvey and Kris Bryant with the A’s. Heck, he was even played by Brian Dennehy in the 2001 movie Summer Catch (though I can attest he is much nicer than his character).
In 1996, Schiffner hired Andy McKay — then an assistant coach at Sacramento City College — as Chatham’s pitching coach. Though it was only one summer, Schiffner remembers McKay and isn’t surprised at his success. I talked to Schiff recently for a feature in the Generals First Half Program to get some insight, and I think Mariners fans will like what he has to say about the man now in charge of the farm.
Here is Schiffner on what he saw from McKay as his pitching coach in Chatham:
“He was very mature for his age. He was able to work with some of the pitchers, and that’s one of the most important things as a Cape League pitching coach. In addition to being a good instructor, you have to be a good psychologist….Guys on that team that struggled got better throughout the course of the summer because of the confidence they gained working with Andy.”
On McKay’s coaching style and mindset:
“He was just honest with the guys. He never tried to browbeat them. Some coaches come in and want to beat you up mentally and tell you ‘You’re no good and I’m going to make you better.’ He was very positive. That was the big thing with him…I don’t think he raised his voice once all summer….Andy is younger, but he has changed with the times. This age of kids—the teenagers and the young adults—are smarter in a lot of ways and you have to deal with them a lot differently. The Vince Lombardi of coaching is becoming passé now.”
On his relationships with the players:
“He called you ‘bro.’ He’d say, ‘Bro, you got to figure this out. And we’re going to figure this out.’ There was no threatening, no ‘We’re going to ship you home’ with Andy. He was just very positive. ‘We’re going to fix this, bro.’… He sent me players from Sac City and from La Crosse in the Northwoods League. Every kid that I was sent just worshipped him. They said having him as their coach was one of their best summer experiences…They all loved him. They called him Cap…..I wish he could have stayed longer in Chatham. He was that good. He made an impact on me. I loved working with him and it’s great to see what he has done with his career.”
Schiff still considers McKay a great coach even though he’s in more of a front office role, which is why he’s happy that he’ll be in uniform when he visits affiliates.
“I’m glad he is back on the player development side of things where he is sort of on the field because he is so good at it….He is very innovative. [Being in uniform] is something new, and that’s Andy. He is not afraid to break some of the old rules and regulations. That’s something you don’t normally see from a development person. I’m not surprised that he’s going to do that.”
Fans in Seattle should be excited. The players I’ve spoken to have raved about the philosophy he is trying to instill throughout the organization and how personable he is. The quotes from above are part of a larger feature I wrote for the team’s first program, which you can get at any Generals game before the All-Star Break!
Englewood Baptist Church held their second annual Easter at the Ballpark event this past weekend. They estimated close to 10,000 people between the concert and fireworks Saturday and Sunday’s Easter service. If you missed it, the Jackson Sun got some great pictures and WBBJ produced a fantastic story as well.
Opening Night is right around the corner! Before the team kicks things off, fans in West Tennessee will be able to meet the team at Englewood on April 6 at 6:00 pm. Admission is free and you’ll be able to get autographs, so come on down if you’ll be in the area!