For part one of this interview - which covered the 2013 Stockton Ports - click here.
OaklandClubhouse: The manager of the Ports during your first year with the team was Todd Steverson, who was recently hired to be the Chicago White Sox’s hitting coach. What were your impressions of him both as a manager and as the hitting coordinator when he would come through town in that role?
Zack Bayrouty: He was his own person and I think people appreciated that about him. He had conviction about how he went about doing what he did. He marched to his own drum. He very much stuck with the organizational philosophies and all of that, but in terms of his personality, he was his own guy and that is why people love working with him, playing for him and being around him.
He didn’t change. Whenever he’d come by, he was the same Todd Steverson that I remembered from 2006. But obviously, he has some tremendous experience and he has helped a lot of guys throughout his career. I think he always mentions Albert Pujols as one of those guys that he helped when he was with the Cardinals. He’s been around and I think that all of that experience makes him a really colorful guy when you get to know him. I will miss seeing him come through Stockton. When he was the hitting coordinator the past couple of years, whenever he came around it was a nice chance to catch-up.
I think the White Sox are getting a really good hitting coach and I’m glad he’s getting a shot to be in the big leagues as a hitting coach. I know he was a first base coach for awhile with Oakland, but I’m glad he’s getting a shot as the White Sox hitting coach.
OC: We’ve talked on several occasions about the 2008 Cal League championship team. So many of those guys are playing in the big leagues now. Do you ever look back on that team? Does it amaze you to see how many of those guys went on to big league careers? [Players on that team included Josh Donaldson, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Chris Carter, Sean Doolittle, Corey Brown, Sam Demel, Andrew Carignan, Fautino De Los Santos, Henry Rodriguez, Graham Godfrey, Tyson Ross]
ZB: I always look back on that team. I always put the ’08 team and the 2011 team neck-and-neck because in 2011 you had Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin come out of nowhere to do what they did and then you had that great run to the championship series. And to have Michael Choice stay there all year was special.
But the 2008 team is the only championship team that I have seen in Stockton, the only one that took the title. I think that team had so many great characters on it and so many big names. Guys that come through that were part of that team, we always end up having a conversation about that year, whether it is a coach or a player. Archie Gilbert came back in 2012 with Visalia and we had a talk about it because Archie was a lead-off hitter on that team. He was such a gritty guy and one of those guys who made everybody else go. He remembered that year fondly.
When Doolittle came back to Stockton as a pitcher in 2012, we had a long talk about that team and about how everyone in that rotation was so talented. We had Fautino De Los Santos, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Graham Godfrey and Henry Rodriguez. You had so many guys who were just unbelievable in the rotation on that team. And then you had Doolittle, who was the best hitter on that team. Everybody talks about Sean Doolittle being this great pitcher now, but I remember him as being the best pure hitter on that team. Selfishly, one time I hope he finds himself in a situation where he has to swing the bat because I want to see what he has left. He was so talented. Then, of course, Chris Carter was hitting behind him. It was a great year.
To have a manager like Darren Bush bring all of that talent out of everybody and to bring the team together, it just came together perfectly, even though we didn’t keep a lot of those guys for the whole season. So many memories. I’ll never forget it.
OC: You were with Stockton when Josh Donaldson first joined the organization [midway through the 2008 season]. You always talked about how unique his personality is. Has it surprised you at all to see what kind of success he has been able to have as a third baseman in the major leagues?
ZB: It hasn’t surprised me at all. Josh is always confident in his ability. He never doubted himself and he always came through in big moments for that 2008 team. I’ll never forget meeting him for the first time in the Days Inn in Bakersfield after he had just been traded from the Cubs. He was part of that team [in Peoria] when they had that pitcher [Julio Castillo] throw a baseball into the stands and get arrested for it. He had just come from that team, so I remember we had a long conversation about that.
He seemed unfazed by the trade and happy to be with the A’s. Josh went on to do big things for us that year, especially in the playoffs. He had some huge hits for us in the series against San Jose in some big spots. That’s when I thought to myself ‘this guy is pretty legit.’ I think he was hitting fifth in that line-up behind Carter. He always had the confidence and the ability to come through in those big moments.
To see him have this success in the big leagues, even though it was delayed maybe a year or two from what they had projected, doesn’t surprise me.
OC: Former A’s prospect Adrian Cardenas just wrote a piece in The New Yorker about his decision to leave baseball relatively early in his career. He came through Stockton quickly in 2008 [15 games]. The next year you had Grant Desme, who had a monster year with Stockton before retiring that following off-season. Does it surprise you when you see guys with that kind of talent leave the game early, or do you get a feel for why a player would leave the game seeing what these guys go through day-in and day-out?
ZB: It surprised me, especially about Grant because he was far-and-away our best player the second-half of the 2009 season. To know what the future had in store for him and that he was going to be given every opportunity to succeed and that he was probably going to make a lot of money, to see him walk away was a shock. You don’t see that everyday.
I remember waking up and it was one of the headlines on ESPN.com. Right away, I texted Aaron Nieckula, who was our manager in 2009, and said, ‘can you believe this?’ He sent me a message back that said, ‘good for him. It’s tough to believe but good for him for following his heart.’ You can never blame someone for doing that. You can’t walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. If their heart is telling them that they have to do something else, they have to do it.
The same goes for Adrian. It is a tough life. People think it is great because it is baseball, but it is a grind. It’s a hard life. Not everybody wants that. Sometimes guys realize that when they are in the prime of their careers, like those two guys.
OC: I had a chance to read Ken Korach’s great book about Bill King. Like Bill, you announce both baseball and basketball [University of the Pacific’s men’s team]. What are the biggest differences for you when you are announcing for UOP basketball as opposed to announcing baseball?
ZB: First of all, I read the book and it was great. I wanted to try to visit the A’s booth to try to get Ken to sign it for me when our season was over, but I never had a chance to get up to Oakland. I had to go back to Boston. But one of the big regrets I have is never hearing Bill King announce a game live. I moved out here just after he passed away pretty much and I never had a chance to hear him do a baseball game, let alone a basketball game.
I hear basketball was his best sport. Reading Ken’s book really educated me on how basketball is supposed to be done based on what people said about how Bill announced a game. First of all, I wish I had seen him wear a harness mic. I can’t imagine anybody wearing a harness this day and age because they don’t want to mess up their hair, but I think that speaks to the eccentric that he was.
The biggest difference between the two sports is that with basketball, I had to learn that there isn’t much room for telling stories. With baseball, it is a game is where you build up all of these stories over the years. You get better, in my opinion, at baseball as you go on because you can tell those stories. Joe Castiglione, who is one of the broadcasters for the Boston Red Sox, said it best. I took a class from him in college. He said, ‘you prepare for a lifetime to call a baseball game.’ It’s so true. It’s such a unique sport in that sense.
With basketball, you are following the ball. It’s a lot of fun. It’s really fast paced. You can interject some things to get the audience to feel what you are feeling and you can add color that way. But as far as telling stories, there’s not a lot of room. You do that during the pre-game and the post-game, but during the game, you are in it. You need to be on top of the ball if you are going to be a good broadcaster. I think that is what made Bill so great. He was able to paint the court like nobody else.
Interestingly enough, I was recently watching a documentary on Marty Glickman on HBO. He had a quote that I actually wrote down about doing basketball games. He said ‘the feeling of it is just as important as the description of it.’ You have to provide that feeling in basketball because you can’t use your words to talk about the feeling as much as you can use the inflections in your voice and all of that. Seeing that documentary about Marty and reading Ken’s book about Bill King couldn’t have come along at a better time for me as we are about to start the UOP season.
OC: You had a chance to announce Pacific’s NCAA Tournament game last year. What was that experience like? Was that your best sports experience thus far?
ZB: It was right up there. I’d say it’s definitely the most important event I’ve ever done. I remember walking into the arena in Austin that day knowing that we probably weren’t going to win. There was a chance that Pacific was going to pull the upset over Miami but I figured it was probably going to be a game that wasn’t going to be close and that we’d probably lose. But I remember telling one of our boosters that had traveled with us that ‘no matter what happens today, this is one of the greatest days of my life.’ To be able to walk into that arena and have the opportunity to call an NCAA Tournament game, I was so grateful.
It’s pure luck. I happened to be with the right team, in the right place, at the right time. Hopefully we’ll get to do that again sometime soon. That was probably the most special event that I have been apart of.