In this week’s edition of “Ask the Manager”, we are pleased to be in the company of Herts Falcons Manager, Jason Greenberg. Here are his answers to the questions sent in by visitors of the Herts Baseball Newswire.
What was your reason for choosing to play the game of baseball and not one of the other sports?
I grew up in rural Washington State (read: small town USA). Rainy Seattle is about three hours away by car, there’s a massive mountain range in between, and the weather in my hometown is very desert-like, with piping hot summers and bitter cold winters. As a kid you roll with the seasonal sports. I played baseball in the summer, soccer in the autumn, basketball in the winter, and tennis in the spring. I was never gritty enough for American football, and only the insane took up ice hockey. From age 8 to 18, my schoolmate Fletcher arrived at school every Monday with a black eye and split lip.
Do you prefer managing or playing?
That’s an impossible question to answer, like “do you prefer seeing or hearing.” Nothing can beat playing in a great game – like last year’s AAA Championship – when the adrenaline kicks in, your blood pressure rises and the endorphins are pumping through your brain. On the other hand, I love helping others to find that happy place, and I think a manager’s first duty is to enable his players to thrive. I definitely think that, once you’re a player-manager, there’s no going back. Just being a player, or just being a manager… it would be like wearing half a baseball cap.
How would you describe yourself as a manager?
Marty would say uptight. Wardy would say megalomaniacal. I’m definitely too forgiving of the umps, and I need to work on being more flexible in the moment… loose enough to deviate from the gameplan (which I probably stayed up most of the night reworking).
Baseball teams in Great Britain always try to find the right balance between being competitive and providing enjoyment and a fair amount of playing time for all. Which of the two would be more important for you as a manager, competitiveness or individual player satisfaction?
In baseball, you always expect to lose some of your games. At the Major League level, going .500 on the season means success. So, it’s confidence-shattering and nerve-wracking if you put all your stock in getting the W. But if you take pride in your performance and enjoy the game itself, then you’re becoming a better player even whilst losing. Sounds cheesy, but I really believe that’s true.
What are you looking forward to most in 2009?
I have a great feeling about this year. Our National League bid… debut of the Eagles… construction of our second diamond… it’s all just amazing growth for Herts. I think in the immediate, though, I’m excited about all the new members we’ve welcomed to our ranks in the past six months. I love seeing new faces at training, and I’m blown away by the dedication and positive attitudes of some of our rookies. That’s what this is all about, really: growing the UK (and Hertfordshire) baseball community.
Which will be the most important ingredient for your team in 2009 – pitching, defence, offence, speed, teamwork or maybe something else?
I think confidence is the ingredient we’ll need most of all. It takes a lot to win a ballgame, but while offence can sometimes compensate for a bad outing on the mound (or pitching for a bad day at the plate)… we can’t expect to win in the National League if we’re not confident in our own abilities, and those of our teammates.
Marty Cullen, who worked closely with you as the Herts Falcons Bench Coach last year, has taken the responsibility of leading the AA Herts Hawks. How big a blow is this and what are you going to do to ensure that this does not affect the Falcons’ chances in 2009?
Frankly, it’s a huge blow. Marty was the glue that held the Falcons together last year. I believe his optimism and sense of camaraderie is unrivalled on our club. I learned a lot from Marty last year – about baseball, about managing, and about how to inspire a team of men – and I plan to put all those lessons into practice in 2009. While I’m bummed out he won’t be a Falcon, I’m equally excited for the Little Leaguers and the Hawks, who have in Marty an exceptional leader. No doubt they’ll feed on his positivity and take the AA by storm. (Might I add, I think the way that Marty stepped up to fill the final vacancy on the managerial staff – even though he could easily compete for a roster spot at AAA or the NBL – was an awesome and truly selfless act.)
Moving from AAA to the National League is a big step and the Falcons will be facing opponents which are expected to be much better equipped and with more talented rosters than the Falcons. How big do you think the gap is between the Falcons and the other NBL teams?
Only time will tell. The UK baseball community is really so small that a few changes to the roster can scuttle a team’s hopes for the season, or rocket them to the top of the standings. I really like the Falcons chances to win some tough ballgames in 2009. Don’t forget, we were 21-3 in the AAA, and would not have been invited up to the NBL if the Federation did not think we could compete. That being said, this is a transition year for us, and expectations for an expansion team are always set quite low. I think we’ll surprise quite a few people.
Some are of the opinion that to be competitive in the NBL, an expansion team from the AAA would need to attract players with previous experience of the British National League, a pitcher that can throw up to 85mph+ or a batter that can hit the ball out of the park on a regular basis. The same people would say that the only way to do this is by enticing players from other NBL teams. Others are of the opinion that this is a short-term solution as such players are likely to come and go from one year to the next, leaving an unstable foundation on which to build an NBL team for the future. They would argue that for the last 12 years the club has maintained its policy of natural recruitment of members from Hertfordshire and North West London and those loyal members bring much more than just an 85mph fastball. However, this second option may mean that success at NBL level will take much longer to achieve as improving existing players or organically recruiting top calibre players in the region may take a long time. What do you think is the best strategy for Herts Baseball Club?
Poaching players from other clubs is very much frowned upon in the BBF. Some players from rival clubs will invariably join us (some already have) because they find Herts a very supportive, progressive organisation to be a part of. We welcome anybody that wants to play with us – so, that part of the equation is easy: if they come, they come… if they don’t, they don’t. The country’s most talented players will seek out the baseball experience they want and, in my opinion, no amount of ‘recruitment’ is going to make much difference.
No… I agree with the long view. We have already put in place a vigourous training regimen, and our pitching, hitting and conditioning coaches are working hard to help our returning members to improve and promote within the organisation. In five years time, I’d love to see the Falcons comprised mostly of former Herts Little Leaguers who have bulked themselves up into flamethrowing, home run hitting superstars. Meanwhile, we’ll take it a day at a time, continue to progress developmentally, and do the best we can with our many loyal and talented players.
After the players are split into their respective teams this Spring, do you think there should be a lot of movement of players between the Herts teams, or would you prefer to identify your players at the beginning and work with these same players the whole year?
All the managers agree here – we’ll be continually moving players between squads. The goal is twofold:
1) help our teams to win on Sunday, and
2) enable our players to improve and promote.
Every week the managers will look at what we’ve got to work with and make a determination if players need to shift between rosters. Some individuals will get time to develop a new position, recover from injury, or rebound from a slump in a lower league. Conversely, others will shine on the diamond, pack their bags and report to the head office for promotion. That’s part of baseball. The sooner we foster this culture of fluidity between teams, the more we’re encouraging players to work hard and ‘earn their wings.’
Which player are you most excited to welcome to the Falcons?
Well, he was a Falcon some years back, and sadly he won’t be rostered with my team… but I would have LOVED to see Westie (Dave Westfallen) catching in the National League. He’s a natural leader behind the plate and has one of the best guns in British Baseball. He doesn’t know it yet, but I intend to get him on the Falcons’ diamond once or twice this season.
What are your team’s objectives for the season in terms of place in the league standings and win-loss record?
The objective is always a 1.000 winning percentage. I’ll leave the realism to TV pundits and the baseball blog-o-sphere.
Which of Herts Baseball Club’s four teams will have the best win-loss percentage?
I would not be surprised to see all four teams in the Final 4 this season. My hope is that the Raptors, in particular, will see some extended winning streaks in ’09. With Slater at the helm, I know they’ll never give up hope for a victory.
Over the next 7-8 months we will gradually be seeing Grovehill Ballpark develop into one of the finest baseball venues in this country. What would you like to add to the ballpark that is not included in the first two development stages?
I’m tempted to say something grand and expensive, like a Herts Baseball Channel JumboTron… or a players’ clubhouse with whirlpool and sauna…
… but mostly I’d be happy if we could just remove the rocks and gravel around second base.
In your opinion what is the one thing which British baseball needs in order to start to catch up with the other more popular sports in this country such as football, cricket and rugby?
Facilities. Specifically, facilities based at schools. Any kid can grab a football and head to the park, and there are literally thousands of cricket and rugby pitches on school grounds all over the UK. But if a youngster is really interested in playing baseball, he or she will need a proper playing surface and some motivation from their school coaches to give it a whirl.
How much time would it take before current Little League players make it into your team and are you planning to start scouting Herts Little League players in the coming years?
I think we could see our first Little Leaguer reach the National League Falcons by 2012. More and more, it will fall to the Raptors and Hawks managers to scout the Little League for talent – I know that Coaches Slater and Cullen are already on the case.
What message would you like to give to the 2009 players who will be playing on your team?
No message. Just a little slap on the ass.
Are you for or against the DH rule?
Generally speaking, I love the rule. Edgar Martinez – arguably the greatest career DH in history – is my favorite all-time baseball player. We even named my family dog Edgar. As far as Herts is concerned, using the DH on the Falcons in ’08 offered the starting pitcher some rest between innings, and it got a tenth man into the game which meant more playing time for everyone. I hope to see the other teams take up the practice this season.
Finally, Kal Dimitrov wants to know if his place as the Falcons’ regular Short Stop is still secure.
Kal is being very closely vetted for the position… and since negotiations are underway and as Herts has a strict ‘behind closed doors’ policy when it comes to free agent acquisitions… I would ask that you contact the Falcons head scout and development director, Rod R. Blagojevich.