Rick Magnante’s day job is as a minor league manager and scout in the Oakland A’s organization. He has been the A’s short-season affiliate manager since 2006, skippering the Vancouver Canadians squad from 2006-2010 and the Vermont Lake Monsters the past two seasons. During the off-season, Magnante has been wearing a different green-and-gold hat as the manager of the South African national baseball team.
Recently, South Africa competed in the qualifying tournament for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The tournament in Florida was held September 19 through the 23rd. South Africa competed in the same bracket with Israel, France and Spain. The South African team would fail to qualify, going 1-2 in their three games. Spain would win the bracket to advance to the WBC.
Magnante tabbed A’s minor league coaches Brian McArn and Craig Lefferts to help him with the South African team. McArn served as the team’s batting coach and Lefferts was the team’s pitching coach.
Donald Moore spoke with Magnante after the conclusion of the WBC qualifying tournament. Below is part one of their conversation.
Donald Moore: What was the process like to get this South African baseball team together to compete in the qualifying tournament ?
Rick Magnante: It's a little bit of what it's been before. I've been associated with them since 2006, so I understand the dynamic of how the roster is assembled and how much time is allotted for us to kind of practice, and work on fundamentals and some team defense, and get some individual instruction etc., etc. And that's how it always goes. And then we go out and play the games.
We just went to Vero Beach [former spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers] to begin with, which is fun because these kids from South Africa come over here and are using the same locker Sandy Koufax used and are playing on a field that Pee Wee Reese played on. These guys maybe don't understand the historic significance of it, but it's a great baseball experience for everybody, including myself. We rolled into Jupiter and played at the Roger Dean Stadium, which is shared by the Cardinals and Marlins. Lovely facility and great experience in international play which it was all good.
DM: How did you originally get involved being the manager for the South African team?
RM: I went to the European Academy in 2005 in Tirrenia, Italy. And that was run by MLB and the two guys in charge were Jim Lefebrve and Bruce Hurst. So I spent a month there doing an academy for what would be considered the better 15-to-20 year old amateur players throughout Europe.
When I came home after that, Mike McClellan from MLB contacted me and said “I might get you an opportunity to manage the South African team in the first World Baseball Classic. What do you think?” And I said, "When is it, and how does that conflict with my scouting and if the A's say okay, I'm happy to do it.” And they [the A's] did. And that became the relationship with South Africa, which took me up to this past week in Jupiter, Florida.
DM: What impact does the WBC have in the development of baseball outside of the US?
RM: I like it. I like the concept and I think it fits within a period during the season of preparation for the season of international play when you can go out there and give a good showing. [The major league players who participate] may not be who they are 80 games into a big league season because it's March and the emphasis is still on their big league careers and winning championships here in organized baseball, so I think that does impact it a little bit.
But I think the timing is good and all the international squads are prepared in terms of being in season. They are ready to play and I think MLB has kind of gotten into synch with it and the world loves to see it and there's good baseball out there. I mean there is good baseball we don't see here because we are just focusing on our big leagues.