On Thursday, February 23rd, the Stockton Ports announced that Todd Steverson would be back to manage the Ports for his second year. Steverson lead the Ports to a 78-62 record last season, and he is looking forward to being competitive in the California League again this year. He managed players such as Daric Barton, Kevin Melillo and Shane Komine last season before they advanced to higher levels. Paul Rathert recently caught up with Steverson to get his thoughts on the upcoming campaign.
Stockton Manager Todd Steverson was originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the sixth round of the 1989 amateur draft, but decided to attend Arizona State University. Three years later he was drafted again, this time in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays. He saw playing time in the majors for both the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres. After retiring from baseball as a player, Steverson coached in the St. Louis organization before joining the A’s as a hitting coach for short-season-A Vancouver. Coach Steverson was gracious enough with his time to grant us an interview the day after the official announcement was made that he would be back to manage the Ports this season.
Oakland Clubhouse: With such a strong team and a new ballpark, what was last year like?
Steverson: It was opening season for the ballpark, so it was probably 50/50 as far as people wanting to see the ballpark itself and people that were there to watch the baseball. Some people came back to primarily see the park and attend the events that were there, such as the fireworks, etc. It’s a more attractive draw for people looking for a fun night out than the old ballpark that was near UOP.
Oakland Clubhouse: Who were a few of the players you were most impressed with?
Steverson: Danny Putnam, he was about as solid as you could get offensively for the season. Very hard-working, he loves the game and has a great attitude. Baseball oozes out of his ears. Levi (Jared) Burton, after having shoulder surgery, turned into a heck of a pitcher for us. The whole team seemed to enjoy coming to the ballpark. When guys are getting there at 12:30 for night games, you can tell they want to be at the park.
Oakland Clubhouse: Were there any players in other organizations that you were impressed with last season?
Steverson: There were a lot of good players in the league. Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood were on the same team and they were both very good. Travis Metcalf the 3B for Texas (played for Bakersfield Blaze) is going to be something when he gets older. We did well considering the competition we went up against throughout the season.
Oakland Clubhouse: Are there any specific goals you have set out for this season?
Steverson: I try to learn something and try to get better every year. You can’t reinvent yourself if you aren’t getting anything out of your work. Everyone has old tricks, but you have to be open to new things. The game has changed and if you aren’t able to evolve with the game, it’s tough to be successful.
OaklandClubhouse: Was there a buzz around the ballpark when Bobby Crosby came around during his rehab stint? How do the younger players benefit from having a major leaguer in the clubhouse, even if it’s just for a short time?
Steverson: Yeah, there sure was. The players got free Outback steaks, so that was exciting. It’s not everyday that they get Outback steaks for the post-game spread.
Oakland Clubhouse: Are there any former players/teammates (other than the coaching staff) that you have around the team throughout the course of the season to lend advice/guidance to the players?
Steverson: Not last year, the team didn’t seem to need any pep talks. The organizational staff has enough experience to help the players during the spring and anything they need to ask during the season, I’m more than willing to help.
Oakland Clubhouse: How do you take the knowledge you gained from coaches and teammates during your playing years and use it as a teacher and a manager now?
Steverson: It’s kind of like turning into one of your parents. They tell you not to touch the stove because it is hot and when you grow up you tell your kids the same thing. As a player, you are told things by other players and now as a coach, I find myself saying the same things to the players without even realizing it. The ability to listen and comprehend what you are listening to is one of the most important pieces of the game because it’s not all about athletic ability. You have to be able to be better mentally and physically.
Oakland Clubhouse: Because you were a player and went through a lot of the situations your players will go through, does it help having first-hand knowledge of the life of a minor leaguer? How does that benefit you from a coach’s standpoint?
Steverson: I went through the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows, so I don’t think there’s very much that I can’t bring to a player. Sometimes players think that you are too far removed from the game to know the way that they feel when they are in a slump or things like that. I can definitely empathize with what they go through, but sometimes they do need to be reminded that they aren’t the first person to struggle.
Oakland Clubhouse: Is it hard being a minor-league manager when you know your best players won’t stay with you long (53 players went through Stockton last year)? Is it hard to avoid getting attached to a player or a lineup?
Steverson: I have faith in the Oakland A’s organization that when someone moves up, someone talented will step in to replace them, not that they are replaceable, but I have faith that the person will be as talented at playing the game of baseball.
Oakland Clubhouse: What are some of the positives to being a minor league manager?
Steverson: I thank the bosses for putting me in the position to succeed and to convey what the organizational philosophy is. Spending six years as a hitting coach-teaching is in my blood. I love to see players “get it” I love to see them later when they thank you for teaching them something about life or baseball. That makes the job worthwhile.
Oakland Clubhouse: I’ll give you a few names and you give me a quick coaching assessment:
Oakland Clubhouse: Daric Barton
Steverson: Talented, very talented. Great pure hitter.
Oakland Clubhouse: Dallas Braden
Oakland Clubhouse: Kevin Melillo
Oakland Clubhouse: Kurt Suzuki
Steverson: Another determined, talented player. Has made great strides.
Oakland Clubhouse: Shane Komine
Steverson: Sneaky. Looks like he should have a surfboard under his arm, but he is competitive on the mound.
Oakland Clubhouse: Richie Robnett
Steverson: Strong. Very strong and a very good kid. Definite wonder. Will open some eyes. Body like a Greek god.
Oakland Clubhouse: You were born in L.A., is it nice to be working in baseball in California?
Steverson: There are a lot of friends and family that come the see me when we go to Southern California. It’s nice when people don’t have to travel that far to come see you when you are gone for six months of the season.
Oakland Clubhouse: Is there anything specific about the Oakland organization that made you want to work with them?
Steverson: They have been successful for a long time and when I worked in St. Louis, I worked with Gene Tenace and he used to tell me stories about Oakland. There are very few organizations, like the Red Sox and Yankees, that get talked about a lot and I think the A’s are one of them. The A’s have had several championship teams in different decades and didn’t have long stretches of time like the Red Sox and Cubs have had in-between. That’s a testament to the people like Billy Beane and Keith Lieppman who have helped put together a strong organization.
Oakland Clubhouse: As the hitting instructor for the Cardinals while Albert Pujols was in the minors, what was it like watching his evolution from raw young player to superstar? Was there a moment that you knew he was something special?
Steverson: One of the first times I was throwing soft-toss to Albert you could tell by the way the ball was going into the net that he had a little something extra in his swing. Before his arm trouble, he had a cannon for an arm.
Oakland Clubhouse: What is it about Albert that makes him elite? Did he put in extra work?
Steverson: Albert was mad when he couldn’t get extra work. There were times he’d want to work out with other position players and we’d tell him, “You’re doing everything right, you don’t need more work.”
Oakland Clubhouse: Would you eventually like to be a major league manager?
Steverson: A lot of people ask me that, and I’ll let time and experience take care of that. I would love to be part of a major league club in any facet. I love the game of baseball and that’s what it’s all about. Obviously you’d like to reach the pinnacle, but there’s a road you have to take. Beane and Lieppman really have put together good people to take care of the younger players at every level and I’m glad to be a part of that.
Oakland Clubhouse: The 1996 Padres team that you played on featured Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley and Wally Joyner. How long were you in their clubhouse and what experience did you gain from it?
Steverson: I was there a little over a month and to watch Tony Gwynn play live and in person was great. I became friends with Ken Caminiti and Finley was a joy to watch on the field. I learned a lot from Rickey. It was an experience that I don’t think I really grasped until later in my career. It was a team that won the NL West that year and went to the World Series the next. I had just come from playing with two Hall of Famers, in my mind, in Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker in Detroit. We also had guys like Kirk Gibson and Cecil Fielder, so I’ve had the pleasure of being around some of the classiest guys in baseball.
Oakland Clubhouse: As a player, what was it like hitting that first homer?
Steverson: Surprising, because it came on a 2-strike count. Eddie Guardado threw a slider that didn’t slide too much. I was running 25 or 30 miles-per-hour around first base before I knew it was gone. I didn’t really have a home run trot.