Scott on the Twins GM Jeff Smith visit to Connecticut before Spring Training
Jeff Smith was in from Naples, Florida yesterday, just long enough to get the lay of the land and head south again.
The obvious wasn’t lost on the New Britain Rock Cats manager and he wasted no time rubbing it in. “I just left eighty five degrees in Naples”, he grinned, “And it looks like it’s time to turn some snowballs into baseballs.”
Smith returns to New Britain for a second go round as the manager of the Minnesota Twins very successful Eastern League team with Stu Cliburn returning as his pitching coach while former Twins and Red Sox favorite Tom Brunansky debuts as hitting coach. Smith is eager to erase the memory of last years record while building on successes that will eventually pay off at the major league level.
“Record wise”, he said of a 44-99 mark, “It was one thing, it was tough at times. By comparison my first four years as a manager were easy. We had injuries and we struggled at times and didn’t play as well as I thought we would. We had difficulty closing games out, we had a lot of losses after the seventh inning. Those losses eat at a manager. I learned how to deal with a lot of situations.”
Beyond the disappointment of a near one hundred loss season there were a number of measures of success at the minor league level, “We had the Minor League Player of the Year in Joe Benson, who led the organization in home runs, and, for a short stint, we had the Minor League pitcher of the year in Kyle Gibson.”
Both players have been invited to the Twins major league camp this season and will be there when Smith arrives later this week, but his most memorable moment of season number one in New Britain centered on one special kid, always smiling center fielder Ben Revere, who overcame a late season injury to return to the lineup and earn a trip up.
“The highlight of my year”, says Smith, “Was being able to take a kid off the field, Ben Revere, and tell him he’s gonna get his first stint in the big leagues. I’ve had Ben since he was a young kid and he’s done such a tremendous job for us, telling him he was going up was special for me.”
A September call-up, Revere has also been invited to big league camp this season.
Smith can’t wait to renew acquaintances in New Britain, saying, “Just seeing the ballpark full every night is such a trememdous thing for the players”, but right now may be the most special time of his year. “I love to watch our team come together”, he says of heading off to camp to fill his roster a piece at a time, “I love to go to big league spring training as a coach and see how the guys have developed coming up through our minor league system.”
The next time we see Jeff Smith he’ll be at New Britain Stadium in April with his team in tow. Winter weary fans with psyches in desparate need of a shot of spring, would prefer he leave the snow ball jokes in Florida. We need a shot of that new season enthusiasm he always seems to bring with him.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.