MLB coach Joe Vavra to be the ace up Melbourne sleeve in ABL
MINNESOTA Twins bench coach Joe Vavra is set to make history by becoming the first active Major League coach to manage in the new Australian Baseball League.
He is a massive coup for the Melbourne Aces, helping the Twins remain in contention for a second Wild Card spot in the American League this season.
Vavra has fond experiences of coaching in Australia, after he managed the Adelaide Giants in the old ABL in the 1992/93 season.
He began his Major League coaching career as the special assignment coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, before joining the Twins organisation in 2002, becoming the bench coach in 2014.
Vavra took time out from working with the Twins on the team's current hot streak to email APN his thoughts on taking over at the Aces for the upcoming ABL season.
How excited are you to be coaching an Australian team during the off-season?
Twenty-two years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers sent me over to Adelaide to manage the Giants in the ABL.
My wife Lesa and two infant sons Tanner and Treysen spent the entire season there as well. Lesa probably enjoyed Australia as much if not more than I did.
We had a tremendous time and experience. We have always said that we would go back to Australia in a heartbeat - to vacation!
I look at each coaching situation as an opportunity and a challenge. No two situations, teams nor years are ever the same. That is exciting.
What made you want to take on the roll?
My middle son Trey wrecked his ankle and had to have surgery, which ended his season in late May.
He lost the better part of the season and his currently rehabbing in Florida.
The Twins were looking at possible places for him to play winter ball, to make ground on lost playing time.
They looked to the ABL and called our Australian scout (Howie Norsetter) who in return called (Aces general manager) Justin Huber.
The Aces had a roster spot for Trey, inquired about my oldest son Tanner's availability and were in the midst of hiring a coach.
When asked of my off-season plans, I told Justin and Howie that I had no commitments and was looking forward to being an empty nester with my youngest son Terrin going off to college.
The next thing you know, I'm moving with the nesters.
What have you heard about the overall quality of players in the ABL?
I have coached and instructed several Aussies over the past 34 professional years to know the calibre and having coached there before, I know the quality of players is solid.
I was a teammate of (former Major League player) Craig Shipley back in our Dodger days, (former Triple-A pitcher) Adrian Meagher as well.
Both good mates of mine, so I've always had interest in baseball Down Under. They actually would talk about the skill level Down Under.
The Twins have built up a good connection with Aussie baseballers over the years haven't they ...
Our numbers of signees with Minnesota speaks for itself. Not only signed but numbers that have made the big leagues is remarkable.
Does it mean a lot to you knowing you're the first active MLB coach to coach in the ABL?
Being the first ML coach to come over has very little significance to me. It's a lot to ask for an ML coach to come over based on the length and grind of our schedule.
But under the unique circumstances with my background and family situation, it'll work.
I would imagine, at the conclusion of this season, I'll be a better reference for other potential ML coaches.
Besides, several Latin ML coaches are expected to go back to their home teams and contribute. The Aussie players/coaches are expected to as well.
What sort of coaching style will you bring?
I've been a fundamentalist, but I don't like being predictable. I'll try to manage the hand I'm dealt and let them play.
We'll see how creative they can be after that. We need to just see them play and find out who they are first, expand after that.
I expect to win every night and I expect the players to expect to win every night. We play for winning today, not tomorrow.
What good things do you believe you can bring to your role and what are some key things you've learnt from coaching in the MLB?
I like to get everybody involved in the game somehow, playing or not. I have a tendency to pull for the underdog as much, if not more than the star players.
I like to let the players play and add and subtract to what I see. You always have the gut feeling approach in the end.
How much longer do you have on your contract at the Twins and will you get much of a break between the end of this MLB season, the ABL season and Spring Training next year?
Our season ends October 4. Then the playoffs begin October 6 and could go all the way until November 4.
I don't anticipate any break between our season and coming to the ABL season. My contract expires December 31.
What's been the key to the Twins' turnaround with their current hot streak, and how high is the confidence you guys can still go far this season?
The turnaround has been remarkable to say the least.
I would say that bringing in a veteran like Torii Hunter has proven invaluable. Paul Molitor has been very good for a first-year manager. The staff have let the players play.
What are your memories of Aussie baseball like and your time overall Down Under, when you managed the Adelaide Giants in 1992/93?
I remember quite a bit actually from my past experiences in Adelaide.
Too numerous to go into detail. I was there for baseball so we spent hours upon hours practising.
When were we weren't practising we were taking in club ball games. We visited about every school within the city and its suburbs.
We tried to sample as much as we could of the Aussie lifestyle each week. The people were fantastic.
How influential has Howie Norsetter been for the Twins with his scouting of Aussie stars?
Howie is the man in Australia when it comes to Twins scouting. He really goes to bat for the players Down Under.
He is thorough and detailed as anyone can imagine on players and it doesn't stop after they are signed either.
What's been the key to your longevity as a coach in the MLB?
Paying attention to detail perhaps. Try to stay humble, roll with the punches, knowing how important integrity is, understanding all types of people and how they think, etc.
I've always tried to do the best at the job that I am currently in control of. It's the best job I'll ever have, until the next one.
Trust others to do their job, let them grow as well.
I always find ways to challenge myself within the job at hand and mostly it is to get people to believe that you really are in it for their best interests.
To get the most out of people's skills, they have to trust and want to better themselves.