This season, the Oakland A’s welcomed back one of their own into the coaching family. Steven Connelly, a 24th-round pick of the A’s out of Oklahoma in 1995, made his professional coaching debut this season as the pitching coach of the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters.
During his final year in college, Connelly helped lead Oklahoma to the College World Series. As a professional, Connelly spent four years in the A’s chain, reaching the big leagues in 1998. Exclusively a reliever, Connelly moved quickly through the A’s chain, reaching Triple-A just two-and-a-half years into his career. Connelly appeared in three games for the A’s in 1998, allowing a run in 4.2 innings of work. He spent the last three years of his career pitching for the San Francisco Giants at the Triple-A level.
Before joining the A’s organization this season, Connelly spent three seasons as the pitching coach for University of Alabama-Huntsville.
Donald Moore caught-up with the Lake Monsters’ pitching coach during the final roadtrip.
Donald Moore: How do you feel your pitching staff did as a whole this season?
Steven Connelly: Very good. The guys competed all year. Obviously, throughout the course of the season, you have your highs and your lows and you are just trying to avoid your high, highs and your low, lows and just try to keep it in the middle. For that, they just came out everyday and gave their best. The one thing is, no matter how bad they might have performed the night before, they always came back the next day and gave it a hundred percent effort. I mean the conditioning and the weight training that they do on a day-to-day basis, max effort every time. is phenomenal. I appreciate it everyday.
DM: What goals did you have for this young pitching staff this year?
SC: Obviously our goals are developing their secondary pitches, their change-ups in particular, and hit their quotas on what we set, which we would ideally would like 65 percent fastball, at 65 percent strikes. And then 15/15 across the board, but for the most part there is a little leeway in there. Some guys are throwing 70 percent fastballs and some guys are throwing 60 percent, but as a whole, they are all within their boundaries. Really, for me, the biggest reason is the developing of that change-up, and it has just been a great pitch for them. There is not a guy on out staff that I wouldn't say, “go out there and throw a change up, in any count, for a strike.”
DM: What are some of the challenges teaching new players at a professional level of baseball?
SC: It's really just getting to know what professional baseball is like. How to act like a professional, what's it like to go through the day-to-day grind. Most of these kids come in here playing Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. One mid-week game or one weekend game and then all of a sudden it's like you are going to get one day off in 40 games and enjoy that day when you get it. So that aspect, a lot of them are getting used to a throwing program that we have. Some of them come in with an idea on how they want to long toss and we put an end to that pretty quick. And keep it to what we believe keeps arms healthy and so having that transition for them, from one college life, college calendar and throwing, is probably the biggest challenges that we see the most of. For the most part, they all buy in. They are all excited to be here and it doesn't get better until about year four.
DM: Is there a specific pitching philosophy you teach on behalf of the Oakland A's organization?
SC: Yes, we have our elements of pitching that we believe in and we try to focus on that everyday. From what we consider velocity falls, comparison to change of speed and movement, and effort level and everything, so just getting an idea of that and making them believers in it.
DM: You've had some very talented arms join this club this year. Are there any standouts you'd like to mention?
SC: Oh yeah, absolutely. Daniel Gossett has been great for us. Corey Walter, Brett Graves, Michael Fagan and all the new guys that have come in. And, obviously, Koby Gauna with 11 saves and having that ability to pitch in the ninth inning is a good card to have in your back pocket. I have been very impressed with all of the new guys, and not a one them I don't think has the ability to get to the big leagues.
DM: You are a former major league pitcher. What was it like to step on that pitching mound for you first big league game?
SC: Nerve racking. [laughs] It was great and it was kind of like a really fulfilling moment for me. Being a "blue collar" type pitcher myself, a 24th-round pick and not a lot of money invested, and to come up through Oakland, who was the only organization I was in at the time and absolutely loved it. I loved my period of time here. That probably leads into the next question, on how I got the opportunity to come back to Oakland.
I was so excited and [manager] David Newhan and I go back to high school ball and this year in Instructs, we've come full circle, with Ryan Christenson, David Newhan, Juan Dilone, Eric Martins and myself, who all came up through the A's system together and now we are either coaches or scouting. Keith Lieppman has done a wonderful job running this organization and bringing us back. We are very appreciative of that.
DM: How are you acclimating to coaching in the minor leagues?
SC: I think that is a better question for my wife. This is a lifestyle that I have known for a long time and love. I'm used to the hours. I'm used to the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I'm used to the long bus rides. Some of my fondest memories are from professional baseball and are those bus rides and hanging out with the guys and just being miserable, in the back, doubled up for 12 hours. It was a grind at the time, but you look back at it and it was some of the best memories you have in the game.
DM: Any off-season plans?
SC: Spend time with the family as much as I can. Probably do some lessons here and there, and get ready for next year and see where I go.
DM: Thank you so much for your time and the best of luck to you and your family.
SC: Thank you, very much.