Bret Boone spent 14 years playing second base in the major leagues. In 1,780 games, Boone hit .266/.325/.442. He was a three-time All-Star and finished third in the AL MVP voting in 2001 when he drove-in 141 runs for the 2001 Seattle Mariners. Boone played for Seattle for seven of his 14 seasons, including a stretch in the early 2000s when he was one of the Oakland A's fiercest rivals.
After nearly a decade away from the game, Boone joined the A's in a front office position last year as a roving instructor and scout. Now Boone's role within the A's player development department is increasing. He is currently in Beloit, visiting with the A's Low-A squad. Bill Seals spoke with Boone before the Snappers' Thursday game versus Quad Cities.
Bill Seals: Thank you very much for taking a few minutes before tonight’s game! Can you describe your role within the Oakland A’s organization and what different areas you’re working with prospects on?
Bret Boone: I had a full year last year, but am doing more this year. It’s a little extended version. I’m about 10-to-12 days a month out [on the road]. My role is kind of everything. It’s kind of mentoring and teaching these kids the intricacies of the game. I want to teach them what I knew when I was 30 years old when they’re 20. I want to education them as much as I can and make them the best players they can be.
I’ve worked with a wide range of kids. Some kids will never get out of this league and some kids have the potential to one day be a big-leaguer. You move up to Double-A and it’s a little different. Some guys, their ceiling is Triple-A and that’s my job is to get the most out of everything they can.
It’s a lot of phone calls with players, talking and interaction. I work a lot with the infielders on footwork. I work with a lot hitters on how you approach hitting. It’s not the physical part. We have a lot of hitting coaches and a lot of programs. We have a philosophy. I stay out of that, as far as the physical part of hitting. I try to teach these guys that it’s not how you hit, but how you prepare to hit. What the thought process is and the things I used to go through. The things I learned from Edgar Martinez that were passed on to me. That’s 80 percent of hitting.
When I started to prepare and do everything I could to mentally be ready to hit, my career took off just because of my thought process. I pass on what worked for me and what didn’t work for me, with second base and shortstop. I don’t teach them how to play second base like I did, but I teach them how I thought in situations.
I’ll be with these guys through [the Peoria series] and then I’ll go meet our head scout Grady Fuson in Birmingham [Alabama] and we’ve got a few players we’re looking at for the draft. I’m doing a little bit of everything. I think I’m going to come back later in the summer, and when [Beloit manager] Fran [Riordan] goes on his four-day vacation, I’m going to come in and manage the team. We’re going to do that a couple times this year, maybe here and in Stockton.
BS: Is there a common theme or message to prospects at this rung of the minor league system?
BB: They’re children and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. They’re kids with physical ability that don’t have the reps, experience and are kind of just feeling their way. Some guys are more instinctual than others, but at this level we’re learning how to play the game correctly. Every pro player has a certain amount of physical talent, but how you think, your mental process and instincts are what separate big-leaguers from minor leaguers. You’ve got some 18-year-old kids that are mature beyond their years, but some 18-year-old kids that are 16 mentally. You’ve got to know who you’re dealing with, individual-to-individual.
OC: What has it been like for you being on the coaching side of the game after playing for so many years?
BB: I really enjoy it. I was out of the game for six or seven years, and decided I wanted to get back in. If you would have asked me as a player if I’d be doing something like this, I would have said you were crazy. ‘Once I take my uniform off, I will never be back here.’ After years of being away, it’s what I’ve done my whole life. I grew up in it and played for a long time. It’s my passion.
You find yourself really pulling for these kids. When I leave here, I’ll go on a 10-day stint and then I’ll be off for three weeks. But I’ll find myself on MiLB.com seeing how guys are and they’ll be calling me and I’ll be writing notes. The days are over of the headlines for me, but if I can get to one kid at each level and make a difference – that’s plenty for me now. I really like it. You put the work in and want to see them be the best they can be.
BS: Coming from a huge baseball family. Is your style similar to your father Bob or your grandfather Ray?
BB: We’re all different. My grandfather played for 13 years and he was a scout for 40. He was pretty much a scout until the day he died. My dad played for 19 years and managed a couple different stints. He managed in Tacoma his first gig and managed against me when I was in Triple-A. He managed the Royals and Reds before going to the other side. Now he runs the minor leagues for the Washington Nationals. They would call him a lifer. Since the day he was born, that’s all he’s been and he loves it.
I never thought I was going to be that guy. My dad knew from the time he was done playing that he wanted to keep going. My brother [Aaron Boone] is an ESPN analyst and he knew that’s what he wanted to do. When I left the game, I figured I would go golfing the rest of my life and go on vacation. I found that wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You can only golf and vacation so much. You need something to wake up in the morning and have a passion for. I realized that. As you get older you change. I’m a different person at 46 than I was at 30.
BB: After several years of playing with Seattle, how did you get connected with the A’s organization?
BB: I didn’t have any contacts. I called my agent one day and told him I wanted to get back in the game. He said to give him four teams and the A’s were at the top of the list. The only reason was I had played against them so much for so many years.
In the early 2000s, that division was by far the best in baseball. We had so many battles with the A’s. I respected and was intrigued that they had half our budget and they continued to turn over and turn over but were always there in the end. That intrigued me. How do you do that? There’s something behind that madness and I respected it a lot. I had never met Billy Beane. I’d had billions of wars with his team, but I never met him. I respected how the A’s continued to compete with a small budget. I wanted to know that.
I got an interview with Billy and flew up to Oakland. I went into his office and we had about an hour and a half talk. We didn’t talk baseball one time. We told stories of over the years, 2002, and stuff we’d all been through together in different realms. We went to lunch and we didn’t say anything about baseball. About the last 10 minutes, he was about to take me to the airport and asked me what I wanted to do. I said ‘I don’t know and just want to get back into the game’. I want to help kids and pass on my knowledge.
He told me to go down for instructional ball for a week, put a uniform on for a week and go out there and see if you like it. I met up with Keith Lieppmann, who runs the minor leagues for us and is an awesome guy. He hired my dad at Tacoma and is one of those old-school, they don’t make them like they used to kind of guys. You couldn’t have a better guy to work for. I have four kids and am recently divorced. They allow me to make my schedule around my kids. I have a girl that’s a freshman in college, a 16-year old and twin 10-year olds. The A’s have been great to me and give me a lot of flexibility. They give me a lot of different hats. I’m getting a lot of different experiences.
BS: What have you enjoyed the most about your role in the organization?
BB: People tell me I have a good gig and I do. It’s a great gig that gives me fulfillment and freedom. When I come here, I love hanging out with these kids and talking the game. A kid will come up to me on the bench and ask what I’d do in that situation. I’m passing on a little bit. When a kid comes off the field, I’ll ask him what he was thinking in that situation and explaining to him if he’s right or wrong. It’s about timing, too. This guy may make a blunder in the field and knows he made that. This isn’t the time to talk to him. Maybe I talk to him the next day or after the game. I enjoy all facets of it.
BS: Is this something you want to do for awhile or do you aspire to get into a managerial role?
BB: [Nodding his head] That’s the end-game. Right now, I’m happy doing what I’m doing and getting experience. Grady Fuson is the guy I’m with a lot when I’m scouting. He’s been doing this for 40 years. Me and him have a really good relationship. He loves to get on my case and I love to get on his case. I tell Grady that I can pretty much see what others maybe cannot. I remember last year was our first and I said ‘that guy, no chance; that guy, no chance; that guy, maybe; that guy, yes’. He said that was pretty good. He told me that a pitcher’s arm angle, statistically if he goes from this slot (makes a three-quarter slot motion), within three years he’ll have Tommy John. That was something I didn’t know and didn’t think about that.
When I watch a pitcher pitch, I don’t look for velocity or a gun. I know if you’re throwing hard or if you’re not. I want to see if you can hit the glove. I know as a hitter, if you threw 96 and didn’t have control then ‘let’s go’ because you’re going to miss out over the plate. I don’t care how hard you’re throwing. If you’re throwing 89 and can put it where you want, those are the tough guys. When I watch a pitcher from a scouting standpoint, I’m caught up in how he locates. If he puts the glove there and consistently hits it, that’s the guy I don’t want to face.
BS: How has it been different for you at the different rungs of the minor league system?
BB: I have a new experience every day. My first trip was to Triple-A and Double-A. It’s a different world. You’re dealing with 30-year old guys that are established professional players. Most of them are Four-A players that aren’t quite good enough to be there [in the big leagues], but are really good professional players. I don’t have to go up there and work on footwork as much with them. They are what they are, whereas with an 18-year-old you can help out a lot and they are mold-able. It’s interesting working at the different levels, the personalities and what you need to do at each level.