Q&A with Ken Oberkfell

This is Ken Oberkfell's first season as the manager for the Binghamton Mets. So far he has done an absolutely masterful job. Despite almost none of his opening day roster remaining, Oberkfell has continued to find ways to win and ways to keep his players motivated.

He was hired as the eighth manager in B-Mets' history on Jan. 5, 2004, after managing Single-A St. Lucie to Florida State League title in 2003. He was also the skipper for St. Lucie in 2002 and Single-A Capital City in 2001. Before that Oberkfell managed somewhat unsuccessfully in the Phillies organization. Coming into 2004, his overall managerial record was 427-410 (.510 winning percentage). He played 14 years in the majors as a third baseman from 1978-92 for the Cardinals, Braves, Pirates, Giants, Astros and Angels, compiling a .278 lifetime average. He was the starting third baseman on the Cardinals' 1982 world championship team and batted .292 in the World Series.

The Binghamton players have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for their manager and it is not hard to see why. Oberkfell, or "OB" as the players call him, always has a smile on his face and a joke on his lips. He runs a loose clubhouse and constantly kids and teases his players. He is more than your typical player's manager though. After spending just 5 minutes with OB it is not hard to see that he loves each one of his players and truly feels like a father to them. His style is the antithesis of Art Howe's. He is a "gut feeling" manager who is aggressive and likes to wreak havoc on the base paths. Much like Bobby Valentine, he constantly juggles his lineup so that every player on the roster can play and stay fresh. "I believe if they're here, they should play."

Before the game I had the privilege to sit down and chat with Manager Ken Oberkfell.

NYF: You've lost 6 straight. Are you doing anything to rally the troops or are you going to let them play out of this slump?
OB: Let them play through it. We had a few sessions where we all just talked but they know what they have to do. They're professionals and they're old enough to figure out what needs to be done.

NYF: Where would you say the team's level of confidence is right now?
OB: I think they're very confident. We've played well. We've just run in to a hot [New Hampshire] team. And we could have easily won some of those game up in New Hampshire. So our confidence is good .They're still playing hard, working hard, and that is all you can ask.

NYF: Would you say that these are the most important games of the season?
OB: Well, they're important. They're all important. Every game is important right now. It's important for us right now because we need to get back to winning.

NYF: This in no way resembles the team you had at the beginning of the year. Yet despite all the transactions you guys continue to win. What's the secret?
OB: It just highlights the character of the team. It shows that there are quality players throughout the organization because we've lost quality players but gotten back quality players in return.

NYF: Throughout the year you've had 2 second basemen 2 shortstops, now you have 2 first baseman. Obviously everyone in the minors wants playing time. Is it difficult to keep everyone happy and balance the lineup with all these different infielders?
OB: No, not really because you get a lot of day games in this league. I get to DH so I can move players around in that respect. There are always injuries. Everyone is going to get their playing time for me. I'm a big believer in if they are here, they should play. And I try to keep my extra players fresh by giving them a lot of playing time.

NYF: This is a very fundamentally sound team. They don't miss the cutoff man, they throw to the right base, they don't run themselves out of innings. How much of that is due to the manager and how much is due to simply smart ball players?
OB: It's a credit to the fact that we work on it. We have early work. We do the fundamentals. We go through it. I'm a big believer in doing the fundamentals right. If they don't do it right, were going to keep doing it until we get it right. These guys know that so they go out and do it right the first time so we get it out of the way. I don't complain or get on these guys much but if I do it's because of a lack of fundamental baseball. When you do the little things right, you win games.

NYF: There doesn't seem to be a closer on this team.
OB: We don't have a legitimate closer. We go by committee. Bevis has been closing more than anybody right now. There's a rotating system. I'm going to pitch whosever turn it is to pitch and I want to give them all a chance.

NYF: Royce Ring is the only lefty in the bullpen. Does that hamper you as a manager in any way?
OB: No, not at all. In the minor leagues you want to get everybody work so it doesn't matter if it's a lefty righty match up. I'm just trying to get people work.

NYF: You seem to be more of a gut feeling manager than a numbers textbook manager
OB: In the minors, I think you have to be.

NYF: Is that something that would change if and when you get to the majors?
OB: That's a tough question because I haven't been there. A lot of it is gut feeling. Sometimes you go by the book and say lefty vs. lefty, righty vs. righty but sometimes you just got to have that gut feeling. I think I'm more of an instinctive manager. Whatever I feel at that time I'll do.

NYF: When during your playing career, if ever, did you start thinking about coaching and/or managing?
OB: Probably my last couple years as a player. I wasn't playing a lot. I had become a utility player. I'd sit on the bench and kind of manage along with the manager. 'what would I do in this situation'? So towards the end of my career I knew that I wanted to stay in the game.

NYF: Do you model your style after any one particular manager?
OB: Whitey Herzog and Jim Leyland both taught me a lot. I played under Torre and Chuck Tanner who were both fine managers, but I learned the most from Whitey.

NYF: Sources tell me that you were very influential in acquiring Jeff Keppinger from the Pirates. Is this true?
OB: I don't know where you heard that. I turned a report in. We do reports on players in the league. I liked what I saw when we played Altoona so I wrote it in my report.

NYF: Did they ask you what you thought of Keppinger, or did you ever tell the organization "listen there is this guy on Altoona…."?
OB: No, no. That was never said to me but I'm sure they looked at the reports. We have to do a report on all the players in the league who we think are prospects and I feel he is a prospect so I wrote him up. I think it was a good trade. We got a good player.

NYF: What kind of pitcher do you think Matt Peterson will become?
OB: I put him down as a number 2 starter. He was with me three years and I like him and I think he will turn into a quality pitcher.

NYF: That's going to break the hearts of so many Mets fans.
OB: That's just my opinion. I could be way off.

NYF: Do you stay close with the players that have moved on?
OB: Oh, yeah. I keep in touch with them and see how they are doing. In the minor leagues the manager is like a father. They're away from home, I'm away from home, but we're together every day. So I like to keep in touch and see how they are doing.

NYF: Is this a championship team?
OB: I've known it since day one. Even with all the changes. I still feel that we have enough talent to win. We've been pretty consistent all year. We've only two long losing streaks so I feel very confident in this club.

NYF: Norwich has been unable to gain any ground.
OB: Thank G-d

NYF: So it looks as if you will face New Hampshire in the playoffs. Are you worried at all that this losing streak to New Hampshire will give them the confidence they need to beat you and that they are peaking at the right time and you guys are slumping at the worst possible time?
OB: No, not at all. There are twenty games left and I don't think we're going to lose all twenty of them. Knock on wood. New Hampshire has a good club and we have a good club so it's no surprise that we've had a lot of good games with them. A lot of those guys were the same guys we beat last year in the Florida State league so if it comes down to us and them it should b a good series.

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