TigsTown: Joe, congratulations on being named the Manager in West Michigan! I have to imagine you are quite excited about the opportunity; how did it go over when it came down from the Tigers?
Joe DePastino: It was awesome! You know, I'm still like a little kid. It feels weird; I'm more excited now than I was when I was playing, to go to spring training. I can't wait for the season to start. I wish it would start tomorrow.
TT: Had you been speaking with the Tigers for long about joining the organization, or did things really start to ramp up after Matt Walbeck took the job with the Rangers?
JD: Actually, I want to say about two weeks ago. Andy Barkett, the Florida State League Manager, he called me up – because I've played against him forever, and we're pretty good friends – he called me up and asked me if I was interested in getting back into pro ball; if I would be interested in managing. I said ‘Definitely!' A little over two years ago I had back surgery, so I wanted to make sure that I was good to go, ready to go before I even started to look into coaching. Andy and I talk frequently, so he called me up and I said ‘Yeah, definitely, I'd love to get into managing.' He had me send my resume in, and I want to say probably three days later they called me back for an interview. I went over for the interview and had probably a two-hour long interview, and basically they hired me on the spot.
TT: Wow! That's phenomenal! That's not the typical story you would expect to hear from somebody coming in to manage a minor league club.
JD: You know what, it was a great interview. Not only for me talking, but the way they went about everything; it made it more of just like a conversation. When you go into something like that – playing as long as I did – now that I'm on the other side, you're not used to interviews and stuff like that. I was a little nervous going in there, and before it even started they told me ‘We're just going to talk. Don't think of this as an interview.' It made me relax a little bit, and it worked out perfect.
TT: Who was sitting in on the interview with you?
JD: EZ (Tigers Director of Player Development Glenn Ezell), (Tigers Director of Minor League Operations Dan) Lunetta, and (Mel) Rojas were in there. All three of those guys made it a great interview!
TT: Three pretty good baseball minds to be sitting and chatting with for a while, huh?
JD: You're exactly right. You go in there, and we just hit it off perfect. It was like we knew each other for a long time.
TT: Now you mentioned Andy giving you a call to see if you were interested in jumping back in and managing; had you been looking to just get into the coaching ranks or was there any chance you were looking to get into the scouting arena, or some other avenue of baseball?
JD: Actually, last year I went for an interview with scouting. I went for the interview, had a really good interview, and they wanted me to move to the other coast; so I didn't do it, and I didn't really pursue it too much. My ultimate dream was to get into coaching. I just wanted to make sure that I was ready to get into coaching before I did, and that's why I waited a couple of years. Plus, just when I was done playing, my son was born, so I wanted to be home for a little bit with him.
TT: There always seems to be a lot of catchers coming back in and working as managers or coaches at the minor league and Major League level. What is it with catchers that they seem to fit so well as managerial prospects?
JD: I really think it's because being a catcher at the higher levels and such, you're a leader. I was always the leader in the clubhouse, leader on the field, and so on. I took care of stuff, certain things so that the manager didn't have to know about them, and stuff like that. I think catchers, they have to know everything that's going on when it comes to bunt plays; just every aspect about the game. Catchers are involved in everything. Even if you're not in that play, you're involved and you know what's going on. A lot of times too, if there was a night I didn't play, I always sat down near the end with the coaches just to listen to what they say and see how they do things. I think just because catchers are more into the game all the time, and we're always doing scouting reports on the opposing hitters and other pitchers. Before a series would start, I'd go in there with the pitching coaches and go over all the stuff with them, and then I'd bring the pitchers over and go over it all; what was going on, what hitters were hot. We're in that every day.
TT: You've spent some recent time working with high school players in Sarasota, do you think that experience with younger players will help you relate to the generally younger players in Class-A, or is there some aprehension about how that transition is going to go from the amateur to the pro ranks?
JD: I think it is. A lot of times at the high school level, it can be difficult. I was honored to even be at Sarasota High with the coaching tradition they have there. They've won three national championships and eight state championships since '95. Clyde Metcalf has been there for 28 years. He's a high school legend. To be able to go and work under him and see the way he organizes things, the way he runs practices, and just being at that level. A lot of those kids, they don't know what its like to go to that next level. I was basically trying to prepare those guys, and talking about certain things they'll see when they get to college or pro ball.
There were always guys on our team getting drafted or going to Division I colleges, and just showing them how to play the game, talking to them about doing it the right way, how to be a leader, and I think that's a very big part of working with the kids at a younger age in pro ball. When they're at a certain age, a lot of guys just don't understand. Let's say catching; kids don't understand when they're 20 or 21-years old that your job is behind the plate. Yes it's good to be a hitter too, and hitting is a plus, but catchers have to understand that if you're 0-for-4, you don't worry about that. You might have a pitcher on the mound throwing a gem out there, and the last thing they need is you having your head down, taking forever bringing the calls in. Now that's going to bring everybody down, and your pitcher is going to get out of that rhythm, and probably end up giving up the game, just because of the way you're acting behind the plate.
TT: Once you start to get a feel for which players will be assigned to West Michigan next year, how do you think you will approach relating to them and establishing that bond that players and managers have?
JD: There's a fine line when it comes to coaches and players. I'm still one of those guys that I'm still a big time player's manager. I've been there and done that. I know when guys are struggling and they might need a day off, or a day off from BP. I've been there and done that. There is nothing those guys are ever going to do that I haven't done and experienced. At that age and that level, being a mentor to those guys, letting them know that this stuff goes away. Just talking about certain situations.
Sometimes certain things happen on the field, or off the field, and just talking to them. They don't want somebody yelling at them. I'm not a yeller. I don't scream at kids. I'm a very hands on, kind of one-on-one guy. If you make a mistake on the field, I'm not a believer in yelling, because kids won't respond to you when you yell at them. If you bring them over to the side and discuss what happened, or why he should have thrown the ball to second base instead of throwing home when you have a two run lead late in the game. Just talking to them like that, and when you talk to them the way we want to be talked to, they respond to you. I've played the game, they're playing the game, I'm not better than them. Everybody's on the same level.
TT: Your hitting coach, Benny Distefano, will be the most experienced member of your staff; with you and pitching coach Alan Mills working your first gig at the professional level. What do you think will be your biggest challenges as a rookie manager, and can you rely on Benny's experience to help you through the initial transition?
JD: Without a doubt! I'm not one of those guys that says ‘Hey, I'm the Manager.' We're a coaching staff. We're going to go over things, and we're going to agree on things, and that's what I'm very big on. As a coaching staff, we have a team coaching staff. It doesn't matter that I have the label as the Manager. He's got experience. This is my first year, and there are going to be certain situations where I'm going to have to lean on him, and discuss certain things with him. I'm very big on listening to what he says, and I'm not big on saying ‘I'm the Manager, we're doing it this way,' I'm not big on that at all. I'm not like that at all, and I'll never be like that.
TT: Speaking of your coaches in West Michigan, do you have any prior experience working with either Benny or Alan?
JD: No, I don't. I remember watching Alan pitch. That's about it. I hear they are two great guys though.
TT: Have you chatted with them at all since you took the job?
JD: No. Actually, I was going to get Alan's phone number because he lives in Lakeland and see if we can't meet one day for lunch somewhere just to talk about certain things. I hear Benny is a great guy, and Alan's a great guy too. There's nothing better than having a great coaching staff around you.
TT: Often times, Managers are labeled under a certain style, whether that be aggressive, an ‘AL style,' or maybe an NL-style manager. How would you describe your style or approach to the game from the dugout?
JD: First of all, I'm an energetic kind of guy. If you get the runner over, I'll be the first guy at the end of the dugout giving you a little high five. Even if it's a situation where we need the runner over to third, and you're trying to move him over, go the other way, and in your first two pitches I can tell you're going the other way, maybe you foul them off; but you don't get them over, but I can still see the way you were trying to get them over, I'm still there. If I know you're trying to do the job, giving a good effort, I'm very positive with everything. I'm an old school kind of guy too. I'm very positive. I like to have fun with the guys, but I'm very old school. If you don't run a ball out, and if you're not hustling, I'll be the person to take you out of the game. But I don't have a dog house. If that happens; if I have to take you out of the game, when that game is over with, it's over with. Tomorrow, you're back in the lineup and you're playing hard.
TT: You mention the energetic style, and you go watch Matt Walbeck, or Tom Brookens, or even Andy Barkett when I had the opportunity to see him at Oneonta this year; they're all energetic guys. They all have that real zest for the game, and it carries over to their players. When you did your interview with the Tigers, did that really come out in the discussion? Did it come out that they were really looking for a high energy guy?
JD: It didn't come out, but I brought it up. I let them know I'm an old school manager, that I'm very energetic – like I just told you, when they do something right, I'm there to high five them, but when they do something wrong, I'm still there anyway. I don't treat somebody different just because they're going bad, not at all. This is part of the game. I've been there and done that plenty of times.
TT: While you probably won't have a great amount of time with him during spring training, do you have plans to try and glean some little tidbits from Jim Leyland while you are down there in Lakeland? JD: Yeah, I'm going to try to. I'm going to go early to mini-camp. Gene Lamont lives down the street from my, so I see him in the offseason. I'm going to talk with him a little bit, and see if I can definitely get some pointers from him, and definitely see if I can get some from Leyland.
TT: With Matt Walbeck and Tom Brookens at the helm the last three years, West Michigan has been quite a force, including two straight Midwest League Championships. What kind of pressure does that put on you to come in and lead the ‘Caps to a successful season right off the bat?
JD: I tell you what; those are big shoes I've got to fill. I'll have to make sure I thank those guys when I see them in spring training for winning so much three years in a row! I'm just going to manage the way I manage the game. That's all I can look for, is to make sure that these guys are prepared to go out there day in and day out. We're going to have an exciting team on the field. We're going to have fun, and we're going to win. I'm big time on development. These guys are going to be ready, and there's not going to be a game that they won't be ready to go out there and play. I love to win, and I hope to follow in those shoes, but I'm just going to go manage the way I know how to manage.
TT: Starting to wrap things up here, Joe; can you identify a couple of personal goals you think you might set for yourself during your first campaign at the helm?
JD: Honestly, I would like to get these players to learn the game, understand the game, and develop them. That's one of the main reasons I got into coaching. I didn't get into managing just to have a job. I had great people – I had Bob Geren, I had Gary Carter, and I had Joe Girardi as my catching instructors. I'm one of those guys; I want to teach these guys. My personal goals, I don't look at that right now. I look at getting these guys ready to move up to the next level and hope these guys get to the big leagues. That's really what I'm looking to do.
TT: I always like to give those that I interview the chance to leave our readers with some parting thoughts. Do you have anything you want to tell our readers that we haven't covered throughout this discussion?
JD: We're going to have an exciting season! We're going to have fun! I'm very – I don't know if I should be saying this – but I'm very open to everybody. I'm a very friendly guy. If the media comes in and wants to talk to me; come on in, ask me about my golf game, this and that, then ask me some questions. I'm not a guy to come out and say ‘Hey, just ask me some questions, or talk about the game.' I'm friends with everybody. It doesn't matter if its media or fans. I'm a very friendly guy, and that's just the way I am.
TT: That will go over real well in Grand Rapids, Joe. They've got a great fan base and they love their players and their managers. That will go over real well there.
JD: Good! I hope so. That's the way I played. I was always outside signing autographs when other guys weren't. We've got all these kids there, and they look up to you.
TT: That's excellent, and a great way to approach your first season.
TigsTown.com would like to thank Joe for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about his recent assignment and the upcoming season. We wish him the best of luck on the field and look forward to his managerial debut!