TigsTown: You came back to the Tigers in 2009, after a few years away. How did it feel to get back to the pro game, and what were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in your return?
Howard Bushong: Well, getting back in was fantastic! It's the purest form of baseball, and that's what I love. I like to think that I'm pretty much a purest. Playing every day, the wood bat, and everything else that goes with the pro game, and really the best athletes from all over the world. It's not just a local thing like it is at most colleges. As far as obstacles go, it was just getting used to being away from home, and the rest of it I felt like I was ready to go. I still probably put a little too much pressure on myself to win, but I've always been that way. I play every game to win, but at the same time towards the end of the year I started relaxing and just enjoyed watching the kids progress.
TT: Anybody that plays, coaches, or participates in the game at the level that you are, they are clearly a competitive person. How difficult is it to remind yourself that the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League are developmental levels, and not win-at-all-cost levels?
HB: It can be difficult, but at the same time, I completely understand. I know what the role is, and what we're supposed to do. I've got no problems with it. The thing for me is that I want to see guys go out and perform as well as they can, and as hard as they can, every day. As long as they do that, I can accept things. You never want to lose a game, you just don't, but the disappointments get a little shorter now. You just move on. I know the next day when I come to work, I'm fine.
TT: You can't have a long-term memory when you play every day.
HB: You really can't. In this sport, you just have to put it behind you and get to work on the next day.
TT: For those that may not be familiar, you started at the University of Texas in the collegiate ranks, and then moved on to the San Diego Padres. What was the chain of event s that led to you leave the college ranks, and jump into the pro game?
HB: The biggest thing for me was Kevin Towers. Kevin and I were friends and he told me that if I ever got in it, I'd never want to leave. He was right! I came back to college because of a family situation, and it was good, but the kids are grown now and the opportunity to get back in came along. The Tigers organization is fantastic! I've been very, very fortunate to have that. That's a big part of it; working with people you enjoy, trust, and respect, it certainly makes things more enjoyable.
TT: When you made the decision to come back to the pro game last year, did you call the Tigers, or did the Tigers call you?
HB: I called them.
TT: Was there some haggling, or was it a done deal right away?
HB: Well, first of all, they had to have a spot open, and at the time that they called, they didn't think that they were going to have one available. Then later on in August, I got a call from EZ (Glenn Ezell, Tigers director of player development), and he said there just might be something open. I was waiting on pins and needles until he called. This was a situation he thought would be really good for both me and the Tigers.
TT: Did you have any feelers out to any other organizations, or were you pretty much dead set on the Tigers?
HB: Well, I was hoping to come back to the Tigers because I knew the people. But I did have some feelers out to other organizations and people that I knew. The whole time, I was hoping this would be where I would end up. If I couldn't be in the state of Texas, I would rather be with the Tigers.
TT: Does that preclude you from moving on to another organization?
HB: I'm content completely with the Tigers. I love where I'm at. I love everything about it. Obviously if I had the opportunity to come back to the state of Texas, it would be fantastic because I would be closer to my family. That would probably be about the only thing that would get me away from the Tigers.
TT: You've had some pretty impressive stops along the way, working at Texas like I mentioned, with the Padres, and now two stints with the Tigers. Whenever you move around like that, you are going to be surrounded by some pretty impressive talent. Who are some of the most impressive guys you've had the opportunity to coach?
HB: First of all, it started as a high school coach. As a high school coach, I got to coach Calvin Schiraldi and Kelly Gruber. Gruber won two World Series and played in two All-Star Games, while playing third base for the Blue Jays, and Calvin got to pitch in a World Series for the Red Sox. Of course while I was with Texas, and though he's known more as a hitter, I got to coach Brooks Kieshnick for three years. He was the college Player of the Year for three straight years, as a two-way guy. Then at Texas State, I got to coach Scott Linebrink, who is still pitching for the White Sox. I think he was a third round pick for San Francisco in '97, and he's had a great career. I'm awfully proud of him. Then of course with the Tigers, I've had some really great guys. From guys coming down on injury rehab, to the prospects, there's been some nice players. We started Andy [Anderson] Hernandez, and I guess he's kind of bounced around, but he was a tremendous talent. We don't know with the guys right now. The guys last year, we certainly think a couple of those guys have a shot. It's always been fantastic to see the great athletes, and watch them progress. The ones that make it to the big leagues, it's really rewarding.
TT: It seems to me, one of the challenges you face is helping kids adapt to the pro game. How much do you see it as your responsibility to help these guys adjust to the pro game, adjust to the grind, and help them to not get bogged down in the little stuff?
HB: I think that's a complete job description. I think you just described it. The biggest thing we have to – especially dealing with the college kids – is to help them realize that after a three-game weekend where you went 3-for-9, you don't get Monday off; you're out there playing. You're going to keep the grind going, and you've got to learn to put it behind you and move on to the next day. With every bad day, you've done something okay. You can say what you want to, and you may have to look for it sometimes, but you've done something right.
TT: What was the highlight of the season last year?
HB: I'll tell you what; it was the way we started off. We had kids that came in, and they really started off well. The got a good feel for things, and while we struggled down the stretch, it was good. Adam Wilk was a big part of that, and we had him until August 1st, and he did such a great job for us. To see a couple of those guys walk in and really light it up, was really great. We had a few guys that got to move up, and that's always fun. Working with my staff was smooth and easy, so that was also great. When you're together for that long a time, working in close quarters, there can always be things that get on you, but the people I dealt with were great.
TT: You mentioned the thrill of getting to tell a guy that he's being promoted. I did an interview with Nick Cassavechia a couple of weeks ago, and he mentioned the prank you pulled on him.
HB: That was pretty darn good!
TT: I liked that one! How important is it to have fun and make sure these guys remember that it's just a game?
HB: Let me tell you something, if you can't do that, you better hang ‘em up. The game will kill you. You better have fun. You better be able to joke with them about the good and the bad. These kids did a fantastic job with that, and these coaches did a fantastic job with that. I can be too serious, but my coaches did a great job keeping me in line too. You better have fun every day! You're playing the game of baseball for a living. If you can't have fun doing that, you're in bad shape.
TT: There's no lack of laughter and jokes when you've got ‘Q' [Luis Quinones] around on your staff!
HB: Absolutely! He is great! He's funny, and at the same time he does a great job with the players.
TT: In the past you've mentioned having recruited some of the guys you coached this year; guys like Cassavechia and Michael Rockett. From your experience with those guys and knowing what they were capable of, did you handle them any differently than the other guys on the roster?
HB: I try to treat everyone pretty much the same way. I probably did a little bit more visiting with those guys, just because I knew their background, but as far as handling them, there wasn't any difference. Off the field, I probably spent a little more time visiting with them though. Nate Newman, I went and saw him before college too. I went and saw him play third base and didn't think much of him, and everybody kept telling me to go watch him pitch. Every time I went to watch him, he wasn't pitching, so it was kind of fun when he came in. I saw him in the off-season too. I ran into him in Houston with my son. I like to talk to the college guys about the college game, their coaches, what they did, and that sort of thing.
TT: Looking at a little bit at the 2010 season, what are some of your goals as we head to a new season?
HB: You always want to win a championship, but dad gum; I want to be a little more relaxed day-to-day. I don't want to put so much pressure on myself. I think I'm pretty good as far as being organized and things like that. As long as I teach and as long as I get the players playing hard, I've done my job. The winning is going to take care of itself, and I need to focus more on process. I think I can do those things. I look forward to coming back, and I'm a lot more relaxed than I was last year. I know what to expect now. I know the league, and I know Oneonta. I know the type of kids I'm going to get, and I know our scouts are going to do a good job and give us some good players.
TT: Last question, and it's a bit of a difficult one, but this is your chance for the final word….
HB: For me, it's one of those situations where I'm just happy where I'm at, and I'm very proud of it. I'm just very lucky, very blessed, I have a fantastic family, and to be able to part of this organization is really a good, lucky thing for me. What can I say, I'm just so blessed. I love the game. The game of baseball is bigger than all of us, and the Tigers help make it that way.
TigsTown would like to thank Howard for taking time away from his family and off-season activities to chat with us about his career and the upcoming 2010 season. We wish him the best of luck this year, and we can't wait to see him on the field managing the O-Tigers!