ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On Wednesday, the Journal ran a story about some former professional baseball players who now coach in the metro area.
Four of the five men I interviewed coach at schools in the West Side Journal area. I had a surplus of interesting material, most of which didn’t make into Wednesday’s section. But I wanted to share today with you some of what I left out.
REFRESHING HONESTY: I think the most fascinating conversation I had was with Volcano Vista head coach Kevin Andersh.
He was a former first-round pick (1984), but like so many thousands of players, he never quite reached the pot at the end of the rainbow.
Andersh was very forthcoming about his minor-league career.
“I just never had the tools on the inside to make it,” he said. Not everyone would dare be as honest about this subject as Andersh was, to his eternal credit.
He also spoke about his college years at the University of New Mexico, as part of his learning curve as a young man.
“Nobody really showed me anything, even in college,” he said. “I hate to admit that. I didn’t have a powerful coach back in my day to lead me to good work ethics and habits. I had a lot of God-given talent, but I was a lazy player.”
One incredible example he cited was this: by the time he signed his first pro contract, the left-handed pitcher was still pitching from the top of the rubber, which is not the ideal way to maximize your effectiveness as a pitcher.
Andersh has enjoyed a solid coaching career — first at Eldorado as an assistant, then later at Albuquerque Academy and Volcano Vista as a head coach.
I asked him — as I asked everyone — if playing professionally helped to inform the way he coaches.
“Not really,” he said.
LATE BLOOMER: Rio Grande baseball coach Orlando Griego, a 23rd-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1990, was in and out quickly. He was released his second year.
Still, being drafted and signed was validation for Griego, who didn’t make the varsity squad at Rio Grande until he was a senior.
He tried to walk on at New Mexico Highlands, but was cut. Eventually, he attended New Mexico State, where he began as a catcher and outfielder.
During a scrimmage one day, Griego said, a coach asked the team if anyone wanted to pitch an inning or two of mop-up duty. Griego volunteered, and struck out five batters in two innings.
And he went on to be one of the best closers the Aggies have ever had.
What he really regretted was that he hit his prime “at 26 or 27″ — long after he left the pros.
“If I had stuck around for another couple of seasons, I think I would have had a legitimate shot (to get to the majors),” Griego said. “But I never regretted it. I worked as hard as I could.”
Griego said he has incorporated some of his experiences into his coaching.
“I played for a couple of really experienced guys,” Griego said. “I understood how much time it took, how much sacrifice it took, how much commitment it took to get there.”
THE AROMA: It’s long been acknowledged that a scent or smell can stay with you for years. Decades.
Valley coach Chad Kuhn said the start of a new baseball season makes him nostalgic.
“So much so,” he said, “that you want to grab your glove and smell it again.”
Kuhn had seven spring trainings during his minor-league career. He had one of the most powerful left arms of any prep pitcher in this city in the last 30 years. (Disclaimer: he’s a very dear friend, and I used to catch him.)
Sadly, a couple of injuries probably prevented Kuhn from getting all the way to the Major Leagues, where those of us who played with him knew he was destined to be one day.
“I miss it every year at this time, because it was so much fun,” he said. “Those seven years I spent going to spring training, those are some of the best days of my life.”
Kuhn has coached at La Cueva, Del Norte and Valley; he said he once was told by La Cueva that the program was his, if he wanted. But he said he wasn’t yet ready to become a head coach. So he declined.
Coaching, in fact, wasn’t the career path Kuhn had in mind. He majored in criminology at UNM and thought he might become a cop.
Among head coaches, Kuhn is one of the most respected teachers of the game. He has had three state semifinal appearances — two while at Del Norte, and one last year with Valley.
Kuhn said playing professionally does impact the way he instructs his players.
“Me and Kevin and Orlando, we coach the game a little differently than your standard college player-turned-high school baseball coach,” Kuhn said. “By no means do I know it all. I’m still learning to this day, but I do have a lot to offer kids, because of my background. That’s what keeps me going daily.”
COACH, NOW TEACHER: Volcano Vista assistant Rob Hicks is in his first year as a teacher. He’s a freshman algebra teacher at VVHS.
His route to the pros started in California, then to a junior college in New Jersey, then to UNM, and then finally into the Philles organization where he signed as a free agent in 1984.
Hicks — like Kuhn, Griego and Andersh — was a pitcher. None of them played a single day in the bigs.
“That attention to detail is what I know Kevin, Chad, Orlando, the other guys who have played professional baseball, have,” Hicks said. “You have that different work ethic. And you have to rely on kids to take it upon themselves to take what you teach them (and apply it).”