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Climbing the coaching ladder

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

T.J. Zarewicz, past manager of the Santa Fe Fuego, is heading to the Atlantic League. (Courtesy of T.J. Zarewicz)

Like the rest of us, the Santa Fe Fuego of the Pecos League are playing a waiting game.

But no matter when, or even if, the Fuego get to play ball, the team will have a new look.

Manager T.J. Zarewicz, who has been the face of the franchise for the better part of four years, is off to greener pastures after guiding Santa Fe to a 93-85 record.

He was recently named hitting coach for the Atlantic League’s Road Warriors.

The league is generally considered one of the highest of the independent leagues and has been around since 1998.

“It definitely is seen as the top level of independent ball,” Zarewicz said. “There’s a mix of players in this league that have a serious talent level. These teams carry very talented guys from all over the world. A lot of the players even have Major League experience, up to 40%.”

So, for Zarewicz, it’s a logical progression in climbing up the baseball ladder.

“It’s an opportunity to work with elite baseball players,” he said. “And do whatever is necessary to help the team.”

This was the type of move Zarewicz wanted to make after the Fuego season ended last year.

He moved on to San Rafeal, California, for a team in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, just generally helping out any way he could.

The manager there, Oscar Suarez, then helped pave the way for him to move into the Atlantic League.

“To me, I kind of had an idea, I had a goal,” Zarewicz said. “By basically leaving a stepping stone like Santa Fe to search for other opportunities.”

But the time in Santa Fe was invaluable, he said, after starting out as a player, then moving into the manager’s role.

“There are a lot of different things I learned,” Zarewicz said. “I spent four years there. From the get go, I saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow with the game of baseball.”

Especially after putting on the manager’s cap for the past three seasons.

“Ever since taking over as manager, it was opportunity to learn how to reach an individual player on an individual level,” Zarewicz said. “Having to get along with 25 guys, you have to reach each guy differently at the professional level. It’s not a cookie-cutter type of program. Each guy has something they do well. Most importantly, I learned how to work with players on an individual level.”

He also learned how to cull the baseball grapevine for players and opportunities.

“There are numerous things you could take away from managing at this level,” Zarewicz said. “Networking would have to be up there. I was really working to grow a network of baseball people by calling coaches, calling former pro players, calling guys that coached at a high level. I was able to learn more about baseball and learn how these things work.”

Then there is dealing with the realities of managing at the lower rungs of baseball.

“I’ve learned how to do field work. I learned how to coordinate anything around the field that needs to get done,” Zarewicz said with a chuckle. “You just try to make it happen as best you can. I had to do things like writing the lineup, worrying about the bullpen, worrying about the pinch hitters, worrying about guys who are injured.”

Even things off the field fell into his bailiwick.

“At times, I had to set up players with host families,” Zarewicz said. “Coordination of host families is huge and it is very challenging. I appreciate anybody that ever has anything to do with host family situations and housing itself. Host families are one of the reasons why independent baseball works.”

The ultimate goal is to land with a Minor League team that is affiliated with the big leagues, he said.

“I would love to be with an affiliated team in an on-field capacity,” Zarewicz said. “Somewhere in an affiliate club, working with players, maybe managing potentially. I would love to manage again. I want to stick it out and get in an affiliated system. I believe I can take the work load and information I’ve assembled over the years, and make it.”

At 29, he still has time to make it work out.

“For me, it’s more of a short-term versus a long-term,” Zarewicz said. “I don’t put a necessarily long-term set on it. If you can get in an affiliated system, you have the opportunity to prove your skill set. As a coach or as someone with player development, you don’t just go straight to the big leagues. There is a growth curve.”