In a tough season, manager Schaeffer has steadied the Isotopes - Albuquerque Journal

In a tough season, manager Schaeffer has steadied the Isotopes

Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer chats with players during a July game. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Luis Barrera legged out an infield single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Aug. 23 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It drove in his Las Vegas Aviators teammates Carlos Perez and Marty Bechina for a rare game-winning, two-run, walk-off infield single to beat the Albuquerque Isotopes, 7-6.

As the Aviators celebrated, Albuquerque’s 36-year-old first year manager Warren Schaeffer — an ex-minor league infielder now in his sixth season in the Colorado Rockies organization — was letting his disagreement of the safe call be known.

“I was so angry that I picked up a trash can in the dugout and emptied it on the field and threw the trash can,” Schaeffer said.

The only thing that saved him from his first Triple-A ejection was the fact the game was over.

“Ahh, the season’s still young,” Schaeffer joked last week with a mischievous grin and sparkle in his eye when a reporter reminded him he hadn’t been ejected from a game this year.

Nine games remained in the Isotopes’ season as of Saturday night, when they hosted the Reno Aces.

Truth is, though his intensity is clear, Schaeffer hasn’t been tossed from a game since managing a Single-A club in 2017.

“It’s because the umpires are better now,” he said. “… Look, emotions get involved in this game. If you do your job right, I think emotions should get involved because you care.”

There is no doubting emotion is part of the deal with Schaeffer, who was originally hired to manage the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2019 before all of Minor League Baseball scrapped the 2020 season due to COVID-19.

He regularly fields grounders with the team and takes part in the good-natured trash talk common in a baseball clubhouse while also setting a high bar of what is expected work-wise for every player.

The Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies wasn’t expected to do much this season, and the Isotopes were 54-68 coming into Saturday. But Schaeffer has received high marks from the organization for his success in player development and instilling an intense, focused culture for a roster mix of young prospects hoping to make it to the big leagues and older veterans hoping to make it back.

“I think ‘Schaef’ is a really good one,” Rockies manager Bud Black said this week. “… I think there’s a consistency to Schaef that is a huge positive.”

Added Isotopes 28-year-old first baseman and former New York Yankee Greg Bird, “The example he sets every day is what’s important. I think leadership in any organization — whether it’s a baseball team, a business or anything — is the most important aspect to setting the tone. And I think he sets a great tone.”

Setting the tone

For Schaeffer, who in May was awarded the Rockies’ P.J. Carey Player Development Award, setting the tone for the Isotopes in their return to baseball wasn’t some mysterious magic formula.

“I’m just being myself and trying to stay true to that as much as I can,” Schaeffer said. “… If you get to know players personally, they know what you stand for. There should be no mystery there and you can just be yourself and still walk the line of how you’re supposed to go about the business out there.”

Who Schaeffer is, he will tell you, is a Christian — first and foremost. A husband and a father of two. He doesn’t curse or drink — a hell of a feat to pull off in his chosen profession.

But he’s not perfect — something he wants everyone to know and wants his players, especially the young ones who have rarely faced adversity, to know.

“There’s things that I do on this field all the time that I am not proud of,” Schaeffer said before proceeding to tell the aforementioned trash-can tossing story.

“I mean, that’s not how a Christian acts.”

Mixing personalities

Black said the Rockies need from their minor league managers someone who can blend player development with personality management.

“And that’s hard in Triple-A because you’ve got a lot of players, really selfishly, trying to get to the big leagues and do whatever they can to get out of Triple-A,” Black said.

“… As it relates to Schaef down in Triple-A for the first time, I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Schaeffer says his job isn’t about shielding his guys from adversity, but helping them realize it’s unavoidable and something to take on.

After the May 22 Triple-A debut of pitcher Ryan Rolison, a top-three prospect in the Rockies organization, didn’t go well, Schaeffer asked a reporter in a postgame interview why he didn’t want to talk to the young prospect.

“I might have appreciated some hard questions for Roli.” Schaeffer said that night. “He kind of needs that.”

Though the reporter’s story wasn’t focused on Rolison, he agreed to interview the pitcher about his poor night on the mound. It was something Schaeffer said later is much needed before prospects get to the big leagues where they can’t avoid talking about their bad games.

Bird, who at 28 is hardly of standard “veteran” age, has been a clubhouse leader as a guy who has already been to the majors before multiple injuries derailed his career. He said he’s appreciative of the approach Schaeffer takes to all his players — those on the way up, and those on the way back.

“Schaef offers us the freedom that I think you should get in Triple-A,” Bird said. “This is the first time it starts to become more businesslike. … (At Triple-A), you start dealing with different kinds of guys — you start getting to dealing with guys who’ve been in the big leagues. You aren’t just dealing with organizational guys. They come from all walks and from other teams.

“The thing with Schaef is he’s always willing to learn and to work and to get better. That’s all you can ask for.”

Taylor Motter, the 32-year-old utility player who spent time playing in Korea and in independent ball in recent seasons, gives high praise to Schaeffer for his role in putting him back on a big league track. He’s now with the Boston Red Sox.

“Schaef’s the best, one of the better managers I’ve played for in my career,” Motter told the Journal in July. “I’m really happy to have him on my side.”

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