Vanderbeek on Baseball

Coach's wit can't stir a hit

April 15, 2008 

To use the old line, Jerry Weinstein has forgotten more about baseball than I will ever know, and despite covering more than 1,000 professional games over the years, I am certain such is the case.

On the other hand, I hope I know more about newspapers than the manager of the Modesto Nuts. I almost guarantee that's the case because of one belief Weinstein holds.

Weinstein thinks he's not quotable.

He believes his words don't work well in print, and as much as I tell him otherwise, he tends to apologize after interviews for not being able to give me anything spicier.

You be the judge. Here are some Weinstein classics:

• "Not all the fruit on the tree gets ripe at the same time. They mature at different times, and sometimes, you have to lose before you win."

• "This level gives these kids the opportunity to fail so that eventually they can succeed. You can't deliver the baby without the labor pains, and we're going through those pains right now."

• "Everything is based on believing in yourself. Unfortunately, bad outcomes erode your belief system, and they shouldn't. That's what you learn in the minor leagues — that you can't allow outcomes to destroy you."

The Weinstein series of motivational posters will be coming soon to a store near you.

All three quotes share a common theme. All are in response to questions asked by me that are in the vein of, "When will these guys start hitting?"

There's a trend at work here, and it's not just a one-year phenomenon. Last year, the Nuts hit .233 through the first 20 games and finished at .267. In 2006, the team started slow and never caught pace, finishing ninth in the 10-team league with a .266 average. Perhaps we were spoiled by the talent-laden first Nuts team, which hit .281.

But heading into Monday night's game at Lancaster, the current Nuts were hitting .203.

I'd make a reference to the Mendoza Line here, but Mario Mendoza used to manage in the California League, he's a really good guy, and he hates that his baseball legacy is as the patron saint of weak hitters.

So, the Modesto Mendozas? Nah, we're not going there, although it does roll nicely off the tongue.

Eleven games do not make a season. Nor does a month or even a 70-game half. The Nuts are in the first mile of a five-month marathon, and they're choosing to not panic.

Each one of these guys was the best player on his high school team, and probably even on his college team. They've all hit well in the past, and there's no reason to think Modesto's bats won't heat up soon.

And as soon as they do, the games will be more entertaining, as will Weinstein's post-game comments.

Like this one, from August 2007, when the Nuts were coming off a hot offensive streak:

• "We're not coaching any differently or doing anything differently than when we didn't play as well. You're seeing the cumulative effect of good things happening and getting on a positive roll. It breeds self-confidence, and everyone in here has it going."

STOCKTON'S VISIT over the weekend brought an old familiar face to John Thurman Field.

Keith Lieppman, now in his 17th season as Oakland's director of player development, stopped by Thursday to check on the Ports. It was his first visit to the Modesto ballpark since the A's packed up their green and gold and moved to Stockton following the 2004 season.

He looked around with amazement at the upgraded playing surface and scoreboard — both completed before the 2007 season.

"Man," he said, "I'm not sure we would have moved if we knew Thurman Field could ever be this nice."

One look at the whole picture in Stockton — the field, the stadium and especially the clubhouse and training facilities — tell you all you need to know about why the A's left Modesto after 30 years.

Lieppman was being facetious, but at the same time was paying Modesto a compliment.

And after years of sub-standard conditions at Thurman Field, including the playing surface, such compliments always are welcome.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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