Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Minor-league hitting coach is big in Japan

HighBeam Research

Title: Winters loves his summers Coach makes most of his experience with Cougars.(Sports)

Date: 4/17/2001; Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
This might be the last season Matt Winters can stand at home and call the shot. If so, the Sushi House restaurant in Naperville had better stock up.
Winters is in his sixth season as hitting coach for the Kane County Cougars, and in that time he has spread the raw-fish gospel to co-workers and friends he has made in the Fox Valley.
"Matt introduced me to sushi," said Cougars general manager Jeff Sedivy.
The Sushi House has become Winters' favorite place during the springs and summers he has spent with Kane County, and the feeling is mutual.
Winters may be anonymous at McDonald's, but because of his five- year Japan League career from 1990-94, he is treated like a home run king at sushi joints.
After an American career that included 200 minor-league home runs and 42 games with Kansas City in 1989, Winters bashed 160 homers for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
"He's Winters-san over there," said Cougars promotions director Jeff Ney of the Sushi House. "He's the hero, right behind Mr. Oh."
Sadaharu Oh, of course, is Japan's all-time home run leader.
Winters, who has shown the Fox Valley ropes to three Cougars managers, also has a following in the Cougars family of office staff, season ticketholders and people who board players.
He's friendly and laid-back, with a sense of goofiness that is most publicly expressed when he interacts with Myron Noodleman.
Noodleman, the nerdy Jerry Lewis-type who entertains the Elfstrom Stadium crowd several times a season, does a baseball-sign skit with Winters set to the tune of "Duelin' Banjos."
It's not part of Winters' job description, and indeed, there are plenty of minor-league coaches who merely tolerate the on-field antics for which the minors are famous.
"He fits," Ney said.
For a coach in a major-league organization to stay at one level, let alone one team, is rare. Most want a shot at the bigs as badly as the players they guide.
Winters' situation, though, has been unique. First, he's not as ambitious as some of his comrades and counterparts.
"I made the big leagues as a player," he says. "Even though it was half-a-year, it was great. I got into coaching because I like baseball. I just wanted to be around baseball."
Second, the Cougars' parent club, the Florida Marlins, has a baseball-wide reputation for top-notch treatment of its employees.
Kane County, annually one of the minor leagues' most successful franchises, has the wherewithal to follow suit.
As they are independent financially from the major-league teams, minor-league franchises are responsible for travel arrangements and housing and any luxuries extended to their teams' players and coaches.
Through deals Kane County makes with local businesses, the Cougars can provide coaches with free hotel rooms and rental cars for the season.
Simply put, Kane County is seen as the gem of the Marlins' farm system, not only for its capacity crowds but its treatment of players and coaches.
"Without a doubt, they get treated like kings here," said Florida farm director Rick Williams while attending the Cougars' home-opening series. "That might be one of the reasons people don't want to move out of here.
"It's great if it coincides with where you're best fitting in the organization, but that's what the No. 1 priority is. As much as we'd like guys to be comfortable, it is a business and we have to make sure the players develop."
That's the first and only indication that Winters' love affair with Kane County soon may end.
Williams took the job last August, replacing Rob Leary, who had spent less than a year in the position after John Boles claimed the Marlins' managing duties. Leary was the Marlins' minor-league field coordinator when Boles was farm director.
The 40-year-old Winters had a chance one year to move to Class A Brevard County in the higher-level Florida State League, closer to his off-season home of Greensboro, N.C.
"I wouldn't take it," he said. "I told Boles and Leary, 'I'm fine in Kane County. Don't worry about me.' "
Winters has strongly considered moving his family - wife, Vicki, daughters Darby and Brenan and son Matthew - to the Kane County area. He says it's the only place Vicki would relocate.
The cold doesn't bother Winters, a Buffalo, N.Y., native, and he's enamored of the local school systems. "It looks like a great place to raise kids," he said.
So after one of Winters' seasons with Kane County, he and Vicki discussed buying a townhouse in the area. Boles advised against it.
"He said, 'The first thing that'll happen is you'll get moved,' " Winters said. "That was four years ago."
Williams' words, no guarantee that Winters won't be around another year, merely indicate that the new guy will be re- evaluating the system he oversees.
Still, nothing lasts forever, and in professional baseball terms, that's how long Winters has been with Kane County.
He has been the guy Sedivy could count on to familiarize the new players and coaches to the area and to be a great ambassador for the Cougars' all-important community relations.
"If Matt were to move on, it wouldn't be the same for me," said Sedivy, who has been with Kane County since 1991. "He brings a lot to the atmosphere."
In the off-season, Winters travels to Japan with Marlins personnel and scouting staff, and he would like to expand that role.
If he doesn't end up teaching hitting at another rung on the Marlins' ladder, it would be because he got his wish.
For the sixth straight year.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at http://www.highbeam.com

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