Cougars' Peterson makes his pitch with a smile
Author(s): Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: March 30, 1997
Here's a good one: In the fall and winter, Kane County Cougars pitching coach Brian Peterson lives on a Eugene, Ore., street named Happy Lane. That's funny in a coincidental way, because humor plays a big part in his coaching. But if you want knee-slapping funny, Peterson's got a million of 'em, and he'll be appearing in Geneva from April through August.
"He can throw a joke on you at any time," former Cougars pitcher Travis Burgus said. "Minor-league baseball's kind of a grind. Sometimes you almost don't wanna be there. (Peterson) makes your day go pretty good."
With a combination of humor, energy and a background which is as academic as it is athletic, Peterson has provided a unique experience for every Cougars pitcher of the past four seasons .
The 42-year-old Eugene native has worked in every facet of pro baseball - player, coach, scout, assistant general manager - and has a master's degree in counseling psychology.
With his hummingbird metabolism, Peterson used to run marathons and 10Ks before having a knee scoped in 1991. Even with his post-scope workout regimen, he's in better shape than many of his pitchers.
"He doesn't sleep that much," says Cougars manager Lynn Jones, who has partnered with Peterson since 1994. "That's the way he lives."
When life presents Peterson with a speed bump, he makes the most of the jolt. He pitched for four years on scholarship at the University of Oregon and four more as an undrafted minor-leaguer - after snapping a tendon in his elbow as a high school senior.
"I never threw a fastball after that," Peterson says of the injury. "I took (his ability) to the max."
Though he admits he wasn't enthusiastic about schoolwork in college, he got a degree in sociology.
Finished playing at 27, Peterson scouted northern California for San Diego for a year, then spent a season assisting a friend who was general manager for the Class A Spokane Chiefs.
Figuring his life with baseball was over, Peterson began a masters program at the University of South Dakota in 1989 just before a friend put him in touch with John Boles.
Boles was then Kansas City's director of player development, a capacity he now fills for the Cougars' parent club, the Florida Marlins.
Boles hired Peterson as a hitting instructor for Class AA Memphis, and until he completed his master's program, Peterson would end the season one day and be in a classroom the next. When spring training rolled around, the process reversed.
"It was like living two lives," says Peterson, who spent three seasons in Memphis, then one as the pitching coach for rookie-league independent Salt Lake City after the Royals let him go at the end of the 1991 season.
Peterson had been accepted to the doctorate program at USD, and prepared once more for a life without baseball.
"I thought I was all done again," he said.
Baseball - and Boles - made their pitch again just before the '92 season ended. Boles had left the Royals for the Expos in 1990, then joined the Marlins in '91. He hired Peterson for the '93 season, and Peterson has been at Kane County since.
Though Peterson broke off his doctoral work, his counseling education has been invaluable. Especially with a vulnerable and far-from-secure age group.
Talent alone doesn't equal success in pitching.
"A guy like Petey can really put a kid over the top," Boles says.
"(The counseling's) been so helpful," Peterson says. "I've learned how to listen. Hearing is biological, listening is learned. I can't imagine still doing what I'm doing if I hadn't learned that."
The job fits Peterson's cut-loose personality to a hitting tee. The positive vibes Peterson exudes as he bounds from exercise bike to bullpen to dugout to locker room are part of the daily routine.
"It's my job to be the bad guy," Jones says. "That certainly helps Petey's position. He can be (the players') friend."
While it may seem as if Peterson is on the slow track to the upper reaches of the Marlins' organization, he isn't worried. There isn't a lot of turnover in a system that treats its employees well.
"He's not a climber," Boles says. "He's interested in the job at hand. He's on (the players') side, and they know it."
"I'm a little bit different than some other people in the same business," Peterson says. "I enjoy the work. I think I'm getting better at what I do. My time will come."
He already has found his niche. Burgus says the only time he looks forward to the grind of spring-training PFP - pitchers' fielding practice - is when he sees Peterson's name in the instructor slot.
Said Burgus, "It kinda puts a smile on your face."
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