HILLARY SMITH: Hard work at spring training not just for players

2014-05-04T20:30:00Z HILLARY SMITH: Hard work at spring training not just for playersHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
May 04, 2014 8:30 pm  • 

GARY | Greg Tagert's sons joke with him about how easy it has been to open spring training with the RailCats the last few years.

"I'm probably going to take a little more active role in some of the things that my own kids say I've stopped doing over the years because I have so many coaches," Tagert said.

Saturday was a little different than in seasons past with the RailCats. Tagert didn't have his veterans in the outfield. Or on the pitching staff.

The manager was bouncing from station to station, running drills like a high school coach.

"Even in the areas that don't fall under my expertise, like in the outfield with the outfielders and today with the infielders, I wanted to watch a couple of the guys," he said.

There's no guarantee at third base, so Danny Pulfer and Wally Backman Jr. worked out there.

There's no guarantees in the outfield, so anyone not pitching or assigned to a base ran out there.

Even third baseman Derek Smith was fielding balls behind the plate as the coaching staff hopes to find a C-option catcher to allow Ryan Babineau and Craig Maddox a chance to enter the lineup in every game.

Stephen Hiscock and Morgan Coombs were leading the pitching staff on Day 1 while new pitching coach Chad Rhoades, who played with the RailCats at the start of the 2012 season, was en route from Texas.

"Guys are just so proud of what they accomplished last year that it's a new start and that's the good part, they also realize, when you have players like Danny and Zac (Mitchell) and Ryan Brockett and Drew Martinez, no doubt they want to play in the major leagues, but as far as their RailCats career, they're only just starting it," Tagert said. "Last year, not enough for them to be satisfied."

That's what keeps Tagert excited about opening spring training.

The low-70 degree temperatures helped the California native keep his jacket off as he ran through drills. The expectations of his rookie-laden roster kept his nerves high as he stepped onto the U.S. Steel Yard surface for the first time.

"I was a little anxious this morning because I just wanted to get here and see what we had," Tagert said. "getting a chance to see these guys, and you have guys like Wally Backman and Jeremy Hamilton that were on other teams and I haven't gotten to see these guys in a RailCat uniform."

There's a simple reminder about the expectations and intensity about spring training: last year, Mike Massaro was 3-for-15 in the preseason. He finished the regular season with a team-high 120 hits, 60 RBIs and two inside-the-park home runs.

"Whether it's the major leagues or (here) it is a great time to prepare and a good time to evaluate, but what you see in spring training bears so little resemblance to the regular season," Tagert said. "The conditions are different, there's always a batting cage out there, you're performing against each other, and even the exhibition games, so you know, I've thought long and hard the last couple days, what can I do, other than evaluating guys because we have such an unknown.

"Like I told the players, this is the easiest time of the year to be excited and be motivated. I always want to know how guys are going to be in August in Amarillo."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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