MLBI Coaching Development - Arizona Fall League: Riki Paewai
FOREWORD by Ryan Flynn -
As the sport of baseball grows and is strengthened across New Zealand, a number of important partnerships are also being strengthened with professional and amateur baseball organizations across the globe. One of the most important relationships that is paying real and tangible dividends in the form of opportunities for our players, coaches, administrators and umpires is the relationship with Major League Baseball (MLB), the premiere professional baseball league in the world.
Baseball New Zealand is routinely tapping into a number of MLB programmes, including the Ambassador and Envoy programmes, two important initiatives that have assisted us in bringing top MLB stars and coaches like Curtis Granderson, Mark Melancon, Chris Woodward, Nick Hundley and others to our shores in recent years. Future plans with MLB include the continued assistance with bringing out coaches and players, the launch of a nationwide baseball entry program, longer-term coaching assistance and much more.
For the second straight year, Baseball New Zealand has taken advantage of the MLB Coaching Development Programme in Arizona, which allows foreign coaches to train with MLB teams in Spring Training, Extended Spring Training, or in the Arizona Fall League.
Last year Major League Baseball offered a spot for one of New Zealand’s young coaches to train with the Oakland Athletics at the team’s Arizona Spring Training/Fall League complex. New Zealand’s national coaches and leadership chose Wellington’s Dave Bishop, who has been instrumental in building a foundation for baseball in the greater Wellington region over the past three years, performing numerous tasks both on and off the field to strengthen a growing base of interested players, coaches and supporters who wish to see baseball grow in the capital city and surrounding region.
A second offer was issued and this year Baseball New Zealand National Development Officer Riki Paewai has been chosen to attend the camp. Riki, who along with National Development Officer Dan Tan, is leading the way on the national front to develop more coaches, open up more opportunities in schools and assist clubs take the next step across New Zealand, returned home from Australia after his stint with the New Zealand Diamondblacks in the World Baseball Classic to focus on creating a nation of pitchers.
Paewai flew out last weekend, and like Bishop last year he’ll be training with some of the top coaches and players in the world, learning from the likes of former All Star infielder Bret Boone, ex-Major Leaguer Scott Emerson, Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and many other top coaches and players in the A’s system. He’ll also provide updates of his time in Arizona with photos and interesting tidbits describing his trip and the life of a professional baseball coach: the long days on the field, huddled in strategy sessions, discussing prospects, organization and baseball philosophy and much more.
Work Experience with the Oakland Athletics
To kick off the experience, it was an early arrival at the field, 6am. Upon arriving we were met by the team’s coordinator, Garvin, who showed us around and then took us to our lockers.
There it was—my name on an Oakland A’s locker. I experienced that great feeling over me…and I knew the next two weeks were going to be one heck of an experience.
Two minutes after sitting down I was greeted by the clubhouse manager, who immediately took me to get fitted into my Oakland A’s uniform. It wasn’t just a pair of pants and a shirt; it was everything! Shoes (The trademark A’s white and green) to compression pants and caps! Once all this was sorted, breakfast was served.
We had a 7am meeting to go over the day’s routine and to be introduced to everyone, coaches and staff. It was then time to hit the field for the 8.15am warm up, stretch and throw.
The fields, as they have always been, were a lush green, mowed in a beautiful cross checked pattern. The dirt was perfect, lines straight and edges looked like someone went along meticulously with a pair of scissors.
After warm-ups the players split into their respective groups—and then pitchers split into two groups, some doing PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice) and others to do their “side work” (Bullpens). Catchers went to work in the bullpens, infielders worked on ground balls and outfielders did outfield drills. Some of the hitters went and did some extra work in the cages.
Watching and listening to the other coaches is unreal. The likes of MLB veteran Brett Boone and Scott Emerson…these guys are awesome, constantly instilling knowledge to their players and happily sharing with me their secrets from dozens of years in the Big Leagues . These guys welcomed me here as one of their own.
After individual work wrapped up, we started batting practice on two fields and then retired to the club house for lunch.
At 11.30 we made our way to the Arizona Diamondbacks facility in Scottsdale. The team played well but we ended up going down 4-3 to another organization that Baseball New Zealand has a great relationship with.
Ten hours in the wicked Arizona heat and the day was over. Back to the clubhouse to shower and then home, ready to do it all again tomorrow.
I had forgotten how routine professional baseball was. Every day at 7am we have a coaches meeting to go over the days schedule, yesterday's training and yesterday's game, then an hour later, the coaches hold a meeting with their respective players and go over mental topics.
Today's meeting topic for the pitchers was "Internal Strength". This covered everything that was necessary to be mentally tough and make it as a professional baseball player, how to balance everything and what affects you on the field and off and how to control them.
After the meeting we headed out to the field to stretch. The routine stays the same every day, stretch then break to individual defence, pitchers either did their bullpens or Pitchers Fielding Practice (PFP). After this it was batting practice and two fields and then lunch.
After lunch we were back out for a game at home vs the Cubs. The team played well and got the win.
Today ran just like the rest with a couple of differences. In the players meeting, they were placed into groups of 5 and given 5 words to produce and deliver a 35 minute presentation on the 5 words as their topic to the rest of the camp at the end of next week. They do this to help the players learn to be comfortable speaking in public and to the media.
Meetings were finished and we were back on to the field for practice. We didn't have a game today so had a 4 inning simulated game instead.
Four pitchers threw to the hitters over two innings and then two of the pitching coaches threw the other two from behind an L screen. It was a good bit of fun as the two pitching coaches gave up 5 home runs.
Saturday games were two hours earlier so there was no individual defence. The meeting in the morning stayed the same, the hitters went to hit in the cage and the pitchers who were due to do a bullpen do that.
We had an away game at the Giants and it was close to 40 degrees. The players went hard but ended up going down by 1 run in the 9th inning.
Week number two... I get to the field at 6.15am and I walk in to the coach's locker room. There's a new guy sitting at the locker next to me, its hall of famer Rickey Henderson!!! As I sit at my locker he introduces himself to me and we start talking about New Zealand and baseball, the guy is hilarious! He's such a positive and infectious person, always cracking jokes, always talking with the players, It is awesome just seeing him coach.
Out to the field and it's stretch, throw, individual defence and then BP. The feeling is like I am just another one of the coaches here. I throw BP, I hit fungos and players come up and talk mechanics and baseball with me. This really is the life! Baseball 10 hours a day, 6 days a week!
Our game today was at home against the Rockies and the pitchers are now starting to throw multiple innings and the game is flowing better because of it. We take it to them and win 6-3.
Today starts off just like the rest, we go in for our coaches meeting, everyone is allocated their jobs and then we break for positional meetings. Today's topic with the pitchers was talking about what makes you a good pitcher and what do you need to do to get better. It's really awesome seeing the pitching coaches here work with the players like this and is definitely something I wish I had in my time playing. These coaches really care about their players on a personal level and do everything they can to help them move forward.
Meeting finished and we're back out to the field. After everyone was warmed up we broke to individual defence and I had been appointed to run the Pitchers Fielding Practice (PFP). These guys are great to work with, always hustling and always executing, they were sweating pretty hard under the Arizona sun after we were done!
The game today was against the Giants at home and the boys came out early to put up 5 in the first two innings and maintained the lead for the rest of the game.
Today's game was a little bit special for me as I spent the game exchanging a bit of fun banter with 2012 Diamondblacks pitching coach, Steve Kline! We caught up after the game which was awesome, he's still very interested in our program and offered his help to us.
Another awesome day!