Eleven of the 30 current MLB managers were catchers. In fact, seven of the last nine MLB World Series winners were managed by a former catcher.
The position is one of the most physically and mentally taxing in all of sports. Assuming the role of on-field general, they are constantly relaying signs, plays and pitches.
In his long career behind the dish, new Eugene Emeralds manager Steve Lerud watched and learned and is using his experience to get each of his players where they ultimately want to be — Major League Baseball.
“You learn a lot from a guy like Juan Pierre or like Chase Utley (both World Series champions and former teammates of Lerud) and watching them go about their business,” Lerud said. “You try to relay some of that to these guys in this clubhouse right now. That’s the kind of player we want all of them to be, because that means the Chicago Cubs are going to be really good.”
It’s not often you see a player hang up his cleats and go right into the coaching ranks, but that’s what Lerud did. Playing 13 years in professional baseball and parts of two seasons in the MLB created a lot of good and bad memories, but one triumphed over the rest.
“I think working as long as I did to finally get the opportunity to get up to the big leagues — that was pretty cool,” Lerud said.
Lerud was drafted in 2003 by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third round out of Galena High School in Nevada. Nine years later, he made his major league debut on Aug. 30, 2012 with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I think the best moment was getting that first hit in the big leagues,” Lerud said. “My mom was there and to be able to do that in front of her was pretty cool.”
Lerud is in his first year as the manager of the Chicago Cubs’ short season team, but he still remembers the struggles of playing professional baseball, noting the toll that offensive droughts have on teams.
“I think the biggest thing is not being that far removed from it and understanding how hard it is,” Lerud said. “I’ve been there and I know the feelings … I know that these guys are working hard everyday.”
But the coach is not just a baseball player. When he was 14, he became a second-degree black belt in taekwondo and said he “competed in that at a pretty high level for a really long time.”
“That was actually my first love,” Lerud said. “I wanted to do martial arts. I was hoping to fight in the Olympics at one point, but I realized they didn’t get scholarships for that.”
Luckily for the Ems, Lerud chose baseball and is continuously trying to make his team better, especially his old position. Lerud puts his catchers to work, helping them learn all the different pitchers while also helping their technique.
“I have only been here a few days, but I am already getting some early work in to become a more solid defender,” catcher Brennon Kaleiwahea said.
With the constant changing of rosters that minor league baseball brings, Lerud is working on building relationships between players as they get their first true introduction to professional ball.
“It’s a big jump for these guys,” Lerud said. “They’ve never played in front of fans. I think they are starting to get used to it. … I think the biggest thing is trying to develop a relationship with the guys you have to work with everyday.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack