The weekend Baseball Ireland drank from the knowledge cup of the Giants bench coach and he drank from the dirty glasses of the bars in Temple Bar, Dublin
In January 2000 Baseball Ireland held a 'winter clinic' in Dublin designed to help new players learn the game, and to help get established players ready for the 2000 season, which was to include the 2000 European Championships in Croatia.
The clinic was conducted by Rick Stein of Major League Baseball International and then Irish National Team coach, and Ron Wotus, both then and now the bench coach of the San Francisco Giants. The sessions started Friday evening in a class room environment in Trinity College Dublin, and then went on all day Saturday and Sunday in the gym.
Down the years we have had all manner of coaches from the States, and Rick Stein was something of a permanent (and valuable) feature at the time, but Ron Wotus was a whole new ball game. He spent every day of his working life alongside the best of the best, major league ballplayers.
Ron Wotus - Recovering from his time in Ireland with a game of golf
The Friday evening session was basically 'baseball theory', but in a testament to Ron and Rick's ability to get points across, I still remember it like it was yesterday. Ron spoke about 'doing your job' as a baseball player. Rick spoke about playing without fear, playing every play at 100% and if you make an error, so be it, move on to the next play.
Ron was an extremely friendly and approachable guy. He struck up immediate and easy going friendships with several of the players at the clinic, including Garret Pearse and Gordon Ireland. Gordy had been having problems with his first base mans mitt and he was completely stunned when Ron presented him with one of his players used gloves, the player in question was Charlie Hayes, San Francisco's charismatic utility infielder.
What set Ron apart as a coach was that he seemed to know absolutely everything, and was able to give different levels of coaching to different levels of players. Obviously the game of baseball is new to Ireland, and was even newer back then. Ron and Rick were dealing with players of relatively high levels to players with zero baseball experience and nothing but a passion to learn the game.
He was an interesting character with bundles of confidence and yet a very approachable demeanour.
In all my time in Irish Baseball I thought he was the one guy who was able to really help with pitching mechanics. He spent a good bit of time in the Trinity College gym with myself, Garret Pearse, Ken Murphy and other pitchers helping us refine our deliveries. He picked a couple of items each of us could work on in future.
It was a long way from the pitching coaching we received in 1996 when perspective pitchers lined up and threw one pitch to our battered, beleaguered catcher Sean Mitchell, before joining the back of the line again. That's how we rolled.
After the sessions I spoke to my good friend Garret about it and he agreed, Ron was far and away the best pitching coach we ever had, and he wasn't even a pitching coach back home with the Giants. That's how it worked for us in Irish Baseball. You gobbled up what you could, because top class tuition like that provided by Rick Stein and Ron Wotus was infrequent and short lived. We got two days with them and that was it.
Sunday night was Superbowl Sunday. In one of the more enjoyable social events in my time in Irish Baseball we took the two Coaches, Rick and Ron, to a Dublin Sports bar which was hosting a small superbowl party.
There were dozens of people who had attended the weekend clinics plus several other Baseball Ireland personalities there, and it all took place against the backdrop of one of the most exciting Superbowls ever, Super Bowl XXXIV, Tennessee against St Louis.
It was a raucous, well lubricated party. Although we were baseball players and coaches, most of us had an interest in the NFL game too. Bill Beglane was rooting for St Louis, because he is a Cardinals fan. Mike Kindle was excited about the half time show, Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias and Toni Braxton. He kept saying it was Ms Aguilera's appearance that he was waiting for but we all knew it was Enrique he was looking forward to.
People had money on the two teams. I had backed the underdog Titans, underdogs by 7 points. At one stage I took out my betting slip to have a look at it, and Ron Wotus asked me what it was. He was totally stunned that in Ireland you can walk into a bookies shop and legally place a bet on a sporting event like the Superbowl. By the time the conversation had taken place we had all had a couple of beers so I asked him bravely 'Is there honestly no betting in baseball?' and he replied, passionately, that had never himself seen an instance of it. I guess the 1919 Blacksox took care of that.
As the night wore on the conversations became more comedic, Ron began ranting about the Aneheim Angels fans use of those 'thundersticks', plastic clappers they used to make a huge 'thunderous' noise during games. He hated them, despised them. Ron was old school, and that kind of new-age fan participation was horrible, to him.
When you look at Irish Baseball, and try to understand how the team has won such big games against more fancied opposition, one thing that jumps out over and over is the camaraderie amongst the team. From 1996 until now this was and is one tight bunch. Its nights like January 30th 2000 that built the team.
It's not one thing it's a combination of things that 'make' those nights what they are. It's the irrepressible Mike Kindle, the Mayor of Irish Baseball, clowning around. It was the backdrop of the dramatic Superbowl on screen. It was the smooth, easy conversations flowing like the beer. It was Chris Foy being approached by a middle aged 'swinging couple' in a bathroom and coming back to the table pale as a ghost to relay the story of them inviting him home. It was the coaches Ron and Rick clearly enjoying letting their hair down in this very Irish painting with the American 'frame' around it.
The drink flowed and the game became more and more exciting. The final drive was sensational, and as St Louis stopped Tennessee at the one yard line, the whole bar erupted with the drama showing on screen.
So close, and yet, so far....
The ironic aspect of it all is, Ron probably barely remembers his weekend in Ireland (and that's not a alcohol related joke!). He is an important part of the Giants organisation and obviously has much bigger fish to fry than a weekend coaching baseball to a bunch of clowns in Dublin. Here's the irony, he, along with Rick Stein, left a huge mark on us that weekend. They brought our baseball development to a new level, brought both our execution and thinking up to a new level. Rick had been doing so for a long time, and would go on to do so, as will be documented throughout this book, but that weekend Ron really added a whole new dimension to the games of dozens of Irish baseball players.
To this day I remember the tips he gave me for pitching, Garrett Pearse remembers the friendly conversations they had about baseball and Gordon Ireland still shows all visitors to his house that Charlie Hayes glove.
Hopefully we gave him something to remember other than a tremendous hangover on the Monday morning!