To enlighten the masses regarding the kind of manager and person the Pawtucket Red Sox are getting in Kevin Boles, we engaged in a background check that conjured all sorts of positive vibrations.
In essence, this is a “getting-to-know-you-better” exercise, an opportunity to view through the lens of those who know and understand Boles best and have more insight into his roots than any introductory press conference ever could.
In PawSox hitting coach Dave Joppie, you have a veteran baseball sort who actually managed against Boles during two consecutive minor-league seasons before going on to work with Boles for two year in Double-A Portland. In Pawtucket outfielder Bryce Brentz, here is someone who was informed by Boles that the time had come to trade in his Sea Dog shoes for PawSox ones.
Joppie and Brentz have had close, personal dealings with Boles, the kind that can help Pawtucket baseball followers better understand the new sheriff in town. Here stands a coach – a familiar lieutenant might be a better way to describe the value and worth Joppie brings to a Boles-led staff – who can relate to the rigors and pressures that go with handling minor-league talent.
“I’m just here to take some of the load off Kevin’s shoulders that you have as a manager, especially in a place like Pawtucket,” said Joppie when reached at his offseason home in Michigan. “We competed against each other across the field while sitting in our respective dugouts as managers and I’m excited to get an opportunity to work under him again as his hitting coach.”
Conversely, you have a player in Brentz who can attest to the benefit of once again serving as a charge for a familiar face.
“Kevin loves being at the ballpark. It’s good to have a manager who puts a lot into every single day. He takes it very seriously and he’s a hard worker,” said Brentz, who recently returned to his Tennessee address following a winter ball stint in the Dominican Republic. “I think that’s something that all the players like to see because he really takes to leading by example.”
Formal introductions between Joppie and Boles were not needed when Boles succeeded Arnie Beyeler as Portland’s skipper in 2011. As Joppie went on to explain, his baseball relationship with Boles dates back to the 2004 and 2005 seasons. At the time, Joppie was piloting the Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, Kane County.
Stationed in the same league under the Minnesota Twins’ minor-league umbrella, Boles spent 2004 with Quad Cities, located in Davonport, Iowa. In 2005, the Twins shifted their port-of-call in the Midwest League to Beloit, Wisconsin. Boles factored into the relocation plans.
The ’05 campaign in The Badger State featured a Pawtucket twist for Boles as native son Jay Rainville made 16 starts for the Snappers before shoving off to High-A Fort Myers. The two once again were linked in 2007 with Boles managing Fort Myers while Rainville was attempting to come back from a significant shoulder procedure.
Now that the background story regarding the first time Joppie and Boles crossed paths on the diamond has been established, let’s pass the baton off to Joppie and let him take it from here.
“You don’t always get along with opposing managers; there’s ones you sometimes don’t care for. That wasn’t the case with Kevin Boles. The first time I met Kevin, we had a mutual respect for each other,” Joppie shared. “I have a picture of my son Casey when he was two weeks old [Casey is now eight years old]. I brought him out to home plate and there’s a picture of that home plate meeting where I’m holding Casey, and Kevin is on the other side of home plate with the umpires.”
By Joppie’s estimation, the transition from friendly managerial adversaries to Sea Dog co-workers was a seamless one. He was a key voice in Boles’ Portland cabinet in 2011 and 2012 before going on to become Pawtucket’s hitting coach.
“There’s obviously a trust factor that’s been established between the two of us,” Joppie pointed out. “Outside of the personal relationships we have, we have a great working relationship. We have a lot of respect for each other and what the other person does.”
Joppie feels such awareness comes from knowing chapter and verse what the primary mission of a coach in the Red Sox’ system entails.
“The players have the tools, but they all know what’s expected of them. That comes from seeing a familiar face when you walk into the clubhouse and by creating a good environment for them to develop in,” Joppie said. “I think that’s something we establish at every level and it starts with someone like a Kevin Boles.”
As a Red Sox farmhand on a mission to reach the sport’s pinnacle, Brentz appreciates how Boles helped him understand the game’s finer points all while guiding him through the big adjustment from Single-A to Double-A ball. What stood out to Brentz was that Boles had an uncanny knack for even the slightest details, i.e. knowing when to throw over to first base or call for a pitch out.
As a former pro catcher and the son of an ex-big league manager, Boles understands the importance of surveying the whole picture. Such a trait came across loud and clear during the course of the 122 games that Brentz played for Boles in 2012.
“He’s really into working hard and has a great eye,” Brentz relayed. “Some managers let you play the game and allow you to figure out things kind of on your own, but some of the things that Boles noticed were pretty impressive.
“I enjoyed my time with him and I’m excited for the chance to play for him again,” Brentz continued.
Brentz shared the story of how Boles informed him that he was Pawtucket-bound.
“He looked at me dead serious – he’s very serious, but I kind of loosened him up a bit – and told me, “Bryce, I think you probably should have gone up a little earlier, but we feel like you’ve mastered this league. There’s nothing more you can do here. You’re getting called up to Triple-A and we want you to be proud,’” was how Brentz said the last official conversation at the Double-A level went down. “I couldn’t tell who was more excited, me or him.”
Given that Brentz was recently added to Boston’s 40-man roster, chances are he will make his big-league debut at some point in 2014. When that day and announcement officially comes, the same person who told him to pack his bags and head for McCoy Stadium will be the one telling Brentz to stop by his office for a chat.
How’s that for familiarity?
“To have that chance to work with the same crew,” said Brentz, referencing next season and the opportunity to once again work with Boles and Joppie simultaneously, “it makes everything so much easier.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair