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Game day. Players, coaches and reporters milled about the floor of the closed SkyDome, scattered here and there in conversation, observation and instruction. Men leaned on the batting cage, watched line drives sail to the outfield and chatted about the game. It was the afternoon of the Jays’ first interleague match against Pittsburgh, and the daily machinations of a major-league team -- which most fans rarely see -- were proceeding at their usual pace.

Third baseman Eric Hinske, rehabbing from wrist surgery, had his glove ready and was eager to take infield practice. But he was going to have to wait a little longer, because his defensive instructor, third-base coach Brian Butterfield, was taking the time to grant Batter’s Box the first of four exclusive interviews with the Blue Jays coaching staff.

Hinske could afford to be patient -- soon after Butterfield joined the club last year, he set to work with the rookie third baseman on his defence, the only part of his game that hadn’t yet impressed observers. By the second half of the season, Hinske’s play at third had progressed from cringeworthy to adequate to solid -- he made only two errors after the All-Star break. Like second baseman Orlando Hudson, who also benefitted from Butterfield’s defensive drills, calling him "the best coach in the world," Hinske has been lavish in his praise of the man in the third-base coaching box.

Butterfield is as gracious as his charges. "It's awfully nice that both of them would hand out compliments like that," says the rangy coach, his Maine accent (born in Bangor) still detectable. "But it's really a credit to their work ethics. Both of them want to be great players, and they work very hard on all facets of the game. They are very intelligent, very athletic guys, and as coaches, it makes our job real easy when you have guys who want to work hard and have a lot of ability."

He’s being unduly modest. In a coaching lineup that J.P. Ricciardi calls "the best teaching staff in baseball," Butterfield, 45, has won particular renown for his ability to teach defensive skills and game awareness to young players. He hits hundreds of ground balls a week during BP and never misses an opportunity -- even during a game -- to give lessons on the art of being a major-league ballplayer. And it’s not just the glovework that occupies Butterfield’s time.

"Every coach has multiple responsibilities," says Butterfield, who splits his time roughly 50-50 between his two tasks. "I try to devote as much time as I can to the baserunning, which helps when you're directing traffic out there." Indeed, as a third-base coach, whose split-second decisions can literally mean the difference between winning and losing, Butterfield has a direct impact on runs scored and runs erased at the plate.

"One thing that's often overlooked," he observes, "is that a third-base coach needs to have a lot of confidence and a lot of courage. Once they get one guy thrown out, I know that some coaches back off. You have to know when to take those chances. I try to gauge the pulse of the club offensively, so if we're having trouble with the bats and facing a tough pitching staff, we'll try to manufacture a run.

"By the same token," he adds, "we have a lot of infielders we have to take care of, and make sure we keep them sharp." Hinske is one such player, but perhaps surprisingly, it’s not his rapidly healing hamate bone that occupies Butterfield’s attention. "Right now, we're in the process of trying to get Eric’s legs back in shape, because he's rehabbing from the surgery," he notes. "He's ahead of schedule, so we're going to work him out to make sure his legs and his arms are good."

Though there’s still no official timetable for Hinske’s return, "Butter" hopes it will be sooner than originally expected. "The big challenge is going to be when he starts swinging a bat, because he still has those stitches in his palm," he points out. "Physically, he's in real good shape; his feet are light and he's throwing the ball well."

Hinske, Hudson and the rest of the Blue Jays organization are thrilled to have Butterfield on their side -- and they have George Steinbrenner to thank for it. George admired Brian's father, Jack Butterfield, who became Vice-President of Player Development and Scouting for the Yankees after a legendary career at University of Maine. Among many young players influenced along the way by the senior Butterfield were Buck Showalter, Carlos Tosca and J.P. Ricciardi.

Jack, with a reputation within the game for talent and integrity, died tragically at 50 in a 1979 car accident. Brian signed with the Yankees the same year, his playing career producing just two home runs in almost 1,200 at-bats (although, it should be noted, he compiled more walks than strikeouts) before ending in 1983. "I was blessed with the opportunity to sign a pro contract, but I never had a season where I was given 500 at-bats," he recalls. "I was in a great organization where they had some real talented guys, and I was more of a utility type."

"Butter" was also the type to return to school (Florida Southern University, where he played on a national championship team in 1978) after his first pro season, to complete his degree and assist the coaching staff. Once his playing days ended, his second, far more successful career began. Those who bellyache about big-league managers and coaches who never worked their way through the system would love Brian Butterfield’s hard-earned resume:

1984: Roving infield instructor
1985: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida State League (coach)
1986: Columbus, International League (coach)
1987: Oneonta, NY-Penn League (coach)
1988: Sarasota, Gulf Coast League (manager -- championship and Manager of the Year)
1989: Oneonta (manager)
1990: Greensboro, South Atlantic League (manager)
1991: Roving infield instructor
1992: Ft. Lauderdale (manager)
1993: Albany, Eastern League (coach)
1994: New York Yankees, first-base coach (under Buck Showalter)

Butterfield’s steady climb to the top of his profession was suddenly interrupted after two seasons, when Steinbrenner reportedly grew disenchanted with his team’s coaches after a 1995 playoff defeat and ordered Showalter to fire them. Buck refused, it is said, and the longest-serving Yankee skipper since Ralph Houk was summarily dismissed, along with his entire staff.

In 1996, Butterfield joined Showalter in the newly-created Arizona Diamondbacks organization as roving infield instructor, also scouting big-league talent for the impending expansion draft. He returned to the majors as third-base coach in Arizona from 1998 to 2000, where he worked alongside bench coach Carlos Tosca and with Gil Patterson, the team's minor-league pitching coordinator. Following an incredible 100-win campaign in the team's second year of existence, a more realistic 85-77 season led the impatient D-backs to make changes. Butterfield went back to the Yankees, managing Tampa to the Florida State League pennant in 2001.

He moved up to manage AAA Columbus the following year, but George’s infamous short fuse ignited again over the Clippers’ slow start in 2002, and Butterfield was fired May 16. "It was just one of those things," he says. "The Yankees are a bottom-line organization. We had a mixture of young guys and older, six-year free agents, and we had trouble getting out of the gate. We were about ten games under .500, and that happens."

Less than three weeks later, Butterfield was in a Blue Jays uniform, both his fortunes and the Jays’ altered dramatically. "I can only look at it as a blessing -- if I hadn't been fired by the Yankees, I wouldn't have had the opportunity last year to get back in the big leagues," he says. "I'm thankful to the Yankees for the opportunity, but I'm also very thankful that I got fired, because I'm back where I want to be, with a great organization in Toronto."

Despite winning two championships as a minor-league manager, Butterfield doesn’t have much interest in the top job these days. "I really enjoy specialty work," he says. "I enjoy coaching third base and working with infielders. Maybe as I get older -- I still consider myself a young guy in this game -- I'll aspire to be a manager one day. But right now, I just love what I'm doing."

The Blue Jays love it, too.

This is the first in an exclusive four-part series of interviews by Kent Williams with the Toronto Blue Jays’ coaching staff. Installment two, a chat with John Gibbons, will run Friday.
The Coaches: Brian Butterfield | 12 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Gerry - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 08:55 AM EDT (#99885) #
Off topic.....

Dustin McGowan's first AA start last night...

D.McGowan (W,1-0) 6.0 1 0 0 1 7 0 0.00
_benum - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 09:42 AM EDT (#99886) #
Great stuff Coach!
_Spicol - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 10:10 AM EDT (#99887) #
Great job, Kent. The quality of this coaching staff is obviously superb and it's amazing to look at this and every facet of this team and see the stamp of JP. Like him or not, it's admirable that he has come in and overhauled the entire organization, not just people but plans, priorities and entire ways of thinking. That takes cajones, especially considering this is his first turn in the GM chair.
_A - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 01:37 PM EDT (#99888) #
Kent, just to offer a bit of a reflection from the interviews...are you hearing anything that makes you reconsider your own approach or strategy as a coach?
_A - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 02:05 PM EDT (#99889) #
A slight hijacking: Today the Toronto Star released their High School All-Star first and second teams.

First Team
OF Kern Watts - Brampton Centennial
OF Joshua Pileggi - Father Goetz
OF Ryan Fosbery - Bishop Allen
C Matt McGraw - Nelson
SS Stephen Condotta - Mount Carmel
3B Mike Cart - King City
1B Pat Smith - Leaside
2B Frank Underwood - Henry St.
DH Gary Rose - Birchmount Park
RHP Jamey Allen - Pickering
LHP Jeff Edmondson - Pearson

Second Team
OF Steve Pico - St. Mike's
OF Mike Weird - Henry St.
OF Chris Hanes - King City
C Kevin Brown - Pickering
SS Ryan Aziz - St. Francis Xavier
3B Brent Koritko - Notre Dame (Burlington)
1B Travis Gilligan - Etobicoke
2B Adam Vella - Pearson
DH Mike Altmeyer - Northern
RHP Joel Thorney - Leaside
LHP Matt Tosoni - Father Leo Austin
Coach - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 03:24 PM EDT (#99890) #
are you hearing anything that makes you reconsider your own approach or strategy as a coach?

As a matter of fact, Adam, the subject of left-handed third basemen did come up. Unlike our opponents last year, Butter doesn't think we were crazy to play you there, and he agrees with former Yankee 3B and coach Clete Boyer, who once told me that Don Mattingly could have been a star at the hot corner. We also talked about me getting two runners thrown out at the plate in the same inning (one stumbled and a kid made an incredible throw) but going for the hat trick on the next hit. Thank heaven James got under that tag, or you guys might have lynched me; Butter said it showed courage to send him.

To get around to answering your question, I didn't reconsider a thing, and it was kind of gratifying to have some of my methods indirectly endorsed. Mike Barnett's approach to hitting is exactly what I've been trying to teach you guys: look for a strike up and away, something you can drive to the opposite-field gap, then react down and in from there. Maybe when you and your teammates read it in his words next week, it will finally sink in. :)

The coach I could learn the most from is definitely Gil Patterson, as pitching is not my specialty, except for hitting it. But our 20 minute chat was entirely about his staff, so I didn't get any tips about teaching teenage pitchers. Maybe next time.

Many thanks to all the coaches for being so generous with their time in speaking with a rookie reporter from a Web site they had never heard of, and to Jay Stenhouse of the Blue Jays for the "Working Media" pass, now one of my treasured souvenirs. I agree with Spicol; in addition to the remarkable improvements on the roster, J.P. has assembled some amazing non-playing talent throughout the organization and has everyone pulling in the same direction.
_A - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 04:22 PM EDT (#99891) #
Reconsider was a poor choice of words (makes it sound like something was fatally wrong), a better choice might have been re-evaluate.

Which team(s) thought you were nuts for playing me at third? I bet it wasn't Monarch Park =D

...Make sure you don't delete the sound bite of Barnett's hitting advice so the boys can hear it next spring ;-)
_Simon - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 04:48 PM EDT (#99892) #
Really enjoy all these exclusives. This site is becoming my first source for Jay info. Great job.
_Chuck Van Den C - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 08:04 PM EDT (#99893) #
Coach, nice job with the interview.

it's admirable that he has come in and overhauled the entire organization, not just people but plans, priorities and entire ways of thinking.

I'm pleasantly surprised to see how much Ricciardi is following Beane's example with his no holds barred way of running the organization, not giving a tinker's cuss about his detractors. Having read Moneyball, it's nice, however, to see that Ricciardi enjoys actually watching his team play.
_Brent - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 08:42 PM EDT (#99894) #
Chuck, that was one of the most enjoyable parts of Moneyball in my opinion. When Lewis described Beane's rampages and tirades between innings, it always made me laugh.
Pepper Moffatt - Tuesday, June 17 2003 @ 10:08 PM EDT (#99895) #
Another great interview Coach. I'm enjoying these a lot.

_Paul Taylor - Sunday, August 24 2003 @ 10:03 AM EDT (#99896) #
one of my nephews is Ryan Fosbery - formerly from Bishop Allen.I am trying to find an update on his 2003 stats, but cant seem to find him/ I know he is playing somewhere in Canada, can you find something for me. in advance
The Coaches: Brian Butterfield | 12 comments | Create New Account
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