Touching base with Brad Arnsberg.
Every Friday through Spring Training, we’ll run a feature called “Touching Base.” This is an effort to let the fans get to know the Major League coaching staff, from the four newcomers — Brad Arnsberg, Bobby Meacham, Al Pedrique and Jamie Quirk — to the two returnees — Sean Berry and Dave Clark.
We hope this gives you insight to what coaches do every day. Their duties extend far beyond what you see them do on a field once the game starts. First up: pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.
(Check out our one-on-one video interview with Arnsberg here.)
Brad Arnsberg’s hiring by the Astros drew somewhat of an uproar — not by Houston fans, but by Toronto fans, who were none too happy to see their pitching coach plucked away by another Major League team.
Arnsberg, who enters his 10th season as a Major League coach, was one of four new coaches hired by the Astros during the past offseason. To the casual Astros fan, the news wasn’t terribly jarring — Arnsberg is an experienced coach with an impressive resume, but beyond that, coaching hires just don’t garner that much attention.
But as the reports slowly trickled out of Toronto, it became obvious the Astros pulled off a steal. Arnsberg’s departure from the Blue Jays, one year before his contract expired, was reportedly somewhat unceremonious, but initially, it surprised the Astros that he was even available. Turns out, it was perfect timing for what the Astros and Arnsberg hope will be a long partnership between a veteran pitching coach and a team that spent last offseason revamping its staff and looking for a new start after four non-playoff seasons.
Toronto media portrayed Arnsberg as loyal and as someone who makes no apologies for backing his pitchers 100 percent of the time, no matter what. Perhaps this didn’t sit well with some of the higher-ups working for his former employers, but don’t bother “Arnie” with such speculation. He’s not a politician. He’s a coach who is protective of his pitchers, who believes in them and who gives them his time and his ear.
“Arnie” likes to talk, but he also is a keen listener. A casual conversation with Brett Myers while walking off the field after a workout one day early in Spring Training turned into an hour-long session. Same goes for the brief stop he made at Roy Oswalt’s locker the next day. Forty-five minutes later, the exchange was still going.
Arnsberg’s Spring Training work day starts at 5 a.m. and ends 11 or 12 hours later. He has charts to study, data to input, schedules to organize. When he was hired, the Astros’ video coordinator, Jim Summers, sent Arnsberg a hard drive of every game the Astros played last year, and he got to work, studying deliveries and pitching motions in a cram session if sorts as he prepared to begin a new Spring Training with a brand new set of students.
“My early days here, it’s more about putting the name with the face and putting a face with the delivery I’ve seen,” Arnsberg said. “Mostly just get my feet on the ground and get to know the guys and start to build the pitcher-coach-pitcher bond with the group. I try to establish that real family feel early in camp. I try to go out of my way to get all 28, 29 guys into games as early as possible.”
The early days of Spring Training are spent getting back into routines, building up arm strength and retraining the brain to remember the little things — signs, bunt plays…strategic elements that can make or break a team over the course of a season.
“Right now, it’s Baseball 101, baseball awareness,” Arnsberg said. “Jam sessions on the mound. Most guys are rotating through skill work, doing more mind work and trying to stay ahead of the game. Knowing bunt plays, knowing our signs from the catchers as far as pickoffs and pitch-outs. Knowing when our catcher is throwing through to second base rather than coming up and throwing to third. Those kinds of things to stay a step ahead.”
Arnsberg has put in 27 years in the game as both a pitcher and a coach. He was the Yankees’ first-round Draft pick in 1983 and played six years in the big leagues — two for the Yankees (1986-87), three for the Rangers (1989-91) and one for the Indians (1992).
He began his coaching career in 1994, spending one season as a player-coach with the Wei-Chen Dragons of the Taiwan Professional Baseball League. He then served two years at the pitching coach for the Rangers’ Class A club in Charleston before moving up to Double-A Tulsa for two seasons. Following the ’98 season, he was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where the Redhawks won the Eastern Division title in the Pacific Coast League.
Arnsberg split the 2000 season in two coaching capacities for the Expos, first as bullpen coach and then as pitching coach. He was named pitching coach for the Florida Marlins in 2002 and served in that capacity until May of 2003, when he and manager Jeff Torborg were dismissed.
In 2004, Arnsberg joined the Blue Jays organization as its Triple-A pitching coach and was promoted after that season to the big leagues. He served as Toronto’s pitching coach for six seasons until accepting the job with the Astros last October.
One of his first orders of business is to figure out a reasonable schedule that will allow all 29 pitchers in camp to receive playing time once the Grapefruit League games start next Thursday.
This is no easy task — spring camps are big, and innings are sparse. It’s up to the pitching coach and manager to figure out how and where everyone fits.
“I went to camps when I was younger where I didn’t even see Spring Training innings and I kind of went backward,” he said. “I need to make sure their feet are on the ground and know that they’re wanted and needed.”
Just the facts: Brad Arnsberg
Born: Seattle, WA
Resides: Arlington, Texas
Drafted: First round by the Yankees in 1983.
Major League debut: September 6, 1986
Final game: April 23, 1992
Began his coaching career in 1994
Hobbies: Fishing, hunting, motorcycle riding (He owns a Harley).
Something you didn’t know: He loves watching the Winter Olympics. Favorite event? Ice Dancing.