Touching base with Jamie Quirk.
Every Friday through Spring Training, we’re running a feature called “Touching Base” in an effort to let the fans get to know the Major League coaching staff, from the four newcomers to the two returnees.
Coaches duties extend far beyond what you see them do on a field once the game starts, and we hope this gives you a little insight into what they do from day to day.
This week, we spotlight bench coach Jamie Quirk.
While most coaching titles are pretty self-explanatory — hitting coaches obviously work with hitters, pitching coaches with pitchers, and on and on — the title of “bullpen coach” is a little more ambiguous.
Yes, the bullpen coach can be found in the bullpen during games, but that’s only part of it. The bullpen coach is also in charge of the catchers, and in the Astros’ situation, that job is of the utmost importance this season.
The most compelling competition this spring has arguably been between the Astros’ two young catchers, J.R. Towles and Jason Castro. As bullpen coach, Jamie Quirk, who was the third base coach for the U.S. World team that Castro played for last September, has worked extensively with the two starting hopefuls in addition to Humberto Quintero, who is ticketed as the backup to whomever eventually wins the top job.
Towles appears to be just a hair ahead of Castro on the depth chart, but with final decisions not expected for at least another week, the battle continues. And from Quirk’s viewpoint, there’s nothing healthier for a ballplayer than to go head -to-head with a teammate in search of a job.
“Competition is the best thing going,” Quirk said. “You always want somebody pushing you. Hopefully, it makes you better.”
Quirk (shown above, with Towles) spends the majority of time with the catchers during Spring Training, but once the regular season starts, he’ll have plenty of face time with the pitchers as well. He and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg work closely to ensure the pitching staff is well-prepared, and it’s Quirk’s responsibility to give a reliever last-minute, pertinent information before he runs in from the bullpen.
Who is the pitcher going to face? How should he attack the hitter? How many runners are on base?
“While he’s getting loose and getting himself mentally ready to go in, I’ll just kind of guide him along,” Quirk said. “I mainly stay out of his way — his job is to get ready and focus and go into the game. That’s one of my jobs, to get to know these guys as the season starts, what they like to hear, what they don’t like to hear and then we go from there.”
It’s probably only fitting that Quirk has a plentiful list of duties as the Astros’ bullpen coach, considering he played just about every position during his 18-year playing career and has had a myriad of coaching jobs that has spanned 15 years and included stops with several different teams.
He was a catcher (525 games), a third baseman (118 games), a shortstop (22), a first baseman (43), an outfielder (34) a designated hitter (88) and a second baseman (1). Post playing career, Quirk has been a bullpen coach, a bench coach and a manager for 16 games, twice having filled in for managers during suspensions.
Once Brad Mills was hired to be the Astros’ manager last October, he and general manager Ed Wade moved quickly to fill the four vacancies on the coaching staff. Arnsberg was hired as pitching coach and Bobby Meacham was targeted as the first base coach, while Al Pedrique, who had interviewed for the managerial job, was named bench coach. Quirk was the final hire to round out the staff of six.
Quirk spent the 2009 season as a professional scout for the Reds after working for six seasons as the Rockies’ bench coach, all under manager Clint Hurdle. He began his Major League coaching career in 1994, serving as bullpen coach for the Kansas City Royals. After two seasons as their bullpen coach, he became the Royals bench coach, a position he would hold for five seasons from 1996-01.
Quirk made his big league debut with the Royals in 1975 at the age of 20, and over an 18-year career, he compiled a .240 career average with 43 home runs and 247 RBIs. He for eight different teams, including the 1985 World Champion Royals and the 1990 American League Champion Oakland A’s.
He’s probably remembered mostly as a catcher, but Quirk has a much broader recollection. Versatility gave him longevity as a player, and the same formula seems to be working for him in the coaching ranks.
“I became a utility guy, then I learned catching after about five years in Major Leagues,” he said. “I have played everywhere but pitcher and center field in a Major League game. That has definitely helped me as a coach. I don’t think of myself as just a catching guy.”
Just the facts: Jamie Quirk
Born: Whittier, CA
Resides: Kansas City, MO
Drafted: First round by the Kansas City Royals in 1972.
Major League debut: September 4, 1975
Final game: October 4, 1992
Hobbies: “Golf, even though I don’t play much during the season.”
Something you might not know: He was part of the first “all Q” battery in Major League history. He and pitcher Dan Quisenberry were Royals teammates from 1979-82 and 1985-87. They held the distinction of being the only all Q battery until a few years ago when Humberto Quintero and Chad Qualls paired up during several Astros games.