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Newark Bears Fan Interviews New Atlantic City Surf Manager (And Former Bear) Jeff Ball!
Newark Bears Fan spoke with Jeff after the Surf announced he would be the 2004 manager.
Newark Bears Fan: Congratulations on being appointed manager of the Surf.
Jeff Ball: Thank you very much.
What have been the most interesting aspects of making the transition from player to coach, which you were last year, to manager this year?
I think the biggest change is just the actual name in itself. Manager…coach…as a player I was always a team leader…so I was kind of familiar with being a leader . But as far as the transition, it's kind of a tough transition, you have to deal with 25 different personalities now, try to make everybody get along, for five months, and try to make the best of the situation that we have here.
Did you ever think you'd be managing a professional baseball team against Bill Madlock, Sparky Lyle, and Butch Hobson?
(Laughs) Did I ever think I'd be managing against those guys? No! But it's a great opportunity for me, playing in [this] league I got familiar with a lot of people and it's nice, it's a great honor to be mentioned with those names,…and to be a manager, it's an honor in itself.
What are your most vivid memories of playing for the Bears, and will the games in Newark have any special meaning for you?
Oh, of course! The Bears gave me my start again, I was out of affiliated baseball and in order to keep playing, thank God they have the Atlantic League! [It] gave me kind of another start,…to play again and eventually get into coaching and now managing, so I owe a lot to the Atlantic League [for giving] me that kind of a start on the second half of my career. And yeah, when I go back to Riverfront Stadium, it's always nice to go back there, you hear the people yelling "Once a Bear, always a Bear!" and it's nice to know that the fans…still recognize you, and I'm sure I'll hear it again when I go back this year.
It's fun, and a lot happened in that one year I was there. I think I was on one of the best teams I've ever played on, as far as players; we didn't win [the championship] but there was just something about that team that was just incredible; we had all those former Big Leaguers, [Jose] Canseco, [Jim] Leyritz, Alonzo Powell, [Pete] Incaviglia, Jack Armstrong, Jaime Navarro, the list goes on. And with 9/11 happening, I think that might have had a lot to do with it, everybody coming together, being away from their homes, it brought some kind of closeness to me and the fans and the city of Newark itself. So it means a lot to me to go back there.
Good, well, we're looking forward to having you back so we can heckle you a little bit.
Yeah, right, I knew that was coming!
What are the areas of development you expect to focus on with the Surf players this season?
You know, as far as developing players,…you know, the players have their own personal skills and their own level…where they play at, and I just want to get them more mentally prepared as far as the game goes on. I want to let the game come to them, instead of being so aggressive and putting so much pressure on themselves, just try to get them to relax and play the game and get the most out of their potential that they can.
As far as myself, how am I going to bring that out? Well, you know, I'm going to let them play early in the game, I'm going to let the game dictate itself, like I've said before. And then, you know, the manager doesn't really step in until the middle to late in the game anyway. As far as putting on a hit-and-run, or a sacrifice bunt, or whatever, just putting plays on, I think that happens later in the game.
And I'd like to let the players dictate the outcome of the game…I also would like, on the mental part of the game, for them to take matters into their own hands. Instead of waiting for the manager to go ahead and put something on, if they want to drag bunt [to] get the guy over, or hit the ball to the right side and get a guy over, that shows me that they're thinking before they get in the batter's box, that they have an idea of what the game's all about, instead of just going up there and trying to pull the ball with the runner on second less than two outs. I want them to come more mentally prepared.
Now, putting so much power of the decision-making in the players' hands…
Not so much putting the decision-making in their hands. I think, as a former player, one thing that you can show other people, the scouts and everybody in the stands, you want to show them that you know the game, you know how to play the game. You shouldn't always leave it up to the manager to put something on. I mean, sometimes you want to hit behind the runner, try to do that on your own, just to show the people you know how to play the game. The more knowledge you can show somebody, they have more respect for you as a player and they know that you're trying to win the ballgame, do whatever it takes to be a team player.
So it's more freedom than power?
Do you think you're going to do that because you have such recent memories of being a player and wanting that freedom?
Yeah, that has a lot to do with it. I consider myself a player's manager. What I mean by that is, letting the players dictate what happens throughout the game. If they play hard and want to do this and do that, you know, go ahead! But do it at the right time. There's a right time and place for everything in the game. I don't expect them to go out and force the issue, because when you try to force something bad things happen, so I expect them to learn from the veteran players, the young guys, and I expect the veteran guys to be leaders, and to try to help out. It's a team, it's not just the manager, the manager runs the team, but it's the whole team [including] the coaches and players as far as I'm concerned. I think if the players can respect that, they'll respect me and respect my decisions later on in the game. It'll be nice, I think it'll be…nice…for a change to see the players go out there and play the game on their own.
And we had that in Newark, we had the veteran players who knew how to play the game. And Tom O'Malley, he probably felt great, he didn't have to so much try to put things on and when he did put it on it wasn't a surprise to anybody. If he put a bunt on late in the game, well, when you're in the batter's box, you should be thinking about that. It's not just going up there to get loose and go step in the box, no, you foresee a situation, if the situation comes up you're ready for it, and you take advantage of it. I'm kind of getting deep with you, but…that's kind of how my philosophy is and what I've learned throughout playing thirteen years of professional baseball. I feel I've gained a lot of knowledge. And also sitting back in the past two-and-a-half years in this league, to know the managers and their tendencies,…you know, you mentioned Sparky, and Madlock, and you've got [Wayne] Krenchiki in Camden, you know, these guys have all been around for awhile because they [are] good at what they do…I got all the gang!
We know it's a bit early to have a good answer to this yet, but which teams do you fear the most in the league this coming season?
You know, Sparky does a great job of motivating his players, he's the only guy to repeat a championship here [in the Atlantic League] so he's definitely [a threat], he always puts a good team together. It's [hard] to say because all the teams' rosters change throughout the whole year, so I think it’s whoever gets out to the best start. As far as fearing a team, I'm going to have confidence in my team and my players that we can get the job done, so I'm hoping that the other managers will look back and say, wow, watch out for this Atlantic City team, they've got these young hungry guys in there and they're going to do a good job.
Sounds great! It really makes us look forward to the season.
That's the thing, you know, I've got a young staff in here with me, got a new young pitching coach and myself and the thing is, I want to be respected throughout the League, and I expect a lot out of my team and my coaches, and when my team takes the field I want the people to say, "They look like a bunch of ballplayers out there!"
What I'm trying to say is that I hope they respect me and respect the team and go from there!
We’re sure they will, and we wish you, maybe not quite the best of luck, because, after all, we want [the Bears] to beat you…
I'm going to get you down there!
Well, we're a little bit partial…
Well, [it's good] to have some kind of rivalry, right?
Well, we do wish you the best of success and hope this is the beginning of an exciting career in management!
Thanks a lot, I appreciate it, and thanks for taking the time to [talk with me].
Thanks a lot!
Newark Bears Fan thanks The Atlantic City Surf for facilitating access to Mr. Ball for this interview.
Reprints of this interview are available from Newark Bears Fan. Click here to request one.