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Newark Bears Fan Speaks With New Bears Coach Pedro "Pete" Sierra!
Newark Bears Fan spoke with Pete Sierra, who joins the Bears in 2004 as bench coach. Read about it.
Newark Bears Fan: We're very excited to have someone so much a part of baseball history joining the Bears. What led you to join the Bears from the Road Warriors last year?
Pedro Sierra: Well, Bill Madlock and I talked last year after the season was over, and he asked me what I had planned. Normally, after the season is over for the Road Warriors, every player and the coaches are free agents, so I asked [Bill] if it was a possibility for me to become a coach [for the Bears]. He said "I'd [like to] have somebody that I know," and Bill and I, as you know, were former teammates in the Washington Senators organization. And that was it. So here I am, I'm glad to be part of it here.
Well, that's great, it's nice to know you asked to be here, it's a good sign! Now, in your playing days, you were a pitcher, right?
And with the Road Warriors, you were the pitching coach?
So with the Bears, what are your responsibilities going to be? Are you going to be coaching pitching, or…
No, no, I'll be like a bench coach. Most likely I'll be coaching third base. I'm excited because when I first talked to Pete Filson, and let him know that [I was going to come in as a coach], he said, "Well, you can help me out," and that's kind of a good sign that, when you come in, and you have a pitching coach, that says to another pitching coach, I'll be glad for you to give me some help. So hopefully, between the two of us -- my father says that four eyes can see better than two -- what he might miss I'll be able to see and we can give each other support and [see] what we can do to try and get a better pitching staff and especially to give some insight to Bill.
So, then, with two pitching coaches, we should have the best pitching in the league, right?
Well, sometimes it's not up to the coaches. [But] I'm really excited because we're going to have a good pitching staff from what I've seen. We're getting Eddie Ramos [who] was with the Road Warriors as a closer. It all [begins] when you come out of the gate, like a lot of people say, if you come out of the gate with a good start [you'll have a good season], and I think that the pitching staff that [we] have is going to be able to do this.
So other than coaching third base, what are the responsibilities of a bench coach?
Probably moving the fielders here and there and giving some insight to the manager as to [positioning the players], maybe you think this guy is playing too far [back]. Or even talking to the pitching coach, will this guy be able to hit the pitch. I guess we have…two sets of eyes to help the manager to [follow the] players…you know, sometimes players give away some signs so on any given play we can keep track more of what's going on, since I'll be like an addition to the whole coaching staff, I'll be like an all-around guy there.
Will there be a separate hitting coach [like we had last year] or is that part of what you'll be doing?
I don't know what they had last year, but what better hitting coach than Bill?
Well, you've got that right! We've been doing a little bit of reading about you and your history with the Negro Leagues and the affiliated teams…thinking back to the Negro Leagues and looking at [today's] independent leagues, do you see any parallels between those different leagues?
Well, the parallel that I saw when I worked with the Road Warriors was that they traveled, that was the Negro Leagues, traveling a lot! And even when I played ball in Mexico, [that was traveling, too!] But I think that baseball hasn't changed, you know; players have changed a whole lot, their attitudes…
…and their salaries…
…yes, and such, and I think that the ballparks [make] a big difference, and the crowds [are different]. Here you get maybe 6,000, in the Negro Leagues we got maybe 15,000, or 20,000, but not every day, where here you're going to get [that] every day.
But those years in the Negro Leagues, me being so young, it was just the excitement of playing, you didn't look at all the intricacies of the game, we didn't even bother to do pitching charts or anything like that, we'd just play. Being at that time [that] all I wanted was to play baseball, I know when I came in it was towards the end of the Leagues but there still were some good baseball players in there. And we always talked to the older players, and they were telling us how easy they [thought] we got it; I think baseball players now got it real easy, it's like a piece of cake…even after I stopped playing ball in '76 I remember I was talking to Bob Watson -- he was with the Astros at that time -- he said, "Pete, it's not like when we played, it's very different," you go in the locker room and you got all this equipment and all the training equipment, all of that.
When we played -- Bob and I played in the 60s -- he was with a farm team of Houston, might have been Salisbury, North Carolina, or something like that, and minor league teams…independent leagues, I played ball in a lot of leagues, I would consider [the Atlantic League] like a Triple-A level,…
Has Bill suggested any particular areas of focus for coaching the team this year? Development areas?
Not yet, we haven't gone into that yet, but…we'll work on that when we get to spring training, everybody'll have their own assignment, and everybody will look after what they're supposed to do. I know he's very excited that I'll be helping. I'm excited to be part of the team, I'm excited because…I've talked to a couple of the players from last year and they all have that little [urge] that we're going to do better this year. And that's good, when you come into an organization, when people say, "I really feel good about it," [we're not going to lose again.]"
You have a long history in the game. What things from your history do you think the young players that you're going to be coaching will be able to benefit from?
I want to carry with me something that I learned from a pitching coach we had…being able to give the guys a lot of confidence. There's a philosophy that I learned from a pitching coach that we had with the Twins organization. He would tell us that we were the cream of the crop; every year in spring training he would tell us [that], and…when you look at minor league teams, when they cut at the end of spring training and you're still there, you have to be real good, and you always think about what you can do, if you can do any better, and how can you better yourself from game to game.
I would say [as a coach] you have to be able to have a special touch, because you’re dealing with 25 different characters, and there's a player that you don't have to pat him on the back and say, "Great game!" because he knows it, and then there's the one who's shy, you know,…and maybe you've got to sit with him after the game, or prior to the game, or in his hotel room, or in his apartment, or maybe in the bus, and you have to sit there, and you start talking, and say, maybe you should be doing this, have you tried this, have you tried that…
I would tell [you] an anecdote about one of my pitchers that I had last year. To me pitching is like a puzzle, it's like you put a puzzle together, once you got that piece there you don't move it, you start going on to the next piece. So I told this guy, I said the same thing, pitching is a puzzle; but apparently he couldn't register it… But then one day he comes to me and says, "You know, I was just talking to my roommate and he told me that as a pitcher you gotta look at this as a big picture, and when you look at a big picture you look at one spot on the picture and you look at the next spot and you look at the next spot." And I said, "Well, that's the same thing that I was telling you! But maybe you had problems with puzzles when you were little, and you couldn't relate to that."
So it's just being able to relate on [some] basis to a player when the player has that trust and confidence in you that he can come to you and you can constructively criticize a player, and knowing that you just say so and he will accept it. And not from the fact that you're in modern baseball, baseball is baseball, and I use that same philosophy. Four eyes can see better than two. Sometimes as a player you don't see what you're doing. And sometimes maybe you don't have roommates and you don't see yourself. In the past, your roommates would tell you, "Pete, you're doing this wrong," so that's why I think there's a difference between baseball now and in the 70s and 60s when players roomed together.
But when you have a group of guys who are eager to move another step, to get out, they will listen. And it's a matter of [learning] how to talk to a guy...I worked in prevention programs, in juvenile delinquency in Montgomery County [Maryland], and sometimes you address a youngster, saying, your behavior is not conducive; but sometimes you have to say it a different way, you have to get down to their level. You have to start getting a feel for what makes a guy tick. When I know what makes him tick, then I say, if you like cartoons, I like cartoons; if you know how to draw and you like art, I love art. I love art, I love music, so there has to be something that I can relate to in a positive manner, make him go that other step above, make him realize that we're here to try to help [him] to move. The criticism is the constructive part.
And I think they will be able to…the [Bears] that I know, that I met, that are coming back, that I have talked to, they have positive minds and they're the ones that I have met, they're all a good bunch of guys, they have a positive attitude. But they get frustrated, so you have to be prepared. You have to come prepared with two baskets, one to win and one to lose; I want to always take my winning basket….
The team that makes the more mental errors is the one that loses. That's another approach that I use to talk to the guys. I learned that…I used to hear it when I was with the Senators in the spring training, I heard that from Ted Williams…anybody can make a physical mistake, anybody can make an exceptional play…you have to make the routine plays, you have to be consistent. We'll learn to instill in the players consistency, the value of getting ahead and winning. And that's half the battle.
Given the competitiveness, and everyone wants to get higher, to get into the majors, do they help each other? Are they receptive to each other's help? Or is it just so cut-throat…?
No, no, I've seen that sometimes, I guess in the past I would see it with a guy playing the same position who wouldn't tell a guy what he's doing wrong. But I've seen with the Road Warriors, I've seen it with every team, when I hear the guys talking to each other, or when we met in a restaurant or we'd cross paths in the hotel or outside, some guys would be talking with friends that have been playing for many years and sometimes we might be sitting and drinking a beer and you hear a guy say, you know you're not doing this. So that tells me that the guys have this camaraderie and people are trying to help each other to move ahead.
What are your fondest memories from your playing days?
I have a few! I could tell you, when I was growing up back in Cuba I had three baseball idols in the United States. One was Satchel Paige, one was Bob Feller, and the third one was Ted Williams. I remember seeing the World Series, some of the games were on Saturdays, and I used to go to a friend of mine's house to watch TV. And I tried to [model] myself [on them], when I was trying to become a pitcher, I tried to copy Bob Feller's and Satchel Paige's styles, you know, the high kick of the leg. I haven't met Bob Feller, but fortunately I signed with the Senators and I was under Ted Williams. I met Satchel Paige before he died, in '65, it was a big excitement, it was exciting to me that I talked to him.
And Ted Williams, [he was] so natural; I was [concerned], reading all the things in the past, how he was [with] the media and all that; but talking with him, he gave me the impression that he knew me all along, all the time.
Guys like Minnie Minoso, who also was one of my idols, and Camilo Pascual; there are so many things that come into play as fond memories that I have of playing baseball. I guess the most excitement was to sign a contract when I was just a young kid, at sixteen. Getting to the big leagues, that was something I always wanted, I always dreamed about it. I told my mother before she died I was going to be a baseball player; and then after she died that was a low-spirited time, so I didn’t want to play. But my father said, you made a promise to your Mom. Just being in big league camp, that was very, very exciting, especially with a guy that I always wanted to meet, it was something special about Ted Williams, that charisma that he had, same as Satchel [Paige]….
Newark Bears Fan thanks Mr. Sierra for giving us his time for this interview.
Reprints of this interview are available from Newark Bears Fan. Click here to request one.