Catching up with… Steve Buechele (Part One)
Recently, I had the chance to speak with RoughRiders manager and former Rangers third baseman Steve Buechele. We talked about the off-season, the playoffs and some of his players on the 2012 RoughRiders. This is part one of our conversation with part two coming tomorrow.
Alex Vispoli: First of all, how has the off-season been treating you?
Steve Buechele: It’s always nice when you get away from the field and spend some time with the family and just do family stuff. That’s what makes the off-season so special.
AV: It’s been about a month and a half since the season ended. Are you still enjoying your time off or have you gotten to the point where you’re itching to get back to the game?
SB: Oh no, I’m happy to be away. I think everybody looks forward to getting back to the game but you know, that there are still months to go and the time that you have to spend with your family and be away, it’s very precious. Once you get back into baseball, that’s what takes up all your time. I’m sure after the holidays and after Christmas when spring training comes close that’s when [we’ll all be looking forward to getting back to it]. It’s kind of like the swallows going back to Capistrano; you know you’re supposed to be somewhere, you get that itch and you want to get going.
AV: When does it all start up again for you? The season begins in April, the Minor Leagues’ spring training begins in March; are you out there in Arizona come February?
SB: Yeah, the Rangers bring the Double-A and Triple-A staffs to big league camp. [At the moment, the Rangers have not announced their spring training schedule, but pitchers and catchers reported to Surprise, Arizona on February 22 this past year.]
AV: The way the 2012 season ended, going back to the Cardinals series, was there something missing from the performance or did Springfield just out-execute you guys? How do you look back on that series?
SB: You know, when I look back at it we had a chance in Game 2 [in Springfield] with a four-run lead] and I think if you had to go back and do it all over again it’s one of those things where I wouldn’t do any thing differently. I would have felt absolutely awesome knowing that I’ve got Grimm and Wolf coming in to get the last four outs. But it’s the playoffs and it’s baseball and those kind of things happen. I think [the Cardinals] played good and I think we played good. They pitched well, we pitched well and they beat us. I don’t think we did anything to lose the series. I look back and I’m super-proud of my guys and the way we played. Obviously we all wished we could have won the championship but to get there with the group that we had was awesome.
AV: You can even see in this ridiculous Major League Baseball postseason the fact that momentum seems to carry such weight and it seems like it’s even more difficult to stop when you have it on your side. Especially when you’re at home like Springfield was in that Game 2.
SB: Well I think the momentum thing that you talk about, it probably applies more to that Corpus Christi series than anything else. To me, looking back, winning one game in Corpus Christi may have been one of our best accomplishments of the year. That’s a really tough place to play. The fans came out for the playoffs. Usually in the Minor Leagues stadiums are not full, they’re more toward the empty side. But Corpus Christi’s ballpark was full, they had the rally towels and just the atmosphere that was there in that game… You’re thinking you’ve got to play three of them there and we’re going to have a tough time getting through this. But to win that series [in three games] I think was a huge accomplishment for us.
AV: When you look back at the last game of the year, do you think about what could have been based on that controversial call that happened, down 2-0 in the eighth inning with Leury Garcia getting called out on the close play at first base and then Chris McGuiness then hitting the home run on the very next pitch?
SB: Yeah you can think about it. But you know what? Had Leury Garcia been called safe, they probably would have pitched McGuiness a little bit differently too. Those are the things in baseball that, the way they happen and what ends up happening, you look at it in a very general way and think, “Oh gosh, that would have been a two-run homer.” I guarantee you had Leury been called safe and been on first base they would have been careful to Chris McGuiness. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have hit a home run, but I don’t look at as if that home run would have definitely happened to tie the game up.
AV: Looking at the season as a whole, you really seemed to enjoy this season and this group. You spoke about it with me on plenty of occasions. In your mind, what made the group of players as special as it was?
SB:I think it was such a new group and such a fresh group, a bunch of guys coming up from A-ball and making that jump. It was a group of kids that was just raw for our level and learning and talented obviously, a very talented group. But you just don’t know how the kids are going to adapt to moving up a level and facing that challenge. Once you get to Double-A it’s a whole different ballgame as a lot of our kids found out. I think what made it special for me was that it was just a great group of kids that came to the park everyday ready to play, wanting to learn. And for the most part, they played their tails off and they played the game the right way. They took their lumps, a lot of those kids, but I think they all got better and they understand what it’s going to take to move on.
AV: Talking to people inside and outside the organization and there seems to be an intentional strategy of getting good clubhouse guys who are obviously talented as well. You saw how important that chemistry is at the big league level, the way the players interacted during the Rangers’ two World Series runs. Do you think that element on this year’s ’Riders team is more of a coincidence or was this part of the plan with this particular group just now reaching this point on the Minor League ladder?
SB: I’m not sure, Alex. I think when you draft and sign kids, to me, number one above ability is the makeup of the kid. I think a lot of times that gets thrown in the background a little bit because of a kid’s ability and his talents and his skill level. They wow you so much that, you know what, maybe you take a chance on the makeup of what kind of kid he is. To me, that becomes first and foremost is what kind of kid he is. How does he approach the game? What does he do when he’s on the field? How does he come to the ballpark everyday? Is he ready to go? How does he prepare? Those are more important to me sometimes than a kid’s physical abilities. And this was just a group of young kids that was raw, as I said, they had great talent. But for the most part those guys came to the ballpark every day and they were ready to play. What they did in the first half was, to me, very exceptional.
Coming tomorrow: We discuss Jurickson Profar’s future, what happened to the Rangers at the end of the season and his future in the game.