Recently I wrote an article about ego coaches that included talk about how major league hitting coaches stay behind the scenes. They may have big egos, but no one ever would know it because they do not take credit for their hitter’s success. Much of that reason, I surmised, was that they would then have to take credit for the struggling hitters, too, of which there are usually more than the successful ones.
Unless an ardent fan of that team, most people could not name the hitting coach of any major league team beyond Barry Bonds of the Florida Marlins. A few years back I had the pleasure of interviewing a young man, Anthony Iapoce, who at the time was a minor league hitting instructor. It was evident from his approach to coaching that he would one day make it to the big leagues. And he has, as the hitting coach for the Texas Rangers.
Below is the interview I had with him. It is obvious that he understands what a coach is – one that teaches. He talks about the things all youth coaches should teach. Things like preparation, accountability and most important, about being a life coach first. Coaches often forget that part of their responsibility, that they should teach life lessons along the way. Even at the professional level and dealing with adult athletes, he recognizes the need to teach life too. In sports, where there are so many ups and downs, learning to deal with life is essential beyond the ball diamond. I love his statement, “Coaching is a different form of competing.” As a hitting instructor, I know how he feels. It’s a challenge to try to get players to improve at the hardest thing to do in all of sports. We are competing against ourselves to find the best ways to help others. Players that have the opportunity to work with Anthony Iapoce are very fortunate.
Interview with Anthony Iapoce
Jack Perconte – How tough was it to hang up the spikes?
Anthony Iapoce – It wasn’t hard at all. After 11 years in the minor leagues, I got into coaching right away. Working with the kids in the off-season made the transition easy. I do miss competing on a daily basis. With coaching, it’s just a different form of competing. Competing to get players better every day is a big challenge.
Jack – Most baseball fans have no idea of the minor league day in and day out grind, what can you tell
them about it?
Anthony Iapoce – Lot’s of players don’t make it just because they don’t realize how hard the grind is. Buses, the failure factor, low money, missing family. The first time we get kids in we constantly talk about the grind, day after day.
Jack – I often say ‘If I only knew then what I know now, I would have been pretty good, when talking about my baseball career.” Do you find yourself saying that? Moreover, if so, what would you do differently in your career if you could?
Anthony – I wouldn’t change a whole lot. I think the earlier a kid can focus on the things he can control it makes the process of getting to big leagues faster. A player can only control getting better every day and not where he is in the system.
Jack – You played during the steroid era of baseball. Was there evidence of, talk of, or suspicion of Performance Enhancing Drugs that you recall? Also, this may be speculation and hindsight, but looking back, do you feel like others advanced instead of you because of their use of PED’s?
Anthony – There was not a lot of talk about because then you are caught up things that don’t apply to you. You advance because of your performance. You still have to go out and play regardless of any situation. Problems at home, weather. You still have to hit the ball.
Jack – What, if anything, annoys you about the professional ballplayers that you work with today?
Anthony – Not a whole lot – I think some of the younger players could learn more about the history of the game and the players who have paved the way for them to get the opportunity to play the game and get to the Bigs.
Jack – Looking back to my professional baseball days, there were always some players who had enormous talent but lacked the work ethic or love for the game. Have you encountered players like those and what do you do to try to reach them?
Anthony – Of course, sometimes players just get comfortable with the situation they are in. They don’t realize that someone is always looking to take their job. The earlier a player can realize this, the sooner his work ethic always improves.
Jack – When the organization is going to move players up or down how much input does the minor league coaches, or you as the roving hitting coach, have in the decision?
Anthony – It is a total process. The people who make decisions are in contact with the minor league coaches to get their feedback on all players. Sometimes, guys have to move because of injuries, but for the mast part, there is a lot of communication.
Jack – I know you enjoy working with young kids also on their baseball skills, what are the main things you teach young ballplayers baseball wise and life wise?
Anthony – Preparation and accountability, as coaches we always talk about being a life coach first. Just making sure the kids know that we are there for them for anything. We try to teach the kids to respect the game, coaching staff, and of course their teammates. We just try to keep things simple. Everyone is an individual, and you need to get to different guys. Working with kids in the off-season helps that process a whole lot.
Jack – What are your future goals in baseball?
Anthony – Just to keep getting players better every day – our goal as a staff is to develop players to help us win a World Series. That is always the goal.
Jack – Who was your favorite ballplayer when growing up and who are your favorite major league players of today to watch and why?
Anthony – I grew up in NYC and Don Mattingly for sure. Just the way he played the game every day. He was a grinder on both sides of the field. Today there are so many good players. I love watching Ichiro play. You never know what is going to happen. I like watching guys who are good on offense as well as defense. Evan Longoria is a great competitor as well as Derek Jeter.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” Now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.