After the most succesfull baseball season in Hrosi short history I`ve sat down and asked the playing manager Jeff Barto couple of questions. He finished the season with 97 IP, 2.18 ERA, 105 SO, 16 BB. These impressive numbers came along with one most important for all of us. Possitive team game record. And this guy has his huge part on it.
You’re coming back to Brno for the third straight season. This upcoming one is a little different. You are staying with us through the postseason as well. What is behind that decision?
When I made the decision to stay on as head coach for the club it was a no brainer. Being able to spend the winter in the cages and working with the guys is something that International teams don’t get a lot of when they sign coaches from overseas. This past season was my 4th in Europe and I’ve never been able to stay during the winter months. I was fortunate to get a visa this go around and am really looking forward to what these next few months have to offer.
Let`s recap this last year. Record of 23-13 after regular season, 27-24 in total is the best one yet for Hrosi. What was different this year?
From top to bottom we have one of the youngest EXL rosters in the league, if not the youngest. Adding a few veterans who have had great success in the league and know how to handle themselves on/off the field was huge for the younger guys. We had our goals set pretty high before the season but we really came together as a team about midway point. Despite some key starters missing games due to injuries, guys stepped up. I think we rattled off 10 wins in a row and something like 13 of 15. The guys got a little taste of what it’s like to capture that kind of magic as a team and hopefully give us the motivation to keep building and getting better together.
Before the season started, you`ve said, we need to get better in crucial situations, grind for the tough pitches in the end of close games. What can you say about it now?
Overall we made a huge improvement. In 2016 we went something like 0-9 in extra innings and one run games. If you watch playoff baseball at any level, it’s always tight 1 or 2 run ballgames. If we want to be not only a playoff caliber team, but a championship team, then we have to execute and expect to win these big moments. We definitely won our share of late games this past year but still we can improve, just like in every aspect of the game.
You alone pitched almost a hundred innings in total. That is a lot, how did you manage to combine pitching and leading the team as well?
It’s definitely an interesting dynamic to be a manager-player. It’s given me a chance to really grow, not only as a ballplayer and coach, but as person as well. Sometimes it’s challenging to figure out where the line is between being a teammate and being the coach but it’s been a lot of fun. I’m forever grateful for the club and the guys to allow me this opportunity. I think it was 96 innings this season, which is actually the first season I’ve played internationally and haven’t topped 100.
For the first time, this winter, we have our own indoor facility with two regular hitting cages in it. For us, it is something we`ve been waiting on for some time. Tell us what were your expectations of postseason in Brno and if you could compare it to one back home?
It’s hard to make adjustments with a player when its midseason and they need to perform in games without distractions. Having an indoor facility to get work in is huge for us. We’ll have plenty of time to work on adjustments in swings and rebuild our mental approach and attack heading into the season. It’s always hard to compare international baseball to back in the states. Even in the off season we would still be having practices and workouts 6 days a week. In most cases the off season is even more tiresome than the actual season.
Running the postseason program, what is the main focus here for you?
Other than the benefit of being able to swing it in the cages anytime we want and fine tuning our swings, the biggest thing for me is arm care. We have time to get guys healthy and start building a good foundation for the coming season. One major thing I’ve noticed everywhere all over international baseball is the amount of sore and hurt arms for the amount of throwing that is done. I think being able to get guys on a decent arm care program now which will then lead into a good throwing program should have arms feeling and staying healthy throughout the summer.
Outside of baseball, what else are you looking forward to with your first ever winter in Europe?
I`m really excited about spending my first ever winter in Europe. I`ve heard great things about the Christmas markets all around in Prague, Vienna, etc., and hopefully I`ll have a chance to visit on the weekends. I will also be continuing my Czech lessons with Martina Clausova, fingers crossed and hopefully I can make some progress there. Also possibly giving English lessons to some of our youth within the ball club and helping out anywhere I can.
Sounds like you gonna have some fun doing all of that. So finally what are your expectations of the 2018 season?
It’s a little early to start making expectations for the next season but we’ll definitely have to work hard and prepare well to have another good one. Like you said earlier 2017 was the winningest season in Hrosi EXL history and its definitely something we want to build off. Every season is a fresh start and completely different than the last. As long as we put in the hard work this winter and continue to get better individually and as a team, we should be in store for another hard fought fun season.
Thank you for your time, hope you gonna enjoy another year with Hrosi. Good luck.