'He's a baseball guy'

Jeff Datz is the Orioles' new bench coach, bringing a wealth of experience with him

March 02, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | Baltimore Sun reporter

SARASOTA, FLA. — Jeff Datz stood tall in front of home plate during an Orioles' workout last week, a group of catchers -- masks in hands, eyes fixed forward -- surrounding him.

For 20 minutes, Datz taught without interruption, going over throwing, receiving and positioning. He occasionally used his hands to emphasize or to demonstrate, but he barely changed his tone or posture.

When Orioles manager Dave Trembley began his search for a new bench coach this offseason, he was looking for a detail-oriented baseball man with varied experience, a no-nonsense demeanor, and a catcher's background. He found all those things in Datz, a 50-year-old who had spent the previous eight seasons on the Cleveland Indians' major league staff.

"Plain and simple, he's a baseball guy," Trembley said. "He's detail-oriented. He's low key but direct. He's not a yes man. He's not so rigid where he's not able to adjust. We bounce some things off each other. He's just been really fun to work with. We've been on the same page since the very first day."

Trembley fielded nearly 40 calls about the bench coach position, which opened after the he didn't invite Dave Jauss back for a third season. The impetus of the Jauss move was to get a former catcher on the coaching staff who could work with Matt Wieters.

During the search, Trembley remembered a conversation that he had years earlier with his pitching coach at Double-A Bowie, Dave Schuler.

"He would tell me, 'If you ever get to the big leagues as a manager, I have the perfect guy to be your bench coach because you guys are very similar,' " Trembley said. "[Datz] doesn't play golf, I don't play golf. It's baseball. That's what we do. Baseball, all the time. That's how Datz is. We made a lot of calls and talked to people. There really wasn't any other choice. He was the guy from the very beginning that I wanted."

In a sense, Datz, a New Jersey native, is the consummate bench coach, a deeply-respected but relatively anonymous baseball lifer who has filled just about every role there is in the game. Drafted as catcher in the 19th round of the 1982 draft by the Houston Astros, Datz finally reached the majors in 1989, appearing in seven games for the Detroit Tigers.

In 1991, he moved on to another phase, scouting for three years and then starting his coaching career in 1994 with rookie-level Watertown. That began a six-year managerial run at different levels where Datz's clubs went a combined 403-383

Datz then was Cleveland's minor league field coordinator for two seasons before joining the major league coaching staff. From 2002 to 2009, Datz worked in several capacities for the Indians with stints as the first and third base coach and bench coach, even earning an Internet fan club called "Datz's Disciples."

"To have him here as long as we did, we thought he was an impact guy," said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. "He's got a depth of player development experience, major league experience and it's hard for me not to see him impacting players and an organization in a meaningful way."

After 19 seasons with Indians, Datz was let go last September as a fallout of Cleveland firing manager Eric Wedge and his coaching staff. Datz, who remains close friends with Shapiro, admitted that he was prepared for the dismissal. It certainly didn't hurt when the Orioles' bench job opened.

"I heard what the Orioles were looking for was a bench coach, catching background, coordinating spring training. I said, 'Let's go,' and I called them right away," Datz said.

Several weeks after getting the job, Datz contacted Wieters, the prize young catcher who he was hired to help develop. Datz had tapes of Wieters sent to him so he could study them before he started working with the catcher. During spring training workouts, Datz is usually never far away from where Wieters is stationed.

"It's been great to get used to him as a coach," Wieters said. "He's definitely very organized and very structured which is good, but he can have a good time when you need to. I'm very excited to have a catcher on staff where during games, we can talk about things and make adjustments with someone who has caught before."

Datz has been equally impressed by Wieters.

"He's obviously very talented but he seems like a good person, first and foremost. And he is a very special talent," he said.

Beyond his work with Wieters, Datz has helped plan the drills and scheduling during the spring training workouts. He said he lives by a simple coaching philosophy, which was influenced by his father, Bill, who taught him the game.

"You are firm but you are fair," he said. "You want things done right. You want players giving 100 percent each and every day, playing the game the right way, and respecting the game."

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