Devon Teeple – The GM’s Perspective – Tim, what is your baseball background; high school, college and your time in the Expos farm system
Tim Ferguson: I grew up in South Florida and played at Lakeworth High School in Palm Beach County. Went onto Indian River Community College where I pitched, played outfield and first base in Fort Pierce. After that I went to Nova South Eastern University in Fort Lauderdale, and signed with the Montreal Expos as a left-handed pitcher. I had a good time but I was an organizational guy and moved around a little bit, but very quickly I realized that at that point the chance of making it to the big leagues was slim, but I knew that I wanted to coach at that time. So I developed a set of mentors like Jim Gabella, Rick Schofield, Neal Huntington (GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates). I knew that I wanted to get into coaching and I wanted to use my time in the Expos organization to learn as much as I could about the game, about playing the game, about coaching the game, managing the game and training the players for the game. I really focused on starting to prep myself for my coaching career while I was still playing.
DT: With your position with the Ruidoso Osos, was that your first professional coaching job, or did you have anything previous that lead up to this position?
TF: When I first go out of pro ball, I did a lot of private instructing, and for a brief time coached at a high school, then I coached at Palm Beach Community College. During that time I kept my hand in professional baseball. I had several guys who were prospects and some big leaguers that I worked with one-on-one with mechanics and pitching philosophies. I stayed at the game in the college level, and that was my aspiration at that time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to coach at the professional level, mostly because I had kids and so that was a little bit of an aversion to get into professional coaching because of the time it took away from my family.
I stayed local in South Florida, but when the opportunity arose with the Osos’, my wife and I discussed it and we ended packing up our stuff and the kids and drove out to New Mexico. It was really my first experience with Independent baseball and I absolutely fell in love with it.
DT: Independent baseball is where I played for a short-time (2 months); it really shines a spotlight on the guys that have a real passion for the game. They really do whatever it takes to get noticed.
TF: To me it was some of the purest baseball around for exactly those reasons that you mentioned. Not only were the players taking time away from the rest of their lives to chase a dream of making it to the big leagues, but for obvious reasons there wasn’t a lot of money to be made and there weren’t a lot of fans. However, it was really a pure form of baseball. From a coaching perspective because you weren’t in an affiliation, you didn’t have a philosophy dictated from up above that had to be maintained. These guys at the Independent level, for the most part, were really talented and needed a little tweaking. It was a great place to coach because, you could really test out your methodology as far as being able to develop guys and being able to figure out what is it that kept this kid from getting signed to an affiliated club.
DT: With it being a first year league and team, how hard was it to get this thing off the ground.
TF: The situation that we were in, it was a little tough. I really enjoyed the Pecos League; there is a great spot for it in professional baseball as a developmental league. I thought the commissioner, Andrew Dunn, did a fantastic job and really has his hands on something that can be a viable source to help guys that, for whatever reason, get overlooked or coming off of injuries, but the Pecos League is a great opportunity to provide a place for guys to play.
As far as Ruidoso, it was sort of a throw-in team. The Clovis team didn’t come together. It was a rough go organizationally at the beginning. Yet, we had a great bunch and the guys just wanted to play ball. They stuck with it and faced a lot of adversity throughout the year. Gradually over time, the community really welcomed us despite being introduced to the team three weeks before the season started. By the end of the year the guys really battled, fought hard and ended up in second place once everything was all said and done. Obviously the crowds increased and we received a tonne of support from the community. These Independent teams provide a great opportunity to become a fabric of these small towns.
DT: It’s a testament to the owners and the coaches, and in your case, going from Florida to New Mexico at the drop of a hat like that. It’s a lot of hard work on your part as well to see this through until the end.
TF: I appreciate that, just like you and I having a conversation about baseball on a Sunday, we do it because we love the game; the camaraderie, the teammates, the art of developing players, the community involvements, and the competition. There are so many things that tie into this game that make it worthwhile.
DT: Your instructional camp, it started on September 17th correct?
TF: That’s correct. The Osos’s were my first experience of Independent baseball and was my first chance getting to meet these players and to be able to see the amount of talent at this level. I went out there and I saw these guys and got to know them, and realized that it’s a lot different if you were in an affiliated organization. They have a pretty comprehensive structure of developing their players. What I realized is that at least in the Pecos League with all these guys coming out of college or maybe got an invite but didn’t make the club through Spring Training, a lot of these kids never had the chance to put themselves in a position to be developed to see how good they can really get.
Some colleagues of mine started talking about a niche program to create for these guys to really test themselves and see how good they can get inside a controlled environment where they can train and surround them with a comprehensive group of people who can market these guys and try to get them a shot at a higher level of baseball.
We decided to put together a fall strength and conditioning program that started on September 17. Its three months, which is a lot different that most independent guys are apart of today. We talk a lot about “show and go”; putting together things where the guys go out perform in front of a crowd. Unfortunately, there are guys that fall through the cracks and some that could potentionally could excel in an environment like that but they need to get better conditioned, stronger, make some adjustments with their swing or their arm action of the mound. What we can up with was, instead of having a 30 day camp where you train for five days and play for 25 days, we came up with a an idea of a 12 week program, where we could focus on developing someone’s athletic ability all the way from strength and conditioning to baseball specific skills and also another thing the leapt out as us once we got started was being able to control the guys nutritional in-take.
That is a huge deal after coming out of a Pecos League schedule, where the majority of the diet is McDonald’s and Del Taco. We now put them through this 12-week program where everything that they eat is measured and it’s a pretty rigorous nutrition plan. After one month, that is really the place where we have been most effective.
The minimum training camp is 12 weeks. We felt that we have a real opportunity to make significant changes in a guy’s strength and body shape. A lot of the time, this is what it takes to be able to go to another program where it’s more about exposure to coaches and things like that. What we are focusing on is getting the players bigger and stronger, improving their diet and affecting their overall health. The feedback after our first month of camp is phenomenal. They’re eating so clean; they’re energy levels are peaking. After this month, by controlling to portions and in combination with our strength program, the players are starting to add muscle, and put on some weight.
All of the pitchers we have in camp are guys that I coached in Ruidoso. These are all guys that I thought were good enough to have a chance to maker it to the next level, meaning, at the very least a higher Independent league or getting them in to some organizations. They are now apart of a real comprehensive throwing program, they are really working on strengthening their arm and we just got them on the mound last week, so we have really been focusing on the areas where they can see gains instead of negatives. Instead of worrying about getting the guys on the mound and trying to correct mechanics, with our extended program, I can focus on developing velocity. To try and increase velocity in a 30-day program is very difficult, but in 12-weeks we can now make these guys very marketable while increasing pitch velocity.
The next step is obviously getting them on the mound, working on starting to throw off-speed pitches, followed by the third month of our program; the marketability approach. These guys have several options; they can sign a contract and again play for me, but my goal is to help move them along. Our idea is to help these guys who have a love for the game. We wanted to provide them a venue, a state-of-the-art controlled environment where they can really develop their bodies. Once we get to that point, we want to showcase them in the marketplace and get them a place to play.
The final phase when it comes to marketing is in large part due to us partnering with an agent that is going to help with the marketing our players. With my assistance and the help of our other two instructors; Matt Smith, who is a hitting instructor in the Frontier League and then a guy who I grew up with, Tom Lane, he actually played in the Houston Astros organization and was a scout with Montreal, St. Louis and Houston. With combination of our knowledge, skills and connections we went out and got some commitments from several teams to come out and scout our guys, and evaluate our guys, which gives us a starting and end point on where and how far we can take them.
We are constantly going out there and trying to partner up/become an asset for the other Independent leagues out there. We want to be the place where all the leagues can come to us and take a look at our prospects and become a feeder system for others.
DT: Sometimes it’s just the little things. When you get to play professionally, especially in the Independents, everyone is so close talent wise, that tweaks in certain areas can set them apart from the rest. One thing that I focused on specifically with your program is that you have planned specific diets for the players, and sometimes that’s all it takes. For example, you mentioned lengthening the arm and strengthening the arm, coupled with eating the proper way. Once these guys get on the right track, the sky’s the limit.
TF: Functional strength training is something that we are focusing on right now at this point in camp. The guys love it. Our Sunday leg workout takes place in the parking lot of our facility and we push my Tahoe across the parking lot. Once we push the Tahoe, you got a big chain with some rope and big tractor tires, and we back peddle dragging those tires. The reality is these guys are working out at 7:00pm going that extra mile. We are trying to instil that mentality, and ultimately, I want the clubs that are scouting these players to understand that they are making a huge commitment, and they are really working hard.
The other side to this is, I spend a lot of time on the phone trying to find different ways to help out our players. I have spent a lot of time talking to Matt Mc Dermott and he had some great insight on things we are focusing on, but aren’t necessarily baseball specific, but the fact of the matter is, when you do go out to your team, don’t be the guy that lays around the house until game time. When you do have a game, get out there and get out in the community. Become an asset to your club. Make relationships, go the Chamber of Commerce meetings and meet people in the community. You then become an asset to your organization. Not everybody will make it to the big leagues but if we can teach these guys how to network, how to meet people and to speak in public, that will carry dividends throughout the rest of their lives regardless if they make it to the big leagues or not. I’m not sure who will make it, but I know that almost all of them are going to go back home and become members of their community, become husbands and become fathers, and I want them to be able to take these lessons and apply it to the rest of their lives.
DT: That is really commendable Tim. It’s lot of work and I know down the road, the guys that don’t make it, they will think back on this and they’re going to see that they gave it 100 percent and learned life skills. Not many make it in professional sports, but in the end they will learn how to become a better person, become better teammates, fathers, husbands, and a better part of their community.
DT: Regarding the players in camp. How are they invited to attend? Is it invite only? Can they sign up on-line? How would someone get in touch with you if they are interested in attending?
TF: This initial phase was invitation only sent out by myself, and by Matt Smith (hitting coach for the Evansville Otters). In the beginning, it was guys we specifically invited. We want to bring in guys who have the potential. I don’t want to bring in guys just for the reason of creating revenue. I would love to have players come in who are recommended. After we grow, one of our bigger markets will be unsigned players. We will be in contact with college coaches and looking for that diamond in the rough that perhaps fell through cracks, but just need a little exposure. Once the website is fully functional, we will use social media to expose ourselves, but Matt and I want to keep the number of attendees rather low. It’s not in anyone’s benefit to have 200 people attend. We want to have, essentially, personal instruction, and I believe that is very important in what we want to accomplish.
DT: Once your first 12 week program is complete, when do you think the next set of recruits will be notified?
TF: What we have decided to do is to have three phases of training. The first phase is what we are in the midst of right now; a fall/off-season training, where the primary emphasis is on developing your body, strength training, and making adjustments. In this particular phase it is not so much game competition, more so, the focus is on making adjustments.
The second phase will start in mid-January and will go until mid-April. This particular phase of training (the first month), will be getting the guys used to the diet. It probably takes two or three weeks to get used to eating healthy. We then will start to have more focus on game type competition and getting guys looked at during this period (affiliated teams, affiliated scouts).
The third phase will start in the middle of May, (assuming I will be away coaching in the Independent leagues) run by my staff and basically have a team going from May until August competing in a league down here; more or less like an extended Spring Training, in which they will participate in five to six games a week against live competition. I hope this creates a chance for guys who are done their college program for the year, can come down and train with the Florida Developmental Baseball Program.
When all is said and done, the Florida Developmental Baseball Program will be a way to help guys get professional contracts.
DT: I want to thank you for your time and I really appreciate it. It sounds like you have a really good program with a lot of great people working with you. I definitely wish you all the best.
TF: I really appreciate it Devon. I thank you for taking the time out of your day and taking an interest in what we’re doing. That’s what we’re trying to do now. We’re trying to get out there in the baseball community and let people know what we’re doing. I know what we can do with the guys individually. This is not a religiously affiliated program but, myself and my family, we are very active with our church and activities of that nature and during the first week of our program, my church had a men’s conference. I mentioned to our team of recruits where I was going and every single one of them wanted to go. We want try and make our recruits better baseball players, but also better human beings.
To attend, the fee is rather moderate. For $3,500, we provide a place to live for 12 weeks, three full meals a day and three supplemental meals (protein shakes etc…). When you break it down, it’s a great deal considering the instruction and education that we are providing. And considering the tough economy that we are all facing, 25 hours a week on the field, strength and conditioning, there is really no need for anyone to spend any additional money when they’re down here.
Since the conclusion of the interview, the following players have signed professional contracts;
Chris Welborn, Andrew Plotkin and Edgar Correa signed with the Alpine Cowboys (Pecos League), Jason Hyland signed with the Whitesands Pupfish (Pecos League) and Jonathan Means signed with Sante Fe Fuego (Pecos League). Alan Gatz has been offered a contract from Alpine and will be signing shortly.
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Devon and is an Associate member of The Professional Writers Association of Canada, is a featured writer on Examiner.com and member of the Yarbarker Network,
Devon is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies, and is now an independent scout.
He is also and author for the Business of Sports Network, which includes the Biz of Baseball, the Biz of Football, the Biz of Basketball and the Biz of Hockey. He is also a contributor to the Canadian Baseball Network. He has continued to further his knowledge by completing Sports Management Worldwide's Baseball General Manager Class and interning with The Football Outsiders.
Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow The GM's Perspective on Twitter and facebook