Baseball: Former major leaguers Boots Day, Randy Martz pass on their wisdom to players in Frontier League
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media July 7, 2014 9:50PM
Gateway pitching coach Randy Martz (left) instructs Grizzlies pitcher Dejai Oliver before a recent game in Joliet. | Tim Tierney/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 8, 2014 2:13AM
Former major leaguers Randy Martz and Boots Day, both of whom wore Cubs jerseys in their careers, are Frontier League coaches who haven’t tired of trying to get their players to the next level.
Martz, the 58-year-old pitching coach for the Gateway Grizzlies, and Day, the Evansville Otters’ 66-year-old hitting coach, talked about the game and its nuances during visits with their clubs to Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
It helps the duo that both of their teams are playing well — Gateway (31-15) leads the West Division and Evansville (26-17) is second in the East — but it takes a love of the game to stay in it decades past the playing days.
“As long as I can keep throwing batting practice and helping kids out, it’s still fun,’’ Day said. “Once it’s not fun, I’ll get out.’’
Day is in his 49th year of professional baseball. He managed Evansville in its inaugural 1995 season, the third year of the Frontier League.
“It’s definitely gotten a lot better since ’95,’’ Day said. “Nicer, bigger cities, more cities. More travel, but it’s not bad. I think it’s really developed into a good league.’’
Day believes hitters in the Frontier League have to walk a fine line when they’re in the batter’s box, regardless of whom they’re facing.
“You’ve got to be patient, but then again you’ve got to be aggressive in this league,’’ Day said. “They’ll give you something to hit if you can wait. Some guys get a little too anxious.’’
Helping pitchers get batters out is what Martz has done for the River City Rascals and the Grizzlies over a long coaching career in the Frontier League.
Martz played for the Cubs and White Sox in the early 1980s. These days, Martz said, a pitcher has to be throwing harder than in the past to get to affiliated ball.
“Now you have to fit the mold,’’ he said. “If you’re not throwing mid-90s (mph), you’re not going to be a reliever at the next level. If you’re throwing mid-80s, you have to have command of four pitches and have some success with all four, or at least three.
“A lot of the kids coming into this league don’t have that. They’re not able to throw all their pitches for strikes. Another thing is movement. A lot of guys are throwing 94, but they’re straight as an arrow and they get hit.’’
Martz, a resident of East Alton, Illinois, coaches Lewis and Clark Community College in the spring before the Frontier League season.
With some pitchers, Martz said he can tell “right from the get-go’’ if they have the psychological “makeup’’ to advance past independent baseball.
“A lot of it, it’s a routine, do you know how to prepare for the game,’’ Martz said. “You could say that’s all mental, but you have to have some kind of routine. Guys come here and don’t have any kind of a routine. ‘What do they do every start or what they do to prepare for the bullpen? When do you throw on the side, when do you not?’
“I’ve been through the mill both as a starter and a reliever. I kind of know what it takes out of your body to do that. That’s what I try and teach them.’’
Washington Wild Things skipper Bart Zeller, who managed the Slammers in 2011 and ’12, has two former major leaguers on his coaching staff with the Wild Things. Pitching coach Kevin Gryboski, 40, and hitting coach Bob Didier, 65, both played with the Atlanta Braves.