Bat dog fetches better life in Boise
Steve Soliz already has reached the highest ranks of baseball’s coaching ladder, serving eight years on the Los Angeles Angels’ Major League staff as a bullpen coach, catching coach and information coach.
He’s worked under and alongside some of the brightest minds in baseball, including former Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Cubs manager Joe Maddon, Rockies manager Bud Black and former Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, now the bench coach of the defending champ Boston Red Sox.
But the 48-year-old finds himself with a new challenge this summer as a first-time manager of the Boise Hawks, who open the season Friday on the road in Salem-Keizer before hosting their home opener at 7:15 p.m. Monday against Everett.
“Having never done it before, it presents a new challenge,” Soliz said. “... The challenge for me, and what was really intriguing for me, is I’ve learned a lot of baseball. Now to see if I can apply it as a manager myself at this level is something I’m definitely looking forward to personally.”
Scioscia stepped down last fall after 19 years as the Angels’ manager, leaving Soliz out of work as the club overhauled its coaching staff. The former catcher quickly tapped into his network of former colleagues across baseball and told them he was open for any position. Black introduced him to Zach Wilson, the Rockies’ farm director, who then hired him to take over Colorado’s short-season A affiliate in Boise.
“I’m of the mind that you never know where things are going to take you,” Soliz said. “To pigeonhole myself and say, ‘Hey, I just want to be a manager,’ or, ‘I just want to be a Major League catching coach, or bullpen coach or whatnot,’ would be foolish in my opinion.”
The new role presents a host of new obstacles for Soliz to overcome. Instead of pouring over reams of advanced statistics, he’ll have to dig for any scraps of information he can find on tomorrow’s new left-handed pitcher. Instead of boarding a chartered flight, he’ll have to make sure no one misses that night’s 10-hour bus trip. And instead of breaking down game plans with grizzled veterans, he’ll have to help a 17-year-old who speaks little English fill out a questionnaire for the team’s media guide.
“It’s a little bit different,” Soliz said. “But when you have a passion for coaching, a passion for teaching and a passion for the game itself, all the extras that come along — all the bells and whistles that come with the Major Leagues — kind of go away.”
That passion already has made itself evident, said Fred Ocasio, the Rockies’ development supervisor for the Boise Hawks. Soliz went to Cal State Los Angeles to get his teaching degree. He planned to become a physical education teacher and coach baseball at either the high school or college level, but then professional baseball came calling.
The Cleveland Indians selected Soliz in the 13th round of the 1993 draft, and he spent eight years in the minors between the Indians and Padres organizations. But after four seasons stuck in Triple-A and Tommy John surgery, the self-admitted catch-and-throw, no-hit backstop called it a career.
He helped his brother coach an Arizona high school team in 2002 and served as a player/coach for the independent Yuma Bullfrogs that summer. He then caught on as the Angels’ Major League bullpen catcher for eight years before officially turning in his mitt for a clipboard in 2011.
“It’s going to be his first year managing, but he’s been around the game,” Ocasio said. “One thing is he’s always asking questions, always trying to get better, always trying to figure out different situations.
“It’s just his passion for the game you see right away.”
Soliz said he’s already worn out the phone line to Dino Ebel, the Dodgers’ third base coach. Managing the Hawks means he’ll also man the third-base coaching box, deciding when to hit and run, steal bases and send runners home, decisions he’s never made before in a live game.
But all of his connections and experience give Soliz instant credibility in a clubhouse full of teenagers and players fresh out of college. When he tells a player how Mike Trout would perform a drill or how Albert Pujols would prepare for games, those young players lean in.
“It’s something that perks your ears,” first baseman Daniel Jipping said. “It’s something to listen to and take in. Anybody who has worked in the Major Leagues or played in the Major Leagues is really somebody you listen to a little bit. … That’s someone who you gravitate to.”