Head coach Bob Miller got a long look at his club in his first game for the Bells. In his season and career debut with Bellingham, he was introduced with a hard fought, 11-inning nail biter, ending in a 5-4 loss to the Kelowna Falcons on Friday night.
Miller is no stranger to the West Coast League, having managed the Victoria HarbourCats in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The head coach emphasized the program’s goal of getting his players ready to play at the professional level, and what better way than opening the season with 10 games in 10 days?
Take an in-depth look at Miller's thoughts about the 2018 campaign below!
What’s your impression of Bellingham as a whole? Do you have a favorite spot?
"It’s a beautiful place. I have had the chance to be up here for a couple of days now and get out to explore a little bit and it’s a beautiful city. I spent a little bit of time by the Marina for a little bit. When I was here with the teams in the past, we didn’t get a chance to get out and explore a lot; we were at the hotel and the ballpark, so I’d have to say my favorite place is at the ballpark."
What drew you back to coach in the West Coast League?
"Having seen Bellingham the first time around, I knew it was a fantastic organization. I have a lot of respect for the way they played the game and just the whole environment of playing against a successful team and the fanbase of the organization. You could just tell there was separation from the rest of the league. I wasn’t able to coach for a couple of summers, but when the opportunity presented itself to be in the league again this summer, Bellingham was at the top of my list. I wanted to be in a place that was established and had similar ideas that I have."
What can you expect from this league and what can you tell your players to expect from this league?
"It’s a very competitive league. You play a lot of games in a short amount of days. You have to come to play every day. There’s a lot of parity. There’s not much separation from the top teams from the bottom teams. There’s a lot of talent in the base of the league, it’s wood bat, it’s a developmental ground for not only their days in college and increasing their role in college, but it’s an opportunity for professional baseball down the road."
What are your goals for players and personal goals for this upcoming season?
"We want to help players develop as best they can over the course of the summer. Really it’s on that: personal growth as well as becoming teammates. Obviously we want to win baseball games, but we want to put the emphasis on improvement and giving our best effort and playing the game right each night."
How about for you? What are your personal goals?
"Same thing, I want to improve my game as a coach. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with coach (Jim) Clem and the rest of the coaching staff that we have here and working with the players we have here and learning from all those people involved with the organization… Personal growth to be honest with you and the opportunity to work with some really great players."
How much different is this from your typical season at Cuesta?
"It’s a lot different because you are utilizing a lot bigger and deeper of a roster, playing night in and night out. You don’t have the days’ rest that you have at a junior college setting. Even the Division I setting is built mainly around three-game weekend series, with time to recover in the middle of the week. We start our season with 10 games in 10 days so the utilization of pitchers is a lot more like a professional baseball schedule. You want to be cautious of your pitch counts. You don’t want to put people in vulnerable situations, yet there’s a great opportunity, a lot of innings and at-bats where there’s growth in their game."
With such little practice time, how do you determine your roles with the rotation and your bullpen?
"We’ve taken a look at what their role was at the school they were at. If somebody was a starter at their college program, that means they have logged some innings, they’ve had elevated pitch counts, and are guys that should be able to carry innings. You don’t want a pitcher that maybe hasn’t pitched a whole lot at their college and come in and use them as a starter right out of the gate because of over using them early. You want that to be more of a progressive, build your pitch count over the summer type of thing."
How do you prepare these players to the shift of using a wood bat?
"That’s a great question. It is definitely an adjustment. A wood bat has a lot more weight out in the barrel of it, whereas metal bats are more balanced in their weight. So you don’t feel that weight out away from their hands, like you would a sledgehammer or something. You are adjusting, but a good swing is a good swing. Obviously, a wood bat is less forgiving. If you get jammed you’re going to break a bat. If you hit one off the end of the bat, you’re going to get a broken bat. But they’re transitions. A lot of these kids have played travel ball, maybe they’ve played scout ball where they’ve utilized wood bats and a lot of programs will train with wood bats. So it might be their first competitive at-bat, but it’s not their first time swinging a wood bat."
How do you prepare these players to achieve their goals and lifelong dreams of making it to the pros?
"It’s where they’re at now and trying to elevate their game. That’s the first and foremost part of that – just helping them with the progression and seeing where their strengths and weaknesses are in their game and get them to be as complete of players as they can be. One of the things that can help them prepare for minor league baseball is just playing every day. It takes a different mental conditioning and commitment to the game to play on a day-in and day-out basis. You have the physical component with that as well, as far as your body and how you maintain your body. But from a mental and physical standpoint, they’re really getting a taste. We’re going to play 57 games in 65 days or so. Not a lot of recovery; they’re going to have to learn to take care of themselves."
Are you going to show any of these players something they might see at the next level? Are you going to swing that shortstop around second to some of these (left-handed) pull-hitters?
"There will be certain situations where we’ll play a shift, absolutely. The one thing about the college game is that players are a little bit more willing to adapt and try to hit the ball the other way away from a shift, or actually utilizing a bunt. Whereas, most of your major league hitters will try to do damage and hit the ball over the fence, regardless of where the defense is shifted to. So, although it’s something I have utilized with college players in the past, with success, that is something where you want to pick your spots and make sure the advantage is in your favor."
Don’t forget to catch coach Miller and the rest of the 2018 Bellingham Bells in the home opener on Monday, June 4 at Joe Martin Field. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 pm.