Being a 3rd Base Coach > Being a Bank VP
Maybe you've heard, but the Nats have lost a few games this season. Pat Listach was talking about that the other day with his brother, 11 years older, a vice president of a bank, a 50-something guy with a slick 9-to-5 job.
"Every day we talk about things in life, and about the job that I have coming to the ballpark every day and trying to win some games," Listach said. "And he says, 'You know what, 32 years, working 9-5 in the office, I'd trade places with you right now.' When I think of it that way, I realize how lucky I am, and how fortunate I am to have this job."
I think everyone who's put up with the pro sports schedule has pined after the 9-to-5 at some point. So would Listach, the third-base coach for a last-place team, trade places with his bank vice president brother?
"No, no, I wouldn't," he told me. "Not to be working 9-5. This is what I love. I don't want to put a suit and tie on every day and go to work. I'd rather be in gym shoes, baseball uniform, carrying a fungo in my hand."
Listach, the NL Rookie of the Year in 1992, lasted six years in the Majors. He called it quits after getting released in spring training, with injuries derailing his effectiveness and his body not up to another tryout. He took a year off, golfed four or five days a week, got his handicap down to the low single digits. His father passed away that year, and he spent months with his mom, telling her he'd stay as long as she wanted.
"That was November. Christmas and New Year's rolled around, and, I said, 'You know what, I need to get back on the field,' " he told me. "Baseball's in my blood. Once I was done playing, it was the only thing I really wanted to do."
So he made some calls. Jim Hendry, then the Cubs' minor league director, gave Listach a job as the hitting coach for Class A Lansing. He wasn't sure exactly what coaching involved, the hours or the paperwork or the scouting that would become his life. Pretty quickly, he figured it out.
"Jim calls me and says, 'Hey, your reports are due on June 15,' " Listach remembered. "I said, 'What reports.? Nobody ever told me about any reports.' I was supposed to be doing an evaluation of he other team for possible trades, every single hitter, every team. So I've got 12 or 13 reports to do, and I didn't know I had to do 'em. That caught me off guard."
When did Hendry call?
"June 10," Listach said with a laugh. "I crammed it."
As things would have it, two of the hitters he evaluated that season turned out to be Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns.
"I know exactly what I wrote and I told both of them," Listach said. "I saw Kearns go 10 for 10 against us with five home runs and three walks in one series. And I saw Dunn strike out about eight times. So I put Austin Kearns was gonna be a future all-star player, and Dunn will be an extra player in the big leagues--if he makes it. I mean, I completely missed the boat on Dunn. First-year coaching, that's what I saw. You miss a lot of them."
But he still follows the minors, scouring box scores and checking in on players he coached and players he watched, and it still gives him satisfaction.
Take the summer of 2007, when Listach was in Tennessee with the Smokies. He called outfield prospect Jake Fox on his cell after a game; "He said, 'Ok, either I'm going to the big leagues or I'm getting traded, which one is it?' " Listach recalled. The manager asked Fox where he was; the outfielder was at Applebee's with his wife. Listach hopped over there and told him he'd been promoted.
"And he just started crying, right there," said Listach, who also paid for the couple's dinner. "That's the gratification."
Or check out Bobby Scales, who called Listach several times in the offseason to ask for advice. Scales, a career minor league infielder in the Cubs organization, had hoped he would finally be called up last season, when he was playing for Listach in AAA Iowa. Despite Listach's recommendation to the brass that Scales was a Major Leaguer, it never happened. And Scales wanted to know if he should look elsewhere. Listach told him to stick it out, that the Cubs knew him, that he wouldn't have to prove himself from scratch.
So when Scales finally got the call this spring, he texted Listach a message: "couldn't have done it without you."
"The nicest thing you could ever say," Listach said. "I was so happy for him. I said I knew you were a big leaguer a long time ago."
Is that as good as being on the field, scurrying around the base paths, competing for individual honors and division titles as a player?
"Shoot yeah," Listach said. "That's my gratification now, is to get somebody in and to watch him have success. He cried like a baby when he got there."
He can still name the Brewers entire roster from when he got called up, still keeps in touch with old teammates. He ran into Fernando Vina watching a Nats game in San Francisco this year; the two men called Greg Vaughn to catch up. But he doesn't have his own baseball cards, and he doesn't go back and play as Pat Listach in old video games, although his son once told him, "Dad, you're easy to pitch to, just throw it inside."
I asked him whether he and Marquis Grissom ever sit around and talk about their days on the field, and whether they get sick of being at the ballpark, one 12-hour day after another.
"No. No. No no no," Listach said. "This is the fun part. This is where the fun begins....I don't take kindly to losing. We've lost more than we've won, obviously. We're looking for the right way to make it better."
June 23, 2009; 6:51 PM ET
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