Tommy Watkins Enjoys New Role As Manager In Cedar Rapids
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins DailyAs a player, Tommy Watkins was always viewed by many as a potential coach. While a player, Watkins’ focus was always on playing the game. However, somewhere in the deeper reaches of his mind, he knew what he wanted to do following his playing career. Yes he wanted to coach, but he also wanted more.
“(I wanted to) coach, but I always wanted to manage.”
So when he was offered the Kernels manager job, he quickly accepted. He believes that it was the right time.
“I think this year was a good time for me to start. I don’t think I was anywhere near ready my first year as a coach, or my fourth or fifth. It’s getting to know the guys, and learning the ropes, and how to do things I think helped me for now.”
To this point, Watkins has led his team to an impressive start. The Kernels enter play on Tuesday with a 20-15 record through their first 35 games. As he is prone to do, Watkins pushes the credit elsewhere.
“Great group of guys. I think they all get along great together. I think they play hard. I think that’s one thing that I saw coming out of spring training, that these guys get along and I think they’re going to get after it every day. I think our record can be attributed to the effort they put in every day.”
But there have been some moments of nervousness and trepidation. While he has been in and around the game of baseball and seen it from a variety of roles, the role of manager is different.
“I think the biggest adjustment is just trying to be organized and get things planned every day, lineup. Trying to keep everybody in line.”
Watkins admitted he was especially nervous the first game of the season.
“I was panicking a little bit. I grabbed the lineup cards and things like that. I sent Jake (Mauer) and Doug (Mientkiewicz) a group text and asked, ‘What do I do with the lineup? Do I put first name? Last name?’ They both answered, and Doug said, ‘Hey, relax, you’ll be fine.”
But Watkins has also been supported by the organization. They have people in place who can help him out. The weekend I was there, minor league pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen was there. So was new Special Assistant for Baseball Operations LaTroy Hawkins. Twins Minor League Director Brad Steil was there.
“I think a lot of people have been a big help. (Minor League Infield and Baserunning Coordinator) Sam Perlozzo’s been a big help, been in town. A couple of nights ago, there were some things going on and I was like, ‘Sam, you’ve got to stand next to me.’ He said ‘Yeah I should have been over there to bounce some things off of me, but he said when I’m here, these are your guys. I’m just here to watch’.”
Sam Perlozzo standing alongside Watkins
Perlozzo has been a baseball lifer. He’s coached in various levels in the Mets, Reds, Mariners, Phillies and Orioles organizations. He’s coached in the big leagues and for parts of three seasons he was the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Having a resource like that available, in person or on the phone, can be very valuable.
Watkins worked as the hitting coach for Jake Mauer in Cedar Rapids for several seasons. Last year, he worked with Doug Mientkiewicz in Chattanooga. He said that he has learned so much from each of them.
“Both of those guys, they let their staffs work. Jake and Doug were both good about it, the hitters were mine, and the pitchers were the pitching coach’s. They both put their input in and helped out whenever they want or need to.”
Watkins subscribes to that philosophy as well. Hitting coach Brian Dinkelman and Pitching coach JP Martinez are both back for their second seasons with the Kernels and third seasons as coaches in the organization.
“The same thing goes here. I let Dink (Kernels second-year hitting coach Brian Dinkelman) and JP (Kernels second-year pitching coach JP Martinez) do their jobs. They’re real good at what they do. If I ever have anything to say, I run it across with them. They do a good job, so I try to let them work.
Watkins coaching third base.
For those that have seen Tommy Watkins working on the baseball field, whether as a player or as a coach or manager, it is clear that he truly loves the game. It shows. He has a lot of fun.
He was nicknamed The Mayor when he played in Rochester. He was very popular during his years in New Britain. Wherever he’s been, he’s garnered fans and become popular with teammates.
Back in 2003, the Ft. Myers Miracle even honored the hometown kid with a bobble butt promotion. No, really, a bobble butt. (See here)
Watkins makes the long season for players fun. Two weekends ago, the team had some very early work on the field. They were doing bunting drills. The first group was some of the players less likely to bunt, and that went fairly quickly. The second group was more the speed guys who could use the bunt to benefit their games.
Sam Perlozzo led the discussion, but Watkins and Dinkelman were very involved as well. Cones were set up down the third base line, indicating the ideal location for a bunt. Another set of cones formed a line from home plate to the edge of the grass/dirt in front of where a second baseman would play and starting past the pitcher’s mound.
There were two teams and they had some scoring system based on how many they got within the designated goals. They were working, and they were being instructed, but they were doing it while having fun and being competitive. In fact, Watkins joined a group with Jermaine Palacios, Aaron Whitefield and Travis Blankenhorn, and they beat Brian Dinkelman’s group which included Christian Cavaness, Ariel Montesino and Brandon Lopez in what appeared to be a back-and-forth contest.
Watkins coaching and participating in a bunting drill.
It’s a long 140 game season with long bus rides, and Watkins continues to have fun with his job, even with the new role.
“I don’t think my personality changes. I still try to be myself. We still have fun, but at the same time, when someone needs to be corrected, or you have to drop the hammer, you can’t be afraid to do it. I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of that. If I see something, I let them know. I try not to let anything slip.”
As the Twins celebrate Hope Week this week in the Twin Cities, it’s a good reminder that Tommy Watkins does a ton of work in and around Ft. Myers throughout the offseason. Not only does he work out with rehabbing players or other minor leaguers in Ft. Myers in the offseason, but he takes groups to area hospitals and runs several camps for kids. It’s a great opportunity for the players to start giving back. It’s something that Watkins believes strongly in. This spring, he told me that they were making four to five hospital visits, at least, each week.
But Watkins provides hope and lessons to all of the players he comes in contact with. Not only does he coach them up and work to instill the fundamentals of the game, but if they take the time to look up Watkins’ career, it should teach them about perseverance, believing in yourself and striving toward your goals.
Watkins understands what the players are going through. He lived the life that they are living, and he reached that goal that each and every one of his players is striving for. He played in nine games in the major leagues, The Show. In fact, if not for an injury, he had kind of taken over as the Twins starting third baseman due to his .357 batting average. (Note, Brian Dinkelman also holds a career average of over .300 (.301, to be exact) in his 23 games with the Twins)
Watkins signed as a late-round pick. He spent two seasons in the Gulf Coast League. He spent a year in Elizabethton. He spent a year in the Midwest League (Quad Cities). He spent two seasons with the Miracle. He spent 2004, 2005 and part of 2006 in New Britain before moving up to Rochester. A year later, mid-August 2007, Watkins got that surprise call. He was headed to the big leagues. He spent 2008 and 2009 in Rochester before hanging up the cleats.
In 2010, he began his new career as a Twins hitting coach. And as was the case as a player, Watkins now has a goal of someday getting back to the major leagues as a coach, maybe even a manager.
For now, he’s enjoying his role in the organization and working hard with his 2017 Cedar Rapids Kernels.
“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of new things. Just trying to get used to being in the role. It’s been a lot of fun though.”
Throughout the course of this season, the Cedar Rapids Kernels will have a camera crew following them at times. They are creating a documentary of their season. At least each month, there will be a new installment and some shorter videos as well. It should be a fun series to follow (so follow the Kernels on twitter to be updated).
Here is the most recent installment. The crew mic'd up Tommy Watkins for a game against Lake County to find out what the manager talked about throughout the game. This is fun.