On Wednesday, April 2nd the Bowie Baysox held their annual Media Day to kick off the 2014 season. Our very own Paul Taylor traveled to Bowie and caught up with a few former Ironbirds.
By Paul Taylor
While the Aberdeen IronBirds don’t take the field in the New York-Penn League until June, the other Orioles’ full season minor league teams have their Opening Days this week. Paul Taylor traveled to Bowie and caught up with a couple former IronBirds, including Manager Gary Kendall and Pitchers Ashur Tolliver and Tyler Wilson.
Gary Kendall was a coach in 2002 and 2003 for the IronBirds and returned to manage the club form 2008-2010. He was 100-123 (.448) as a manager in Aberdeen, but still has many friends in the Aberdeen area, including the staff, ushers, and front office.
Paul Taylor: Gary, what do you remember most about your time in Aberdeen?
Gary Kendall: The fans were just wonderful. You’re almost selling out every night. You get friends up there that last a lifetime. I miss the ushers and the front office staff and you just grow close to a lot of people up there. I was there two years as a coach and three years as manager and I really enjoyed it. It’s a first class operation. The facilities are second to none, especially at that level. There are just really fond memories. I was really, really happy that they got in the playoffs last year. It was a long time coming. They kept that team intact, which was nice to see. They had a good season.
PT: How have you grown as a manager since your time in Aberdeen?
GK: You grow every day. You come out here and you pick something up new and also pick something up from managing against guys in this league. This league [Eastern League] is a little faster league. When things happen, you have to react a little quicker. It’s a little different in Double A than Short-Season.
PT: Now that you’ve managed at Double A, if given the chance to speak to players in Aberdeen, what advice would you give to them?
GK: I tell guys here, ‘It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.’ a lot of times, guys get caught up in having to repeat a level. If you have a uniform on your back, you have a chance. Sometimes a light bulb comes on and a guy becomes a prospect over night. We’ve seen that with some guys in our system, so just to keep going out there and playing and try to learn each day. Try to put a plan together in Aberdeen on things that you need to accomplish, a part of your game that is a weakness, and try to get better at that specific skill, to try to make yourself a more rounded player. That’s the main thing: target those weaknesses.
PT: You coached with former IronBirds Pitching Coach Alan Mills in the Arizona Fall League. What was it like working with Mills?
GK: I’ve known Alan for about 20 years when he was a pitcher with the Orioles. I was excited when given the opportunity to be with him, because we’ve always gotten along. He’s got a really nice personality. He’s great for the game of baseball. Not only just his demeanor on the mound and the experiences he brings to the table, but he’s just a great guy off the field. I was better because I was able to be around Alan all fall.
Ashur Tolliver played for the IronBirds in 2009 and 2010. He pitched in 23 games, with a 1-1 record and a 4.79 ERA. In 47.0 innings pitched, he allowed 46 hits and 26 runs, while striking out 29.
Paul Taylor: What do you remember most about your time at Ripken Stadium?
Ashur Tolliver: I remember the great crowds and the beautiful stadium. It was an awesome place to get started in the organization.
PT: In three seasons of minor league ball, what have you learned most?
AT: You have to go out and grind it out every day. You’re not always going to feel that great, but you have to give it your best effort and leave it all on the field.
PT: How is your health?
AT: I feel great. I’m really excited about this season.
PT: What was your reaction when you found out your were breaking camp with Bowie?
AT: I was very excited. I just want to keep working hard trying to get back healthy and just keep moving up. You get excited whenever you move up to the next level.
Tyler Wilson pitched in Aberdeen in 2011. He went 0-0, with a 2.10 ERA. In 20.0 innings, he allowed 19 hits, seven runs, and struck out 24. He and his fiance, Chelsea, just bought a home in Charlottesville, VA and have a November wedding planned.
Paul Taylor: What are some of your favorite Aberdeen memories?
Tyler Wilson: I’ll never forget the atmosphere. Aberdeen was my first experience with pro ball, as it is for 90% of the guys [in the Orioles’ system], it’s exhilarating to get out there in front of thousands of fans in a beautiful stadium, and really get your first experience to play for the Orioles, to play with guys from across the country, and really start your trip to the big leagues.
PT: What have you learned in your first three years in professional ball:
TW: I’ve learned a lot. That’s the whole point of the minor leagues, each and every year to develope some facet of your skill set, to get better in one regard or another. That’s what I’ve taken in these first three years, be it Aberdeen, Delmarva, Bowie, Frederick. Each and every place, I’ve dedicated one specific thing to improve upon. Its led me to where I am now and that’s the goal moving forward is to get better each and every day. Ultimately in the big leagues, that’s still your plan, to get better each and every day.
PT: You’re back in Bowie for a second stint. Is there a familiarity there for you?
TW: Absolutely. Gary’s back, [Hitting Coach] Butch Davis is back, and [Pitching Coach] Blaine Beatty is back. Blaine was actually my pitching coach in Frederick two years ago when I spent my time there, so it’s really nice to see some familiar faces and guys that you’re accustomed to and know your style of play and know what to expect from you each and every day.
PT: What is Gary like as a manager:
TW: Gary is awesome as a manager. Definitely a players guy. He understands the balance of having a good relationship with his players, but also knowing when to push and get guys to go out there and compete and win. As a manager, the most important thing is to have somebody who you want to go out and play for and he’s a guy who players want to go out there and give 100% for.
PT: How was Spring Training in Sarasota this year?
TW: Sarasota was beautiful. Weather was better than up here. With the tough winter up north, it was nice to go down and get some sunshine. I honestly didn’t have a chance to throw outside up here during the offseason. I spent a lot of time indoors and at an indoor facility, so to get out and get loose was awesome.