John Schneider played six seasons as a catcher in the Blue Jays system before retiring in 2007. He returned to the game the following season as the hitting coach for the GCL Blue Jays. Quickly promoted to manager, he has spent the last nine seasons managing Blue Jays minor league teams, amassing 349 wins and two titles (2011 Vancouver, 2017 Dunedin). Following a championship season in Dunedin, he was recently promoted to manage at AA-New Hampshire in 2018.
Strike 1: Dunedin won their first league championship in franchise history with you at the helm last year. What made that group of players a championship team?
Man, it was a cool group. It was a really fluid roster with a lot of guys coming in and coming out. I think having a core group of guys like Cavan Biggio, Connor Panas, Jordan Romano, Max Pentecost, those guys led the way for the whole year. Then getting Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and a couple bullpen guys really helped down the stretch. We tried, we meaning me, [pitching coach Mark Riggins] Riggy, [hitting coach] Corey [Hart], and [Coach Michel] Abreu, to keep the atmosphere the same. Starting like we did with guys like Danny Jansen, Derrick Loveless, and Matt Dean who have been around a little bit really set the tone. We tried to just keep that tone as much as we could throughout the season, even through a nine-game losing streak. We had good character guys that worked hard and we played well down the stretch.
Talking about that nine-game losing streak…was the key taking away their ping pong table?
Oh man, I don't know. Probably not. Whenever you go through stretches like that, it's not like the guys aren't trying, it's just not working out in our favor. As a manager, you just try to change things up. A couple years ago, I took the couches out of the clubhouse in Lansing. You try to just change up the routine and see if that helps.
Strike 2: Since that exciting championship win, what have you been up to this off-season?
On the field, I've been in town for a couple weeks, easing back into it. Pretty low-key, which is nice. We started in early January. Off the field, I've been chasing my kid around. Traveled a bit, Miami with the in-laws for Christmas and New Jersey with my family for Thanksgiving. And we moved, we moved kind of down the road. Nothing crazy, but chasing a one-year-old will keep you busy.
Strike 3: You're heading to AA-New Hampshire to manage this upcoming year. What excites you most about the promotion?
It's fun because it's one step closer in my career. The game will be a little bit faster. I'll get to use everything that I've learned over the course of my career. Last year, having Riggy here with his experience was great for me personally with bullpen usage. Just trying to continue to develop, me personally trying to get better, finding ways to be creative and get guys better which is the goal. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been in that league in over ten years as a player. I've got family up there that will be able to come see me more than they have in the past. It'll be exciting. Whenever you get out of Single A, it's a little bit more realistic and closer to the ultimate goal.
You played here in Dunedin. You managed here in Dunedin. You'll continue to come back each Spring Training. What do you like most about this town?
I always tie Dunedin to baseball. My first experience here was coming down as a player. When you think of Dunedin, you think of baseball. I love downtown for restaurants, but whenever I think of this city, I think of Spring Training with the Jays. It's a cool, quiet, comfortable place. It feels like home now because I've been lucky enough to be here for quite a while.
We'll have a lot of tourists in town in just a few weeks for Spring Training. What should Blue Jays fans be sure they do while visiting Dunedin?
I would say go to Clearwater Beach and go to Frenchy's and eat there. I would definitely say catch a Blue Jays Spring Training game here at the stadium. Clear Sky Draught Haus, that's a great spot. There, or if you're looking for good Mexican, go to Casa Tina right downtown.
Who are you taking in the big game this weekend?
I'm a Giants fan, which I'm almost embarrassed to say on the record this year. Part of me is saying Eagles, because they're close to where I'm from. But, when you're looking at Tom Brady, whenever you get to witness probably the greatest to ever play at a position, you pull for him and respect what he's done. I'll say I'm taking the Patriots, quietly.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.