The Interrogation Room: Dusty Rhodes

By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | February 16, 2011 6:34 AM ET

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The newest member of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers coaching staff is Dusty Rhodes.  He takes over as the hitting coach of the Midwest League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.  One of his first acts with the Rattlers is to step into The Interrogation Room.  He answers questions about college, players, Kyle Heckathorn, and which Dusty Rhodes is a relation of his.

The Interrogation Room: Would you tell our fans a little bit about how you built a baseball program at the University of North Florida from NAIA all the way up to NCAA Division I?

Dusty Rhodes: I had already been a head coach in Junior college for 7 years and been an assistant at the University of Florida for 4 years, and also had worked in the minor leagues for the New York Yankees.  I had an idea of what kind of program I wanted to build. When I got the opportunity to build a baseball program at UNF, including building everything from the field, stadium, dugouts, batting cages, and I knew I had to have help from the community and the university itself in order to accomplish all of that.

We were lucky, we had a great booster organization and the City of Jacksonville was tremendous.  Within a year we had built a stadium that seated over 1,000, a beautiful field, batting cages, locker room facilities, and were ready to bring in the first team.

That was probably the tough part, because we had to bring in players that could see the vision of us becoming a college baseball program. Over the next couple of years, we had good programs. We competed in two NAIA National Championships, finishing third each time and made the move to Division II. We continued to have success, eventually going to three National Championship contests in Division II. Over the years I had opportunities to go to other places, but every day I would see the field and the teams and realize I had the opportunity to create this, which many coaches do not have. It was always a goal of mine to take this program to Division I and compete at the highest level.  That happened when we got a new President, John Delaney, who had the vision to move a state university in Florida into Division I.

To accomplish this transition over the years, it took a lot of time, effort and cooperation from everyone involved - the university, players and the city. The fact that I had the opportunity to do that kept me at the university for 23 years.

TIR: What was the biggest highlight of your time at UNF?

DR: The first time our team was ranked Number 1 in the country by the coaches' poll.  I realized that our university had gained the notoriety through baseball. Not only our players but also our university benefited from it.

TIR: What went into your decision to stop coaching at the college level?

DR: I had accomplished my goal of taking our program from NAIA to Division I. NCAA rules were getting tougher each year and the restriction of practice times  and game limitations I felt was hurting the game of college baseball.  Players need to have the option to work at what they love to do without restrictions. Decisions were being made at the NCAA level by people that never played the game.  

TIR: How long did it take before you accepted the job with the Brewers?

DR: It was an easy decision, having worked for the organization before and knowing the people I know with the Brewers. Seeing the success they have had at developing players over the past couple years and advancing them to the big leagues was a major consideration. Reid Nichols and this development group have done an outstanding job. Tony Diggs played for me in college and his first year in professional baseball.  I have known Charlie Greene since he was a player and I felt like I wanted to be a part of what they were creating. 

TIR: This is not your first time in the Brewers organization or even the Midwest League.  Who were some of the players you worked with in your first time with the Milwaukee organization?

DR: Two names that come to mind are Jeff Cirillo and Mike Matheny. There were a lot of players that came through at that time that made it to the big leagues. Those two players had quite an impact on the Brewer organization.

Also currently Mike and Sandy Guerrero and Tony Diggs were players that I managed, and all are managers or coaches in the Brewers' minor league organization.

TIR: We spoke shortly after the start of 2011.  You mentioned that you really liked Cody Hawn.  We know that it is not a guarantee that Hawn will be a Timber Rattler to start the season, but could you let Brewers fans in on why you like him?

DR: I never  met him but I've watched his approach to the game and to me he is a big moment type player. He drove in runs when he had to. When pitchers made adjustments, so did he and kept right on hitting. He used the whole field to hit and like I said, he seemed like a money player. When runs were out there, he drove them in.

TIR: Would you share your theory of hitting and some of the instructional techniques that you use?

DR: To be a great hitter, you have to be consistent over a period of time. The most consistent hitters are guys that work hard, get good pitches to hit, and don't mis-hit their pitch.

The Brewers have set up a system for their young hitters to follow to prepare each day to be a better hitter. That includes cage work, on the field work, and learning to adjust.

TIR: Looking back at some old schedules on the UNF baseball site, we noticed that your Ospreys had some battles with former Timber Rattlers pitcher Kyle Heckathorn when he was with Kennesaw State.  What do you remember about Heck's games against you?

DR: I watched him get better every year we played them. He had a tremendous arm and some of the best games he pitched in college were against us. He was always a competitor. His last year at Kennesaw State there was no question he was one of the best pitchers in the nation.

TIR: Is there anyone else currently playing in the Milwaukee system that you remember from College.

DR: Not so much from college, but on the USA Team I coached in 2001 we had Ricky Weeks and Jeremy Reed on the team.  Also in the 2004 Olympics I managed the Greek National Team and we had George Kottaras as our catcher. In 1996 in the Atlanta Olympics I was working with former Brewer minor league manager Rob Derksen. We were coaching the Australian team and on the USA Team was Mark Kotsay and Randy Wolf and we got to see them play often. Also we played the University of Miami and Ryan Braun was there. I also saw a lot of current Brewers when they played in high school including Jonathan Lucroy, Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke.

TIR: You mentioned that you are related to another Dusty Rhodes, the baseball player for the New York/San Francisco Giants in the 1950's.  He hit a game winning home run in the 10th inning  of Game One of the 1954 World Series off Bob Lemon.   Willie Mays called him a fabulous hitter and Leo Durocher said, "boy, could he hit!"  Do you have any stories about him that you could share with the readers?

DR: My great-grandfather had a large family and we grew up in Alabama. I met him, but I never got to know him. That's the great thing about baseball, one swing of the bat can change your life. He was a great example of that.

TIR: What excites you the most about the upcoming baseball season?

DR: I'm really looking forward to coming to Appleton and working with Matt Erickson and Chris Hook. It's good to be able to go to work with guys that not only know the league but in Matt's case, it's his community. Also I think Appleton will be getting some of the players that won the league in Arizona and also the Pioneer league. Hopefully we can keep that tradition moving and give Appleton a chance to win the Midwest League.

Previous Interrogation Rooms:

Matt Erickson

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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