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Frosty Microbrews: Roving Instructors Provide Experience, Insight

May 24, 2016

By this point in the year, many Timber Rattlers fans have had an opportunity to get to know the players and coaches who are listed on the active roster and who they've seen at every home game during the 2016 season. From time to time, however, fans may notice an unfamiliar face or two: During nearly every homestand one or more additional coaches are in the dugout in Brewers uniforms or other apparel that stands out from the crowd.

Usually, that extra coach is one of the Brewers' seven roving instructors/minor league coordinators: Field Coordinator and Catching Instructor Charlie Greene, Pitching Coordinator Rick Tomlin, Assistant Pitching Coordinator Mark Dewey, Hitting Coordinator Jeremy Reed, Infield Coordinator Bob Miscik, Athletic Training Coordinator Frank Neville and Special Field Instructor Mike Guerrero. They spend the season traveling between the organization's minor league affiliates to observe and assist in player development.

"When they're here it's mostly evaluate, number 1, and 2, to make sure that if something is off kilter a little bit or somebody needs a little more specific attention, it's a good time for them to go off with the rovers," Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson said. "And then, obviously, we all communicate with what we're doing and what we're trying to get across to the individual player. It's always good when they come, and hopefully you're playing well while they're here so they have something good to report back."

In the months leading up to the regular season, Brewers Farm Director Tom Flanagan said the roving instructors play a big role in player evaluation and laying the groundwork for each player's focus and workload for the season ahead.

"They're very instrumental in terms of setting up the player plans that we have for every one of our players, and when they go into an affiliate they'll report back with kind of a recap on their visit," Flanagan said. "They'll give you a thumbnail description of what they worked on, how the player appears to them since they've seen them last, and then, if there's need, there's opportunity for them to tweak that player plan and say, 'hey, this guy's mastering this, he needs to move on to this level or area of expertise, or move on to this next challenge.' They're very big in the players' development, and they work hand-in-glove with the staff already with that affiliate."

Several roving instructors have already visited the Timber Rattlers this season, including Pitching Coordinator Rick Tomlin. Tomlin has been in the Brewers' organization since 2012 and brings a wealth of experience, having worked for over 35 years at the amateur and professional levels with the University of Alabama, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals and New York Mets. The Yankees won four World Series while he was with that organization from 1996-2004, and he still wears a championship ring from that time.

Tomlin flew in to join the Timber Rattlers on May 17, coming straight to Wisconsin after a visit with the Brevard County Manatees during their recent road trip to Dunedin. He described his work on this trip as "all about watching."

"Most of the time when I come into town I'm here to help Gary (Timber Rattlers pitching coach Gary Lucas)," Tomlin said. "Anything I can do to help him, but mostly to reinforce the organizational policies, philosophy, make sure guys are doing what they're supposed to be doing and make sure Gary's doing what he's supposed to be doing. Most of the time I come in and interact with the staff, work with the guys for five days. I come in for five days so I can see every starting pitcher, and that's it. Just help out."

In addition to helping out on the field, Erickson said the roving instructors serve as the link to the other affiliates.

"There's always discussion in some of the downtime, in between batting practice and before games and after games. We're all sitting in the office and there's a lot of baseball chatter in general, but more specifically about the organization," Erickson said. "And I know, just from the conversations I've heard in my room, there's guys that you're interested in, that you've had down the road and 'how're they doing in Brevard, or Biloxi, or Colorado Springs? Who's close? If there's a need somewhere, who do you think we're going to fill in with?' So there's a lot of those conversations."

While a roving instructor's travel and work schedule wouldn't appeal to everyone, Tomlin said there are a lot of good things about his job.

"I'm in constant contact with all of the pitching coaches, and I get to see all the pitchers in the organization all the time throughout the year," Tomlin said. "I get to interact with the major league staff for their needs, I get to sneak home for a couple of days in between trips. Those are good things."

Since part of the job is being able to work with players at all levels of professional baseball, Flanagan stressed the importance of a roving instructor's ability to connect with players from a variety of backgrounds and personalities.

"A lot of it, probably first and foremost, they have to be great teachers. I think the best guys can relate to all different backgrounds, all different players," Flanagan said. "Often times when they come to town, it may be a certain player's red hot, but they still have to get their work in and work on whatever it is that brings them to town on that trip. Conversely, when a player's struggling they've got to know how to approach, and everybody takes constructive criticism differently. So I think they have to have a little bit of a psychologist to it, in terms of not only going A, B, C down the checklist of pounding out their drills and work, but they also want to reach the player so they know why it's important to them and why it's essential that they improve in these areas so they can continue to advance."

Of course, their schedule and the relatively brief nature of their time with the team also makes it important for a roving instructor to leave behind clear directions to allow the coaches and players to continue their work in their absence.

"Since there's a limited time that they'll be with the team, they've got to make sure the staff person with that club, and they communicate very regularly with the staff from each place, but while they're in there they have to make sure that when they leave town they leave clear direction if there's anything they need to specifically continue to do with this player," Flanagan said.

Erickson said he values the rovers' opinion, and when they come in he asks them if there's anything they'd like to see, or things they see and don't like.

"Obviously, when they're truly honest with their answers we can get a little bit better. But it's good to have them come in and get another set of eyes on the players. We're all trying to do the same thing: we're all trying to help the players get the most from their abilities and get to the big leagues," Erickson said.