Monday, July 19, 2010

Catching Up With Tom Foley

Tom Foley, the third base coach for the Tampa Bay Rays since 2002, is one of the longest-tenured members of the organization. He came aboard in 1996 and served as a field coordinator for the first mini-camp in team history. His roots in Tampa go even deeper, however, having spent a season as a member of the Class-A Tampa Tarpons in 1979. A shortstop by trade, though adept throughout the infield, Foley played for the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos, and Pittsburgh Pirates during a 13-year career. Foley recently took some time to talk about his playing career and years spent as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Q. What are your reflections on that season with the Tampa Tarpons?

A. It was a great place to play. I think I went from Billings, Montana, to Shelby, North Carolina, and then to Tampa. I’m from Miami, so it felt like I was home. Everything about it was great. We had a good team, a great manager in Mike Compton, and it was enjoyable. We had a really good club, but I think that might have been the year a hurricane canceled the playoffs or something.

Q. Did you have anyone at that level you looked to as a mentor?

A. Well, we were all young. I don’t think there were too many repeats in that league. We all went up together as a group from one level to the next. But if anyone, I think it would be Mike Compton. He was instrumental in my career. I had him for two years. And the field coordinator at that time in the Reds organization was guy named Ron Plaza. He was a pretty tough cookie. I hated him for two weeks when I first got in the organization. Then I figured him out and realized that this guy can really help me. I just couldn’t let him beat me.

Jimmy Hoff, who was a field coordinator for Cincinnati and is now the minor league field coordinator here, was very influential in my career. Every one of those guys, in their own way, helped me in my career. They helped me as an infielder, showed me how to be a professional, how to act, how to approach each day, how to take a win, how to take a loss, all those things. It was the little things on the field, the little things off the field. Not the big things, because the higher you get the more you know the big things. It’s the little things that make a difference.

Q. You spent six years in the Reds organization before you were traded. At the time did you see the trade as a disappointment or a way to advance your career?

A. It was a shock, first of all. It was the day after the one-day strike in 1985. Pete Rose called me up and let me know that I’d been traded. So I went to Philadelphia and had the opportunity to play. I played about 85 games there before getting traded the next season to Montreal. I ended up spending seven seasons in Montreal, a good part of my career. When you’re traded, you’ve got to realize where you’re going is where they really want you. For one reason or another, it doesn’t have to be that they dislike you on the team that’s trading you, it’s just that they may have somebody else or have a need for something else. You don’t always want to look at it as a negative because you’re being traded. I didn’t, and it worked out great for me.

Q. What was it like playing in Montreal, at the time one of the most unique cities in all of baseball?

A. It’s just like I tell anyone else: it’s what you make of it. If you want to go up there and be miserable, it’s easy to be miserable. If you want to go up there, adapt, and learn their culture, it wasn’t that hard. I met some great people and made some good friends throughout the years. My family and I loved it. On top of that, we had a good group of players there. There weren’t too many guys who whined about it. We’d go to Plattsburgh, New York, to get things they didn’t sell in Montreal like Heinz ketchup, stuff like that. (laughs)

Q. When your playing career came to an end, what did you view as the next step?

A. I felt I wanted to stay in the game. In what capacity, I didn’t know. I retired near the end of July in 1995, and just ten days after that, Chuck LaMar called and told me who he was, who he worked for. I didn’t know Chuck and didn’t know who the Devil Rays were. A little over a month later, we met in Tampa and then I came aboard as a field coordinator. I did that for a couple of years and then became the director of minor league operations. But I really like the uniform. (laughs) That’s why at one point I was the director and a field coordinator, which allowed me to get back out there in a uniform. After the 2001 season, Hal McRae asked me if I would like to be his third base coach, and here I am.

Q. You’ve basically been involved with the Rays since Day One. Who are some of the prospects that have come through the system that stand out to you?

A. Well, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, Josh Hamilton. Pitcher-wise, you see a lot of them here on our club right now. Even the guys who were drafted way low like Travis Phelps – probably one of the lowest draft picks ever in the 89th round – have made it to the big leagues.

We drafted Dan Wheeler in the 34th round of the 1996 amateur draft. I remember when he got called up in 1999 and he became our third draft pick to reach the bigs. I was sitting up in the office sweating while he was down on the field pitching in the game. You just root for those kids ‘cause you live with them.

Our first draft pick ever, Paul Wilder, really didn’t pan out. We had Dewon Brazelton, who really didn’t pan out either. All of them have talent, but it’s pretty tough. I think 90% of all players that are drafted or signed don’t make it to the big leagues. You feel for them, you see what they go through every year. I’ve been through it and lived what they’re going through. It’s a tough deal. It’s not all roses out there when you’re in the minor leagues.

Q. You’ve been the third base coach now for nine seasons. Do you have aspirations to manage or do anything else in the game?

A. It’s my job. I love it out there. I’m involved in the game every day. I’d rather be there than anywhere else on a coaching staff. If something else were to come along, great, but if not I’m fine with where I am.

Q. You’re one of the few people left who were here through all the bad times. Did you ever see this organization coming together like it has the last three seasons?

A. Let’s put it this way. I knew we were getting better and I knew we had talent. I don’t think anybody might have envisioned it happening quite like it did in 2008, but finally at some point you realize that you can compete with anybody. That’s what happened that year and what has happened really over the last three years.

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