Results tagged ‘ Tom House ’
On my recent journey to the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Regensberg, Germany, I was fortunate to speak with 37-year-old MLB European academies consultant and 2014 Team France bench coach Andy Berglund. His energy and passion for the game was apparent on and off the field. Serving as France manager Eric Gagne’s right-hand man, Berglund proved to be worth his weight in gold as the French advanced with Italy and Germany to the second round of competition in Brno, Czech Republic.Roberto: Let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in Valley City, North Dakota and attended the University of Minnesota, where you graduated magna cum laude in Public Relations in 2001. You played literally every single position, correct?
Andy Berglund: I played outfield and pitched when I was in high school and in college I was a utility player in the leagues I played in. I had two shoulder surgeries during my college years that knocked me out of competition. When I was healthy again I played that utility role over in Europe and Australia. I did catch some games in Europe, so I’ve played every position.
Roberto: Did that help you later as a coach knowing the roles and responsibilities of each position?
Andy Berglund: Absolutely. I think once you’ve played the position, you at least have a feel for what a player goes through. There are some many intangibles (receiving, blocking, throwing, calling a game, being a vocal captain of the infield) to being a solid catcher, for example, that to teach it at a higher level, I think you have to also experience it as well.
Roberto: You actually began coaching youth baseball while still very young, right? What attracted you to this profession?
Andy Berglund: I started coaching youth baseball when I was still around 15, during summers in North Dakota. My father was a high school wrestling, football and baseball coach, so I took after him and saw how much enjoyment he got out of coaching. I started focusing more on coaching as a profession when I realized injuries were going to keep me from reaching the level I wanted to on the field. I didn’t want to be away from the game, and coaching was the next logical step.
Roberto: Did you consider playing professionally in America before embarking on your first European adventure playing in Sweden for the Alby Stars and coaching the Eliteserien team in 2002? How were you recruited?
Andy Berglund: To be honest, I was planning on going to law school out of college. After I graduated, an opportunity came about to go to Europe for the summer, and I discovered baseball was developing there. I worked for MLB International that first summer and through meeting other European players, I landed a spot in Sweden. Those first two summers got my foot in the door to the playing and coaching opportunities I’ve had over the last 13 years now in Europe.
Roberto: Knowing European baseball was in its infancy, did you have the patience to grow the game?
Andy Berglund: To me, the game is still in a grass roots phase here, just trying to be mentioned with soccer and hockey, which dominate the European landscape. Your patience is definitely tested at times, but that’s the beauty of the challenge. I’ve met dozens and dozens of people in the same situation in Europe baseball development, who have had their own part in growing this beautiful game on European soil.
Roberto: Was it difficult to play in adverse weather conditions in North Dakota and later in Scandinavia? Please describe the worst care scenario you ever played in.
Andy Berglund: The cold conditions you deal with are part of growing up in the north for sure. I’ve played in games where snow was coming down, actually coached in games in April in Prague where it was snowing and have been “snowed-out” in games up in Sweden. Coaching the Czechs in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in 2012 was brisk. There were parkas everywhere in the stands.
Roberto: You played baseball internationally in England, and Western Australia as well, correct? Exactly where? How did that help your mission?
Andy Berglund: I played for the Melville Braves in Western Australia. They actually won the WA State League title this past year, so I’m very happy for the club. It was a long time coming. The experience in Australia was very helpful in me seeing how aggressive they played the game. The Aussie’s are just flat out tough characters on the field. I truly respected that about them. Part of the mission here in Europe is to make the players tougher and more game-tested, and the experience in Australia was a good reference point. I loved how they played. The game has developed a lot in Australia the past 10 years as well with the ABL coming back and more and more players in the U.S.
Roberto: When did you become a Major League Baseball International coach?
Andy Berglund: Working with the MLB Roadshow from 2001-2004 in the UK and Germany. I started as an MLB Envoy in 2009 in Germany and 2010-2011 in the Czech Republic.
Roberto: Your coaching stints for MLB included time in England, Sweden and three years in Germany, correct?
Andy Berglund: Yes, and that’s expanded into the role I have now, which is an MLB Academies Consultant. There are nearly 20 different Academies in 11 different European countries now that MLB supports with coaching, equipment and player development.
Roberto: As the Ambassador for MLB and its development in the UK and Germany, you introduced baseball to over 20,000 children for their first time. Describe that experience. How were you recruited for this position?
Andy Berglund: As part of the MLB Roadshow, we would spend weeks on the road and each week visit new schools in bigger German and UK cities to introduce the game of baseball. The goal of the program was to introduce the sport and get kids excited about playing and joining local clubs and participating in MLB’s Pitch, Hit & Run program as well. I was recruited through a friend named Ian Young and in turn met Jason Holowaty, who I now work directly with on game development in Europe and Africa. Roberto: You returned to the states to earn your Masters in Communications from North Dakota State University in 2006. How did you balance your love for the game in Europe while missing family back home?
Andy Berglund: The toughest part of working in Europe is being away from family and I try to get back as often as I can. My oldest brother has three young sons, and it’s challenging being away and missing the finer parts of watching them grow up. Still, we find ways to see each other every year and make the most of it.
Roberto: Considering you returned to Northern Europe as a player and coach for the Stockholm Baseball Club in 2008, you must have loved it there. In fact, you led the team to its first ever Swedish Championship. Did that validate your belief that you could instill success into the mindset of other players?
Andy Berglund: Sweden is a beautiful country. That season, I specifically wanted to come back over to coach, play and win a title with Bjorn and Peter Johannessen, who had became friends over the years. I was really welcomed there by the Claesson family, who oversee the club. The dedicated people in the club made it a goal to really put together an action plan to develop the youth programs and build the best club in Sweden. Stockholm has won 5 of the last 7 Swedish championships since then and have a solid youth program with new facilities being built.
Roberto: You later became a member of the Swedish Senior National Team in 2009. At that point, did you know coaching in Europe was your destiny?
Andy Berglund: Not fully, but I knew that there would always be an attraction to coaching baseball in Europe not matter where I was in the world.
Roberto: However, it appeared that the West Coast was tugging at your uniform as you spent time in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and Carlsbad. What attracted you to Southern California?
Andy Berglund: I wanted to experience baseball year-round and found a great opportunity to coach at a high school in Newport Beach. It was my first real head coaching position, and I really enjoyed learning what it takes to try and build a championship program.
Roberto: You began as the head coach for Sage Hill High School in Newport Beach in 2008 after the baseball team had endured its third consecutive losing season. You turned things around there after developing a thorough communication program involving the student-athletes and their parents. You were selected as 2008 Academy League High School Coach of the Year. While at Sage, you put together a 51-18 overall record which included two league titles and one second place finish. During this time you were influenced by the likes of Mark McGwire, Wally Joyner, Bruce Hurst, and Lee Smith. You also studied the modern science of pitching with Tom House and Ron Wolforth. Care to comment on your experience coaching in Orange County and working with these former pros?
Andy Berglund: I had seen videos on Ron Wolforth’s Athletic Pitching program and read books on Tom House’s pitching philosophy as a way to learn more as a coach, on arm action and pitching. We were fortunate enough to have Tom House come visit Sage Hill for a practice and he worked brilliantly with our pitchers. I met Ron Wolforth this past year at a conference in Paris. I thanked him for showing me a new way to train and protect young pitchers arms. I met Mark McGwire while doing ProKids Academy camps with his sons back in Southern California and picked up some great hitting tips from him. Joyner, Hurst and Smith, I met later on at our European Elite Academy in Italy. They are all wonderful teachers. You’d have to pinch yourself sometimes, being such a fan of these guys growing up, and then having conversations with them. The past few years the Elite Camp has featured Barry Larkin, Steve Finley, Greg Swindell, Tom Gordon, John McLaren, Art Howe and Dale Murphy, to name a few. It’s an amazing experience to pick these guys’ brains on the game.
Roberto: You left it all behind to become the head coach for the Eagles Praha of the Czech Pro League. In addition, you served as head coach for the Czech Senior and Junior National Teams in 2011 and 2012–leading to the highest finishes in the country’s history (Silver Medal). Did that give you confidence that you could impact a developing nation’s appetite for the game?
Andy Berglund: My time on the field in the Czech Republic was very rewarding. We took the same approach with trying to build on what was already there and fine-tune it into something special. I think you said it correctly, because the appetite for baseball in the Czech is definitely growing and they are really having some success. It’s great to see their young teams go to the Little League World Series, the World Championships and have the success they are having. It proves a small baseball country can achieve big things.
Roberto: How did it feel being nominated as the EBCA Coach of the Year in 2011 and speaking at the Coaches Convention?
Andy Berglund: I was very fortunate to be considered and very happy for Brian Farley when he won. I thought the Dutch’s 2011 World Championship really helped put European baseball on the map in ways it had never been before. Now the Dutch and Italians are beating traditional baseball powerhouses in the World Baseball Classic and it is great for the exposure and development of the game overseas.
Roberto: Did you start up the Czech MLB Baseball Academy?
Andy Berglund: No, Martin Smidt started the Prague Academy and David Winkler started the Brno Baseball Academy. I help with their development on behalf of MLB. The Brno Academy has really developed into a solid program and a lot of those players are representing the Czech U15, U18 and U21 teams that are winning medals at the European Championships.
Roberto: Did you enjoy serving as the bench coach for Team France in the 2014 European Baseball Championship?
Andy Berglund: Yes. A lot of work was put into getting France back on the right track by the federation, so it was good to be a part of.
Roberto: You have been a strong advocate for baseball in both France and Czech Republic. Both teams made strong showing in the Euros and their numbers have jumped up considerably in the International Baseball Rankings. Do you think that your coaching has catapulted these countries into becoming up-and-coming powerhouses?
Andy Berglund: I would say the success in France and the Czech Republic has been result of the good people in the federation that are willing to push the envelope for development working well with the best coaches in the country. It takes getting into a room, getting to the bottom line, discussing the resources you have, putting together a blueprint and attacking the goal you all want to achieve. Throw away the politics. Get down to business. For me, wherever I have coached, my goal was never to finish anywhere but the top. Once the players embrace that vision, you truly have something powerful and dangerous anytime you step on the field.
Roberto: Do you believe MLB will embrace European baseball as they have in other parts of the world and invest there beyond the MLB academies?
Andy Berglund: I do. I know they are looking into having an opening MLB series being played in Europe, much like they did in Australia this past year. I know it is an intriguing market for MLB, especially with the success the NFL has had hosting games in London and the NHL has had hosting games in Europe.
Roberto: What is your personal opinion on the future of baseball in Europe?
Andy Berglund: It’s going to continue to grow. You are going to continue to see more players signed out of Europe and Africa. Hopefully soon, you’ll see more of them playing in the Big Leagues. The process is just going to take time. The level of play here has definitely increased; the domestic leagues have become stronger, as have the national teams. There are some more established countries here in Europe that have strong ambitions to take the game to another level, numbers wise, exposure wise and game development wise. They will be leading the charge to see where the game is over the next 5-10 years.
Roberto: It’s nice to know MLB veterans like France manager Eric Gagne and Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza are on board?
Andy Berglund: Definitely. They bring even more exposure to the sport and raise the interest that much higher. You are talking about two huge names in baseball that only stopped playing in the MLB less than 10 years ago. To have them involved is huge for marketing the sport and also raising the interest back in the U.S. on how and why these guys are getting involved.
Roberto: Any final thoughts to share?
Andy Berglund: The last thing I’ll mention is something I’ve learned from Barry Larkin. His advice to the game is: “Get Better Every Day. Today, be better than you were yesterday. And tomorrow, be better than you were today.” I think that’s the best way to look at what we are all trying to accomplish in baseball, as players, coaches and in development, to keep you humble and to keep you motivated.
Since starting a baseball program from scratch over a decade ago when Southern California’s Capo Unified School District opened the doors of Tesoro High School in Las Flores, Varsity Baseball Manager Rick Brail has successfully prepared athletes with dreams and aspirations of playing professionally in Major League Baseball. When 2005 Tesoro graduate Erik Hamren made his MLB debut for the San Diego Padres in 2011, Coach Brail was so proud of his protégé that the school retired Hamren’s jersey #25 at a ceremony during half-time of a Tesoro basketball game in January.
Former San Clemente High School baseball star and veteran Tesoro Manager Rick Brail said, “Erik was in the first four-year class at Tesoro High School. He and his family have not only been a part of a baseball program from day one but also a big part of the school’s establishment. Retiring his jersey was a great thing to do because he has and always will be a part of our Tesoro family. It also felt great to recognize a player who was one of hardest workers and always put the team and school before himself. Our school, the community, and baseball program could not be more proud of Erik’s accomplishments on the field and the man he has become out in society.” Having earned three letters in both varsity baseball and football, Hamren perfected his game with every year of experience. He tipped off his athleticism and talent early on in his Tesoro Titan baseball career when he was named to the 2003 North Orange Country Classic All-Tournament Team. The Coto de Caza native followed it up in 2004 with a roster spot on the Southern Cal Cup II – Orange County All-Stars. Hamren finished the 2005 season with three home runs and a .452 batting average, which earned him the Pacific Coast League Co-MVP with Tesoro teammate Nick Nelson. Erik Hamren was a rising star and was heavily recruited to play college ball. He decided to stay in California and attend University of the Pacific.
Coach Brail added, “Erik always had a ton of talent on the baseball field, but it wasn’t until his senior year that he finally put it all together. He fully committed himself to baseball, (his studies) in the classroom, and physical fitness. After that the game came easy for him, and he was named MVP of our league his senior year as an outfielder and part-time pitcher. His transition to a full-time pitcher happened in college like many players. He was struggling at the plate and decided to convert to a full-time pitcher. It was seamless because he could throw 90 mph plus. It was just a matter of gaining confidence and experience.” After only nine at-bats at Pacific in his first year, Hamren returned home to pitch for Saddleback College and lend a helping hand to Coach Brail’s elite Tesoro Titans baseball team.A converted pitcher who had been picked up in the 37th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Chicago Cubs after the team liked what it saw during a tryout, Hamren didn’t sign his first professional contract until after making 15 pitching appearances in the Northwoods League for the Mankato MoonDogs during the summer of 2008. With one win, six saves and a
2.04 ERA in 17 2/3 innings of work under his belt, he then opted to sign with the Cubs. Hamren made three stops in the Chicago Cubs farm system in 2008 and 2009. Hamren had less than two full seasons of pitching experience when he was released by the Cubbies after the 2009 season with Single-A Midwest League Peoria, where he had a 5.98 ERA in 38 games. Determined not to give up on his dream of making it in the Bigs, Erik chose to play in the Independent League to develop his craft in 2010. He pitched in the Indy Northern League in 2010 and put together an 0-2 record with a 3.39 ERA in 44 games playing for the Kansas City T-Bones and Joliet JackHammers. Joliet acquired Hamren in late August for the stretch run in a trade with the Kansas City T-Bones. The right-hander was dominant in seven games for the 2010 JackHammers by posting a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings of work, striking out 16 and holding opponents to a .262 batting average. Hamren appeared to have finally felt comfortable pitching and was ready for redemption.
Major League veteran pitcher Tom House was critical in Erik’s transformation and revamping his approach prior to pitching at a MLB tryout camp in November 2010. After seeing the renaissance man in action, the San Diego Padres signed Erik to a minor league contract. Hamren believes it was a full season of independent baseball and working with former Major Leaguer Tom House that helped him reach MLB. Erik said, “Indy ball was the best thing that could have happened to me. It put things in perspective. You have it, and then you lose it. But I got innings, and I got to work. It’s kind of hard to grasp what has happened.” Hamren admitted that he struggled with his command during the first half of the 2010 season, but a ‘House call’ visit with the pro at the All-Star break made all the difference. “House synched me up,” Hamren said. “He kept me really focused and made me really confident. The first half of the season, there were still command issues. Strikes would come and go. But I worked with him and got a little confidence off that.”Coach Brail commented, “Erik was blessed with a ton of baseball ability. He had all five of the major baseball tools. It was just a matter of maturity and trusting himself on the field. Once he learned to relax and focus on the things he had control over, the game got easier for him. I’m a Erik Hamren believer and fan. He has overcome adversity his whole career and with his tremendous work ethic. I know nobody will out work him, and he is only going to get better.” Coach Brail knows that it will be an uphill battle for Hamren to return back to the Big Leagues from his current post at San Diego Padres Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions. It’s the same place where he was when he received a Big League call-up at 1:30 in the morning on July 31, 2011 after the Padres traded relief pitcher Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers. Hamren made his splash into Major League Baseball at PETCO Park the next day on August 1st against Southern California National League West rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
The six-foot-one, 195-pound righty pitched a scoreless
ninth inning in San Diego’s 6-2 loss but also ended his
MLB debut memorably by striking out Dodger speedster
Dee Gordon. The Orange County homegrown hero deserved the opportunity after being named 2011 Texas League
Mid-Season All-Star and compiling a stellar 5-0 record with
a 0.98 ERA in 48 games with the Lake Elsinore Storm and San Antonio Missions. During his shortened 2011 minor league campaign in 65 2/3 innings of work, Hamren was relentless. He surrendered a mere 46 hits, while walking
14 and striking out 69. The 25-year-old posted a 4.38 ERA
in 12 1/3 MLB innings last season with the Padres pitching middle relief. “He’s a great story,” said Jason McLeod, the Padres’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He
has a low-90s boring fastball with a swing-and-miss slider.”
Hamren had high hopes that a successful run at 2012 Padres Spring Training would warrant a slot in the San Diego opening day bullpen. Unfortunately, he was designated for assignment on April 5th by the Padres.
To the delight of Southern California Friar faithful in keeping Hamren a Padre, Hamren cleared waivers and was assigned to Double-A San Antonio. So far in his 13 innings pitched out of the Mission bullpen (0-1, 2.08 ERA with one save and four holds), Erik has surrendered only 6 hits while striking out 19 and holding opponents to a .154 batting average. With continued success in the minor leagues, it is just a matter of time for the South Orange County pitcher to return to PETCO Park.
Hamren’s journey to Major League Baseball was relatively short, especially considering that he
was pitching in the Independent League in 2010. He possesses what it takes to become a solid contributer to the Padres bullpen and is itching to remain a staple on the San Diego roster. Should the Padres use closer Huston Street as a half-season rental AKA trade bait before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, then Hamren will be right on schedule for his annual pilgrimage to PETCO. However, one would expect that at the very latest Erik will rejoin the Padres when active rosters increase from 25 to 40 on September 1st. In the meantime, the trek from Mission San Juan Capistrano to the San Antonio Missions will have to suffice. Just as the swallows return every year to this legendary South Orange County landmark, fireman Erik Hamren will faithfully make his miraculous comeback to MLB in San Diego.