An interview with Clint Hurdle
Rockies manager prepares team for first World Series
Jeff Francis was saying that when he had a chance to pitch in June when he first got to Fenway he was so absorbed by the history and the awe of the park, but he pitched a good game that day. What do you remember about how he pitched in a park that can be very unfriendly to pitchers when they're here for the first time?CLINT HURDLE: Well, he was able to stay within his skill sets and stayed with his strategies. Both sides of the plate, keeping it down, elevate when he wanted to, throwing some secondary pitches on offensive counts. He's got a pretty slow heartbeat. Is that really the key to him, is just the fact that he has the poise that the other things don't CLINT HURDLE: That's one of the keys, but he's good. He's a good pitcher. He can make pitches. And he reads swings well, and he's just the kind of guy that he shows up every day. I don't think he does anything that jumps out at you, but over the course of time, he impresses you. What have you noticed over the course of the playoffs about the pace of these games? Are guys intentionally -- do they try to slow things down because things can get wrapped up a little bit in the postseason? CLINT HURDLE: Well, our club has limited playoff experience, so the month of September was very valuable to us. We played under a high degree of intensity, and I think it proved to be beneficial that we found a way to just slow the game down at that particular point in time. Usually urgency isn't your friend. You need to be confident in your skills, you need to pay attention just to the game, and doing the things you need to do. Our club has been very good when it comes to showing, I think, poise, in some challenging situations with a lack of experience. As far as the other pace, you know, we have to wait a little bit for some in between inning commercials and things like that. That kind of slows you down every now and then. But that's easy to put up with at this point in the year. Once the game starts rolling and the emphasis goes to play ball and the pitches start going we keep it pretty simple. Are you at a point yet where you can discuss with us Cook's situation and your DH situation? CLINT HURDLE: I will not discuss the DH situation with you, but I will discuss Aaron Cook. He's going to make the fourth start. He'll start the fourth game. That was the only question you asked, right? Can you expand on that? I asked about the DH. CLINT HURDLE: I answered that one. Can you expand on your decision? CLINT HURDLE: I think we were able to handle it professionally and strategically. We all know the sentiments that go along with Aaron Cook and the value that he's brought to the organization and time spent and all those things that have added value. But the at the end of the day, number one, his health is no longer an issue for me. His pitches, he's showed what he's shown us in the past. He has valuable experience I think that will come into play. He's seen this team, he's faced the hitters. I just felt that it gave us the best opportunity to win Game Four. Jeff Francis as you know comes from a hockey country, but tomorrow the entire baseball world will be watching him. He mentioned the word poise a moment ago. Can you talk about his poise, his maturity, what he brings to the table that allows you to have confidence in him to be your Game 1 starter in the biggest moment for this franchise? CLINT HURDLE: Well, I think all you have to do is look at the track record. Three seasons in the Major Leagues, he's won, what, 45 -- how many games? 48? So he's won close to 50 games. He hasn't missed a start. He's taken some lumps. He's bounced back very well. He's learned the game at this level, he's made adjustments as he's gone along. Again, he's got poise, is one thing, but he's got guts out there, too, to go with his skills. And again, he just has great confidence in himself, the team has great confidence in him when they're playing behind him. Back to Aaron real fast.
Before the championship series you had to tell him that he wasn't going to make the 25 man roster and that wasn't easy because of the emotional tie. What was that conversation with him like to let him know that this is what he's worked for and come back for?CLINT HURDLE: It ended much better (laughter). You know, that was one of the upsides of this entire process. I'm new to this, also, and setting rosters in the postseason, it's been one of the most challenging facets of my job that I've run across in the time I've been a manager. I think the other day I described it as the only brutal aspect of my job that I've come across. The opportunity to tell him you're going to get the ball in Game Four was very special, and it was meaningful, but again, for all the right reasons. If it was about sentiments he would have pitched in the National League Championship series, and he understood that. We've been able to keep it in perspective as we moved forward what's best for the team. That is all objective No. 1, and our guys have embraced that. Whether the decision falls in their favor or doesn't fall in their favor. Now, that being said, we're going to set the roster, and Franklin Morales will move to the bullpen and I had informed Taylor Buchholz that he will not be pitching. That's what challenges a person because there's people tied to these things. I think that's one of the things that has made our club better, is because we do care. For every player there can be a wife, there can be children. There's more to it than just it's a roster for me. And I think that's helped make us different. It's helped us tighten things up internally, and not one man has handled this other than purely professionally, and that has made it an easier situation to deal with. In the spring there was a lot of speculation as to the possibility of Todd Helton being traded, particularly here to the Red Sox. Can you kind of take us through how close that came and also how important it turned out for your club that he wasn't traded? CLINT HURDLE: I can't take you through how close it came. That would be a question for ownership or a general manager, so I can't help you there. Things happen for a reason. I think Todd made it clear that in his career he would rather get things accomplished in Colorado, and the way it's worked out, I don't think you could ever find Todd Helton more engaging and more emotionally satisfied than going through what he's going through and having this opportunity in front of him right now. He has been the face of the organization in many different ways, not just on the field. The accomplishments on the field are very special, but the presence in the clubhouse, the way he embraced the younger players as they started to develop and come through, and then in turn the fact that they gave him something to hold on to which kept him motivated through the last couple seasons and he kept pushing forward. Guys like Todd Helton don't come around very often and we're very fortunate to have him still involved playing first base and hitting cleanup for us in the 2007 World Series. Why are bullpens more important this time of year from what you've seen in these seven games? CLINT HURDLE: Well, pitching as a whole is obviously tantamount as it always is, but the bullpens, as the game winds down, outs become bigger. It's like flipping over an hour glass. There's a lot of sand initially and then the sand starts running out and everybody has a heightened awareness and sense of urgency to get something done or keep something from happening. One swing of the bat late can change the course of a game dramatically, and from that standpoint, everybody has put a lot of focus on bullpens. That's probably your toughest Rubik's Cube each and every year coming in how you're going to set that up. It usually starts from the back and works its way forward. But obviously it has been a tremendous asset for us this season, our bullpen. I'm sure you've probably talked about this during the LCS, but could you mention about the significance of the No. 64 and the motivation behind that? CLINT HURDLE: Not to take away the importance, it's a very meaningful number, it was given to me by a young man named Kyle Blakeman, who died of cancer on his last days, I went to the hospital to visit him. I actually got a call from his mother right before the first game and she asked if I could come back, she thought her son was going to pass that night. I ended up touching base with her, and I said I think we're going to be good tonight, just get here when you can get here. My wife and I went the following night, actually it was an afternoon we went and spent some time there, and just having conversation with a young man who I had known for a couple of years, I said you know what, we need a little something. I said, I feel it coming, but I need a little something. And he kind of looked at me like, what do you want from me? I said, do you got a number? Do you have a number, something I can play with, I don't know how I'm going to use it. He said my baseball number changes but my favorite football number has always been 64. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but we ended up playing the Nationals and I wrote it at the top of the line up card. We weren't really in the game but we weren't out of it, and we scored a handful of runs off Jack Cordero in the bottom of the ninth in a hurry, and we won the game. Well, I told him I was going to put it on the lineup card and bring it back to the hospital. Now I get back to the hospital at 11:15, 11:30, everybody is waiting for me. Blakeman told me, I had that conversation, everybody knew we were going to win but me. And I walk in the room, and there's mom and dad and there's Kyle and they're just laughing, like, did you ever not expect something good to happen? I handed him the lineup card and we had a bunch of giggles about it, and we just continued to put it in place since then. It's not magic, it's meaningful is what it is for me. It's very meaningful. A lot has happened to you since you were the cover boy on SI all those years ago, both personally and professionally. I was just wondering if you could put in perspective what all this means to you now from all that you've been through in all these years? CLINT HURDLE: Well, I've said this to our beat writers. It's one of the things I hold near and dear to my heart, I really believe we're prepared for the future through our past. I really believe if we listen and we watch, we can learn. Patience has become a very important tool for me, and it's not one that's easily learned. Also the importance of keeping humility in your back pocket, one of the best things I was ever told as a young player that I never understood until I was an older player, there's two kinds of people that play this game, those that are humble and those that are about to be. At the age of 18 I laughed, yeah, that's cute. Well, by the age of 38 I was wearing it. It's something that has a lot of meaning to me, and the fact that maybe now being something that has become very, very special that has given our organization value that's brought joy to a lot of different people, as I said, on many different levels, and paying a price along the way of staying steadfast, of holding true to what you believe in, of being sometimes maybe stubborn in your beliefs. But not losing faith in the people that you're working with and the direction in which you're headed and seeing things through has given me a great sense of gratitude for this opportunity because in our day of sport, not many people would have been able to ride this thing out the way I've been given the opportunity to ride this thing through, and I don't think I've ever been as proud of a group of men as I am the men that we brought into this World Series and that entire clubhouse. That being said, we have work to do. We didn't get here to get close, not to finish second; we believe in who we are and what we are, and this is a tremendous challenge that we're looking forward to the opportunity of seeing through and playing out. Speaking of patience, and you've really -- you're kind of new at this, as well, you mentioned, an eight day layoff, we haven't seen this in almost a century. What do you tell the guys, what have you done, how do you keep them sharp after this great run to get ready for now this biggest stage? CLINT HURDLE: Well, we've done the things we're capable of doing as far as staying sharp. We had some simulated games. We tried to heighten awareness and intensity as we went through our workouts. We pulled the cage back, we had umpires. We've got some pretty good pitchers so our hitters got to see some pretty good arms. We got to see spin, velocity, we ran the bases, we played both sides of the ball. There comes a point when you can do what you do, and our guys have -- their awareness has been tremendous throughout the year. The challenge in front of them they're well aware of, and the more emphasis you put on something, the more power you give it. We haven't given the layoff a lot of power, a lot of emphasis. We will not apologize for winning quickly (laughter). That's the way it happened, and we'll deal with the outcome like we have and we'll get ready to play tomorrow night. We have very much looking forward to playing a big league ballgame tomorrow night. Chris Innetta is a local kid here in New England. Talk about his development and how he's handled this situation? CLINT HURDLE: He's handled this very well. This has been a challenging year for Chris. He was our opening day catcher. He has very solid skills, and we do believe that he's going to be an important part for us as we moved forward. The season got a little quick for him in some areas, we think, there were some challenges offensively, his game calling has been solid, his defensive side of the ball has been very solid. It got to the point where we showed a lot of patience, the at bats weren't getting to be as much volume. Late in the season we get an opportunity to make a change, get him down, get him some at bats, some continuous at bats, put him in play there at AAA level and he got 50 some at bats, came back in a much better place offensively, was able to add to our catching mix. In the month of September, late August, month of September, a very positive fashion. So we like Chris. We actually like him with a beard. Have you seen him with a beard before? He's got more hair on his face than he does on his head (laughter). We like him a lot, and I know he's from here. The people were very vocal in the fact they wanted to see him play last time we were here in June, so I'm sure we'll revisit that. I know the words, perspective, patience and learning mean a lot to you. What has your daughter Madison taught you? CLINT HURDLE: I don't want this to -- this doesn't need to be a Dr. Phil show (laughter), but as I said before, her purpose in life, and I think the purpose of many special needs children in people's lives, can be a dynamic, that if you don't have one, you'll have no understanding. It's a very special fraternity or sorority to enter into. You don't raise your hand and get to the front of this list. But once it happens, you're in. And I think most importantly, once you're in, it's like many things in life; you look for good, you're going to find good; you look for bad, you're going to find bad. There's a period where you need to get through the grieving, the challenges, that big picture of the unknown, and then, you know, as Tracy actually mentioned to me last week, it's kind of like how do you eat an elephant; one bite at a time. With Maddie it's one day at a time. At the end of the day Karla and I look at each other and say did Maddie have a good day, and when Maddie has a good day, everybody has a good day. I can't believe after that I'm going to ask you a technical baseball question. CLINT HURDLE: Please do (laughter). Josh Fogg, is he your Game 3 starter, and beyond that, Franklin Morales, what went into your thinking to include him in your bullpen? CLINT HURDLE: Well, we're trying to take a good look at the Red Sox lineup, the offensive challenges that they present, and you know, you look at the mix, do you want five right handers, do you want two left handers. Franklin has provided a dynamic that's added a lot to our ballclub. Very rarely do I like to take somebody and put him in a different role. But with his lack of experience in the Major Leagues I don't think this is a drastic thing, especially someone that can give us some length. We've got some games that are going to be in an American League city, the pitching moves are a little bit easier to deal with, his pitch count, the volume of pitches he can throw. There's some left handed hitters there that provide challenges for clubs. That went into it. He does have a good stat to handle the running game for those of those guys that get on. Basically the third left hander, a power arm, a dynamic arm. I thought it would give us a better opportunity to go out there with an offensive club. You touched on this a few minutes ago. How much value do you put on the family atmosphere that you guys have created? People have said it's very strong in your ballclub? CLINT HURDLE: Well, it's happened over time. I just think it's -- and you can't just say this is what we're going to do. It's evolved, and the players have kind of taken it upon themselves to actually -- I think it turned into more of a fraternity than anything else. It's been a very unselfish club. It's been a club that they spend a lot of time with one another away from the park, which is different, at least from my days. I had a few buddies I would run with; these guys run in packs. Lack of ego, they talk the game, they don't talk the game, they get away, they have fun, they enjoy one another's company, and as a club, we've been very representative and involved with our wives and our children and other people that have significant value to your life, family, mothers and fathers coming out. It's just one of the things we do. I'm sure a lot of people do it. It works for us. Our guys appreciate it, and it does make -- it makes things -- when there's challenging times there's a little bit more of a force going with it, and obviously the roll we've been on has been very special because everybody has thrown something in to accomplish it, which is always nice. Who's the best quarterback on your team? CLINT HURDLE: The best quarterback on our team (laughing)? I hear stories, but I think we've got a bunch of guys that carry clipboards and wear visors. I'm not sure. I don't know, I think they all think they are. I think that's the beauty of it. Cockrell might tell you he might have the most playing time. The stories with Todd and the stories with Seth and I guess Matt Holiday, and there might even be a few others that I'm overlooking. Jamie and I both played, but it was back when the film was black and white. I really don't know, but we've got a number of them. Taveras came back towards the end of the season and you have No. 1, No. 2, Kaz and Taveras together, so what's the impact and the effect on your lineup? CLINT HURDLE: To have two men with the speed at the top of our lineup is a dynamic we have never had in Colorado before. It's challenging on the other side of the ball. You put balls in play, infielders, they can't hesitate. They've got to field it clean, they've got to get a throw off, outfielders got to cut it off, they've got to get it in. When they get on base the pitchers are concerned about them stealing. They can put up quick runs. They've been very efficient for us. It's Kaz's birthday today, also. Did you know that? See, that's why we're a family. We know each other's birthdays. Does playing in a division with guys like Peevey, Penny, and hard throwers like that sort of prepare you for Beckett and the rest of Boston's staff? CLINT HURDLE: I think it helps. There's a lot of good pitching in our division in the NL West, and we've had to go through and face a lot of number ones and number twos and a lot of high velocity guys, sliders, curve balls, power curve balls, change ups, splits. We've seen pitching. Beckett is a very, very good pitcher. He's on top of his game right now. Last time we came in here he was undefeated. That's going to be a challenge. We're looking forward to it.
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