New Suns manager feels he's been here before

January 12, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI |

HAGERSTOWN — Thursday wasn't anything like a deja vu moment for Tripp Keister.

It was the real thing.

Keister knew he had entered Municipal Stadium before. It was because he had.

That was in 1993 when he was playing for the Capital City Bombers against the Hagerstown Suns.

Now, Keister will not only be revisiting the staid old stadium. This year, he will be taking up residence there.

Keister has been promoted up the Washington Nationals system as the new manager of the Suns, coming in to guide the next wave of prospects after a very successful 2012 season. But that's his job.

“My job is to teach the players how the Washington Nationals want things done,” said Keister. “We want the terminology they need to follow to be the same and we want to teach it right so that when they have to, say lay down a bunt, they will be able to do it here the same way they will be asked to do it when they get to Washington.

“I want them to progress and get better.”

The Nationals system has set a tough standard for its coaches to follow over the last few years as the organization has filled itself with prospects through the draft, so much so it is starting to deal some of them away for veteran players to stockpile for a run at the 2013 World Series.

Here in Hagerstown, Keister will be replacing Brian Daubach, who spent two seasons with the Suns and led them to the South Atlantic League Northern Division's second-half title and their first trip to the playoffs since 2006 last season. Daubach will be managing at High Single-A Potomac in the Carolina League this season.

Keister, 42, comes to the Suns after spending his first year in the organization managing the Gulf Coast League Nationals, Washington's half-season rookie league team in Florida. After spending four seasons playing in the minors for the Mets, he was the head baseball coach of for Wesley College in his native Delaware and spent time as a major league scout.

The jump from college to pro baseball is much different because objectives and philosophy, but it has some similarities for Keister.

“I don't think the job is different,” Keister said. “We are still developing players and helping to make them the best that they can be. The challenge here is that it will be kids who will be playing their first full season of professional baseball, so that means setting a schedule and working to keep their bodies in shape for a long season.

“What coaches do is teach. No matter what you do, it's teaching. Sometimes it's showing them how to do something. Sometimes it's getting into them to get them going. And sometimes, it's putting an arm around them to help them out. Some jobs are more teaching and some are more psychology. That's what a good teacher is.”

The Nationals' style of play rides closely with how Keister approaches a game. He likes being a man of action.

“I like to have my team hit a lot of three-run home runs,” he said jokingly with a smile.

“I like to coach and manage the way that's best for the team. I like aggressiveness. To run and move base runners up and hit them in. The Nationals want players out looking to take the extra base. But you also have to have fundamentals — no strikeouts, looking for a good fastball and a good two-strike approach. I like an offense that is aggressive at the plate and on the bases.”

The whole approach lends to the teaching process.

“The players want to be aggressive,” Keister said. “And when they are, they learn. They make mistakes, but they learn from them, which gets them ready to play as they filter through the system.”

Much of it brings back memories of playing for Keister, like the first time he was at Municipal Stadium. He was playing for Capital City, then a New York Mets affiliate, under Ron Washington, who is now managing the Texas Rangers.

“We traveled here on what was a scheduling quirk,” Keister said of his first Hagerstown experience. “We were coming in and the first game of the series was at noon. It was the first time I had ever traveled through the night like that. We pulled in, left our things at the hotel and then went to play the game. We won, but we didn't have much left for the game the next night.”

Moments like that keep Keister's juices churning as he looks forward to the beginning of spring training, the process of meeting and working with the next Suns.

“I'm looking forward to starting the season,” he said. “But I'm looking forward to the process we go through at spring training. It's a fun time. It makes you feel young again.”

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