Baseball has been America’s pastime for over a century and a half.
Professional and minor league teams have been playing it since the late 1860s. In 2011, independent league baseball came to Rockland County in the form of the Rockland Boulders, a member of the Can-Am League. While no teams in the league are affiliated with a major league franchise, the Can-Am League is approximated to be Double A-level baseball.
The Boulders announced a big change last week. Kevin Baez, former New York Mets player and Long Island Ducks manager, was named as the third manager for the Rockland Boulders in team history, replacing Jamie Keefe.
At a press conference held on December 6, 2018, Town of Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht – who planned on attending only as a guest – nonetheless was called to the podium to speak. He said, “On behalf of Boulders and the entire town of Ramapo, we welcome Kevin to the Boulders team. We know he brings a proven record of success and we are really looking forward to this coming season.”
There is a saying, “A team is only as good as its leader,” team owner Sean Reilly said.
When asked why he made the change, Reilly responded, “Two reasons – One, last year I was unhappy with the season. Two, when we knew Jamie was in conversation with other teams, we didn’t want to keep him. It was time for change. Jamie is a great guy. We had great experience, but it was time for a change.”
Looking towards Baez at the press conference, Reilly said, “I’ve got to tell you I don’t think I have been more excited about a manager for the Rockland Boulders than with the man standing to my left.”
Choosing who is going to lead a team is not an easy task. There were many qualified candidates the Boulders had to consider before settling on Baez. “We looked at six people,” Reilly said. “There were some big-league players who reached out, but Kevin just checked all the boxes. Success on Long Island in the Atlantic League, big leaguer with local ties.”
Baez, who was born in Brooklyn, played baseball for Dominican College before going to the majors to play for the New York Mets, along with a brief stop in the minors.
Baez said, “This is very exciting. I have been the Long Island Ducks manager for a number of years and when this opportunity came, I know the area. I know the passion of the fans here. This is like the Yankees of the Can-Am League. I was excited about the opportunity to come here and be the manager for 2019 season. I am looking forward to seeing everyone coming out to the ballpark. Looking forward to a winning season. Like Sean said, I come with a good attitude every day, an attitude to win.”
Can-Am League teams have a 22-man roster, which is a change for Baez, who is used to managing a 25-man roster in the Atlantic League. During a Q&A, one guest asked Baez about how this will affect his managing the team.
“Yes, that’s a good question. That’s important. With a 22-man roster, it’s a little challenging but, you’ve just got to understand your staff and how to use them. The Atlantic league was 28 in the beginning and then goes to 25 after the first month. You have a little more flexibility there.
Baez described his managerial style as, “loosey goosey.”
He clarified, saying, “I’m big on keeping the guys loose. Again, I go back to the attitude and I go back to when I played for managers like Dallas Green or Buddy Harrelson or Jeff Torborg and like I said earlier Clint Hurdle and John Gibbons. Try to go with what I think works. You need to adjust, you need to adapt.”
As most press conferences are for serious matters, this one was a bit more fun; as is a trademark of the Boulders.
At one point, Reilly had some fun at Baez’s expense, putting him on the spot; “So, Kevin, you’ve been to every major league ballpark and many minor league ones and independent parks. How would you compare our ballpark to the ones you have seen?”
After the audience finished laughing, Baez tactfully answered, “Years ago when it first came into the league, all you heard was “What a stadium. What a stadium.”
Baez continued, “A friend of mine told me the stadium is gorgeous, the area is beautiful. I never got to see it. So, driving up here a couple of weeks ago, it just hits you. What you did was a great job putting this together. Hats off to you guys, coming out and supporting the team. It’s a great area, it’s a great team. That’s why they come. It’s beautiful.”
The Boulders stadium has been the source of public consternation due to the scandal surrounding financing of the project, which ultimately led to the federal imprisonment of Christopher St. Lawrence, former town supervisor. Though the stadium is a popular attraction, Ramapo taxpayers still see an annual loss on the facility.
Brendel Charles, deputy town supervisor for Ramapo, said it is time to look to the future. “We want to provide real-time entertainment for all of the people in the county,” he said.
Charles credited the Boulders owner Sean Reilly for sticking with the team. “The one thing we have had that has been a mainstay for us here is [Sean]. He has been here with us in good times and bad times and he has stuck with us. He’s part of the community. We believe in him and he believes in us. He’s a good guy.”
Specht added, “As we saw just now, he (Baez) has some infectious energy and enthusiasm and he has a proven track record of success. Kevin is a new beginning for the team. It’s a new start. I think he is going to lead us on to some great heights. The more successful the team is, the more successful the stadium is.”
When a team changes their manager, other changes follow. Is Reilly expecting Baez to make a lot of changes to the team?
Reilly said, “I think there were going to be changes to the roster regardless. Last year’s team was not what we expected. We had a lot of injuries. But we got away from what we like to do. We had some older players. So, it was probably time change up the roster. I think you’ll see some players back from last year, but there will be changes. There are always changes.”
No matter how well a team performed the previous year, and Reilly was not happy with the team’s performance last year, there is always room for improvement. He feels that on the field, he thought they were weak up the middle. Their starting pitching struggled. In the bullpen, the closer needs some improvement. Other than some key position players he thinks they just need to pick it up.
What is planned for the team this year? As of December 6, Reilly closed the press conference with, “I hope to have more exciting news next week. I mean, I’m tremendously excited by this news today. And have Kevin on board and have you all here. We have more exciting news coming next week. It’s going to be a really great season. You guys know where the team is headed.”