Mintz spends offseason coaching Down Under

Baseball veteran served as Rangers' Class A manager in 2016

Mintz spends offseason coaching Down Under

ARLINGTON -- The Adelaide Bite are in good position to make another strong run at the Claxton Shield, but they still have three big series remaining with Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

That's why manager Steve Mintz sat his players down this week and reminded them what's at stake in the final month of the Australian Baseball League season.

"I just wanted to explain to them where we're at and what we need to do," Mintz said. "The thing about Australian players is they don't make a lot of money. For a lot of them, it costs money to play. They do it out of pride for their city and their state. When we get the [American players] in here, we sit them down and let them know how important this is to the Australians."

Their manager knows what's at stake. Mintz is now in his 28th year in professional baseball as a catcher, pitcher, coach, instructor and manager. He pitched in 17 games in the Majors with the Giants in 1995 and the Angels in '99, and this is his second winter season managing the Bite.

They are in third place going into the weekend series with Perth, and the top-three teams in the six-team league advance to the playoffs. Mintz managed the Bite into the Claxton Shield finals last year, but they were swept by the Brisbane Bandits. That disappointment didn't deter Mintz from coming back.

"The league is phenomenal," Mintz said. "We've got ex-big leaguers, Double-A, Triple-A players … guys who might be in the big leagues this year. We have some Australian baseball veterans and some really good young talent."

Mintz was born and raised in the North Carolina countryside, but he loves Adelaide, a town of 1.3 million people on Australia's southern coast. The Bite's new ballpark is a block away from West Beach and Mintz's suburban home is even closer to the water.

"I can walk out my front yard and throw a baseball into the ocean," Mintz said.

Adelaide draws a feverish crowd, especially with the fans who get to sit in the "Shark Tank," the section literally on top of the dugout.

"It's the most-wanted seat in town," Mintz said. "It's a rowdy bunch. In Australia, they love giving it to the other team. They are right on top of you. If I need their help, I just turn around and ask them."

Mintz's first experience in Australia was as a player in 1992 in the Dodgers' farm system. Mintz had just converted from catcher to pitcher and was one of four players sent by the Dodgers to play for Adelaide.

"Anything to get some more innings on the mound," said Mintz, who also pitched winter ball in Taiwan and Mexico during his career.

Mintz's playing career ended in 2001, and he spent 11 seasons as a pitching coach in the Twins' system. He always wanted to manage, even after moving to the Rangers in 2013, but the opportunity never came up.

But after spending the 2015 season as the pitching coach at Class A Hickory, he received an email from Adelaide chief executive officer Nathan Davison, who had been Mintz's teammate in 1992.

"He sent me an email and just said, 'Do you know anybody who will come down here and manage?'" Mintz said. "I emailed him back and just said, 'Yeah, me.'"

It wasn't that easy for Mintz, because it meant more time away from the family. Mintz still makes his home in Leland, N.C., with Cathi, his wife of 22 years, daughter Abby (20), and sons Hunter (18) and Jacob (16). But they have been with him all through his career, and Australia is no different.

"This is what I do," Mintz said. "They don't know anything else. My wife supports me 100 percent. We are a baseball family. Any opportunity, my family is behind me."

They are also with him in Australia for a few weeks during the holidays. A year ago, they decided to forego giving Christmas presents and instead went on vacation to the Great Barrier Reef.

"I said, 'We are not going to Australia and not seeing the Great Barrier Reef,'" Mintz said. "That was unbelievable. I tell people, if you go to Australia, that's the only thing you have to do."

The Rangers rewarded Mintz for his sacrifice and dedication. Spike Owen was supposed to manage Class A Hickory last season, but he instead served as big league third-base coach while Tony Beasley was recovering from rectal cancer.

Mintz replaced Owen and guided the Crawdads to a 74-66 record in his first Minor League chance to manage.

"I loved it," Mintz said. "It was so much fun. A great group of young guys who got better."

Two of his players -- outfielder LeDarious Clark and infielder Josh Altmann -- are playing for him in Adelaide. Altman has been in the top 20 in hitting and Clark went into the weekend series against Perth with 20 RBIs in 27 games, tied for third in the league.

"It has been a really good experience for them," Mintz said. "I am hoping they finish strong. This is a good thing for our organization to be able to send some players down here like that."

It has also been good for the manager, who will serve as the pitching coach for Class A Advanced Down East this season, with Owen returning to Hickory.

"Down here, you are dealing with different personalities and shuffling the roster every week … building organizational skills," Mintz said. "I want to do anything I can to better myself and be able to help the Rangers. I love the Rangers, I love the game and this is just going to make me a better person."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.