Colorado Rockies: Stu Cole and the art of coaching third base
Stu Cole knows that the decisions he makes as third base coach for the Colorado Rockies have to sometimes happen in an instant. He also knows that those decisions can have an immediate impact on a game’s outcome and the momentum swinging one way or another.
Now in his 22nd year in the Rockies organization and fifth as Colorado’s third base coach, Cole has experience managing for the Rockies at the Class A, Double-A and Triple-A levels. Those moments guiding teams in Visalia Oaks, Tulsa and Colorado Springs have prepared him for the pressure-packed moments that happen nightly as a runner heads his way on the basepaths.
"“In the minor leagues, being the manager you also coach third base,” Cole told Rox Pile. “Working with the players, you learn what they can and can’t do. You try to help them perfect their skills and talents and help them move on. It’s all about progression and you are always trying to make a kid better. That’s the same thing we do here. You have to make sure these guys are prepared to play every night.”"
For Cole, preparation for his job includes knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the players involved in a play and forecasting how a play will play out before it’s even occurred.
"“You try to play out the play before it happens, just like a player,” Cole said. “There are guys you know can run and there are guys who you know can probably score a little easier than others. Some guys you try to help them along the way to give them a bigger lead at second base so they can score on a ball in the gap. You try to base it on your decision on where the ball is in relation to where that player is rounding the bases. I try to know the arm strength of the outfielder and the speed of the baserunner. If he’s in a position where a guy doesn’t have a strong arm and our guy is almost touching third base, he has a chance to score. You use your judgment and hopefully it plays out for you.”"
While Cole relishes his role as Colorado’s third base coach, he also takes great pride in the role he has played in the development of countless Rockies.
"“It feels good, especially when you know you had guys at the lower levels and watching them progress up here and do the things they’re doing, and they’re doing them well,” Cole said. “Guys like Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu, watching those guys and how they’ve put their talents to use at the highest level is really good to see.”"
Colorado manager Bud Black told Rox Pile in an exclusive interview about three key features that he sees within Cole and third base coaches throughout Major League Baseball.
First, there is the knowledge needed behind simply sending a runner home or holding him at third.
"“There’s an art to sending runners and stopping runners, but it’s an educational art that you learn over a long period of time,” said Black, who is quick to remind me that he’s never coached third base in his Major League career. “You know outfielders. You know ballparks. You know accuracy, arm strength. When a play develops, you know if a guy charged the ball or went to his left or right. Did a guy go back on a fly ball? All of the subtleties of what an outfielder does and what an infielder does, including the infielder’s arm strength on a relay. You have to know the opposition and angles. There are so many things that determine two or three steps at the plate and the difference it will make.”"
Second, Black discussed the importance of being like-minded with the manager and his signal calling on every play.
"“Getting signs from the manager and being in tune every pitch, especially when the game dictates we might do something like steal, hit and run or bunt,” Black said. “It’s about thinking like a manager on certain plays. Anticipation of a sign or play is always apparent in a third base’s coach mind.”"
Third, a very short memory is key to a third base coach’s success.
"“You also have to have thick skin,” Black said. “Being able to handle the heat of sending a guy and having him thrown out. To shoulder that and live that and not have it affect the next decision you make. You have to turn the page. There’s a lot of inner strength and self-confidence that goes along with that. Thirty of them have that or they wouldn’t be there.”"
Black says so much of the game happens in plain sight of fans every day, yet the nuances aren’t often noticed or appreciated.
"“There is so much going on that the fans will never know about,” Black said. “There are hundreds of decisions or no-decisions that are made during a game and you have to be alert for every one of them. I might go through a bunch of signs and he has to say, ‘OK, that’s nothing. OK, that’s nothing. OK, that’s nothing. Nothing’s on. Nothing’s on. OK, steal is on.’ You have to be alert and on it for three hours.“It’s a skill and it’s acquired over time. Nobody can just go there.”"