John Stearns was named Rainiers manager on May 2, taking over for Daren Brown who was promoted to a coaching position with the Mariners. Since then Stearns has helped keep the team in first place in their division, and in first place overall in the Pacific Coast League, for most of the first half. As of July 21 the Rainiers were tied with Salt Lake City for top of the Pacific North division and had been in first place for all but 30 of the first 102 games.
Just before the All Star Break he sat down with Tacoma Weekly’s baseball correspondent Karen Westeen to discuss some of the events of those two-plus months, and look ahead to the rest of the season.
KW: Describe your first couple of months with the Rainiers.
JS: It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve got a great group of kids here, a lot of prospects and we’ve been able to win. The kids are gelling together as a team. It’s been a really easy transition for me to come in here. I tried to just carry forward what was already going on here. We’ve had over 100 turnovers in our personnel and we’ve been able to keep that same winning process going and hopefully we can continue to do that. We’re trying to keep people here to continue to compete at this level and get ready to help the big league club.
So far we’ve been lucky to win about six out of 10 games and we have a long way to go. We’re not stopping and thinking we’re the best team in the league. We’ve got a lot of work to do here. We have a lot of young new guys and that can change in a hurry.
KW: You are the best team in the league right now (as of July 13) but you’re only a couple of games ahead of the second place team and if you’re not on top of your division at the end you don’t go to the play-offs so there’s no room to relax.
JS: We try to come out here every day and present a program that gives the kids a chance to relax but play hard. We’re working on fundamentals, trying to get them ready for the next level. That’s what our goal is and so far we’ve been able to do a decent job.
KW: Anything about this team that’s surprised you after the first two and a half months?
JS: The only thing that’s surprised me is the amount of turnovers we’ve had (over 100), even guys that aren’t available currently like Taijuan Walker, who’s going to the All Star Futures Game in New York. We had to call up two players from Everett just today on an emergency basis, so you can see that our roster is constantly rotating. But it’s a big plus for us to have these minor league teams so close so we can mix and match when we have to. It’s fun being here in a suburb of Seattle with our major league just up the road. Most Major League clubs don’t have their Triple A club sitting right here next to them geographically. For instance the New York Mets have their Triple A team in Las Vegas. Can you imagine the problems that presents when they want to call somebody up in a hurry and have to fly a player all the way across the country?
KW: You’ve got two players (OF Carlos Peguero and relief pitcher Brian Moran) going to the Triple A All Star Game in Reno and another (Walker) selected to the Futures game in New York. If you could name one other player that would be an All Star from the Rainiers, who would that be?
JS: If I had to name some other All Stars on our team I’d have to look at players who have been here all year. Stefan Romero is a possibility. He’s had a really good first half, hitting .295. Carlos Triunfel’s hitting .293, he had a call up to the big leagues and he certainly deserves some consideration. From a pitching standpoint Brian Sweeney is 8-3, has had a good first half. He just keeps going as a strike thrower, and that’s why he’s successful in the game. Of course we’ve got Logan Bawcom, our closer, who has 16 saves and he’s had a good first half. We try to pitch him more than one inning because when he goes to the big league club he’s not going to be restricted to just one inning.
KW: What’s the feeling among the team members because there are other teams so close on their heels?
JS: We like that. We have to compete every day. We may be in first place but there are several teams right on our heels. We don’t want to get complacent. And we’re just down the road from our big league club so our guys are motivated in several ways to go out and play as good as they can. They know that at any time they could go to the big team or to another team, with the trading deadline coming up the end of July. If you’re a player here you have to be ready to come here every night and play the best you can play.
KW: Any players that the fans might see the rest of the season who are with the lower level teams at present?
JS: I can’t name any players who could be up here this year but I know that in the future we have a whole group who will be playing here. Our goal in player development is to keep developing these players. Guys like Mike Zunino, who was drafted last year, and Nick Franklin and Brad Miller who just streaked through the minor leagues within the last year. It’s a good feeling for us down here in player development because it means we’re doing our job.
KW: What are your plans for the All Star break?
JS: I’m going down to San Luis Obispo, Calif., and spend two days with my son. It’ll be nice to relax and maybe play some golf with him. Then I have to be back up here on Wednesday afternoon (July 17) for a workout with the team before we fly to Fresno for the series there.