Gabe Kapler was at a crossroads.
While playing for the Boston Red Sox in 2006, Kapler came back from an Achilles tear and recalled, “I wasn’t good enough. Didn’t push much. I wasn’t as athletic as I wanted to be. Red Sox, I guess. Have thought – and for good reason – that my career might be over.
When the season ended, with the Red Sox executing Theo Epstein, Ben Charrington and Mike Hazen, Kapler learned of an opportunity to manage Boston’s Low-A affiliate Greenville Drive in South Carolina. Kapler was asked if he knew anyone who might be interested.
“I didn’t get it right away,” Kapler said. “But I remember calling Ben back and saying, ‘Should I really look in the mirror here? What are you telling me?’
At 31, Kapler was back in the lesser minors as manager for the first time, shielding young players.
“I loved minors,” Kapler said. “Loved the buses. Loved cheap hotels. ”
It lasted for a year. As Kapler is physically rehabilitated, he decides to give Major one more shot. He played one year for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 and two years for the Tampa Bay Rays before retiring after the 2010 season.
He coached the Israeli national team in 2013, and was director of player development with the Dodgers from 2014 to 2017, but did not manage again until the Philadelphia Phillies hired him in 2018 and fired him after two seasons.
Kapler’s 107-55 regular-season record came out of nowhere, with a 161-163 record in two seasons with the Phillies, compared with a 29-31 record with the Giants in a short season last year.
But it started somewhere – and that somewhere was Greenville.
I reached out to three of his former players along the drive – Franklin Pierce University (New Hampshire) coach Mike Chambers, Mississippi attorney John Stills and Pittsburgh Pirates minor league operations coordinator TJ Large – to learn what it was like to play in 2007. for the coupler.
Chambers was a fielder in his second and final year of pro baseball. Yet there was one catcher who led the drive with 21 home runs and 79 RBI. Was the big right-handed pitcher with a 1-2 record and 3.65 ERA in 17 games.
On a hot summer day in Savannah, Ga., Kapler thought infielders weren’t taking their infield reps seriously and wanted to prove a point.
Big: “Gabe was throwing batting practice, took the gloves off Arganese Cruz, jumped over the shortstop and started diving in his white cutoff T-shirt. It wasn’t offensive. It wasn’t intimidating. The message was to play with a purpose, Practicing with a purpose. That way the game will be easier.”
Chambers: “I was second, he was short and I thought it was kind of fun that he was there with us. I didn’t process why he was doing this. But when we got to the locker room he said the original lit up everyone, like, ‘We’re in the middle of the season and don’t have a work ethic. We’re not insisting, we’re not fighting.’ ”
Even then: “He was one of those people who would run through a brick wall for you as a player if he respected your work ethic. But from every day, if you didn’t work, or you didn’t try So it was an issue.”
Kapler has gotten veterans like Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Belt, Johnny Couto and Evan Longoria to buy into short order in his vision. It was no different in Greenville.
Room: “The Cup cared for us a lot not only on the field but as players. He got to know us. He always cared about how we are, if we are down, if we are up, if something is not right. You don’t see that much in the minor leagues. ”
Even then: “He made it a point to go to each player and he would spend 10 to 15 minutes in the outfield during batting practice or whenever he could take some time off. Get to know you on a personal level. Your family, your goals, both personally and professionally.”
Big: “The one thing I can seriously define who Gabe Kapler is – he’s never going to be an authoritative person who dictates what you have to do. He’s behind, if not back, to sum up everyone’s feelings. Will lead from the middle. He’s a passionate human being who cares deeply about the people he manages. Every move he takes, whatever decision he makes, he gives each player a piece of himself whose He’s in the trenches with him. He’s a manager in title but a teammate first.”
Kapler’s dedication to physical fitness is well documented. The people of Greenville learned about it for the first time.
Even then: “It’s the day before Opening Day. I’m in the weight room, and Gabe just comes rolling in, picks up two 65-pound dumbbells and starts to stretch out like 15 or 25 curls. And I’ve got to sit there Feels good, curling up like 35 or 40 and I look at her like, ‘What are you doing?’ He’s like ‘Dude, I’m so excited right now.’ ”
Room: “Every time we were at the gym, he would be there, hitting him. Lifting more weight than anyone else. He went to the gym sometimes from where he lived. It was impressive. He just had tons of energy. That’s it. Came and used to bring it daily.”
Big: “I wasn’t a pitcher so we didn’t work out the same day, but you could always hear the players laughing about the situation. I think there was a day when he put on a weight belt and a bridge with a 45-pound weight -up and we had people who couldn’t do pull-ups by themselves. It adds a different perspective. We’ve probably been playing baseball since we were 5 years old, but it’s a grown man’s game. ”
Kapler believes that putting the right foods into your body promotes recovery and is very strict about what he eats and drinks.
Even then: “His diet was crazy. He loved ice cream. He’d have a cup of ice cream, take a lick of it and then spit it into the other cup. We’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I like the taste but I don’t need the calories,’ he said. Of course, I have a 30-pack in the fridge and I’m thinking, ‘You’re worried about a scoop of ice cream?’ He took his diet very seriously.
Big: “He didn’t eat in the field, that’s for sure. He has his lunch box and his own food and he has the time to do it and it’s all about eating clean and he also brought that ideology and focus when he Was the director of agriculture in LA.
influence and influence
The way Kapler approached baseball and in some cases life on a daily basis provided lessons that went far beyond 2007.
Room: “He was able to focus on us playing for each other. It was like the college atmosphere, which gave us hustle, motivated us to work hard. That kind of motivation and support will make you a more cohesive team. Now this is how I coach my team and I took what they taught me and tried to bring it every day. ”
Even then: “He is probably the most disciplined person that I have ever been around. The way he prepared for events, games, how he prepared for practice, how he prepared for batting practice all the way up to weights. I I’m a lawyer right now and in my profession, you can tell when someone’s ready. You respect it. No one was more ready than Gabe, and no one worked more than him.”
Big: “What he hit hard on me as a player was being extremely selfless. It was always, ‘How can I protect my team? How can I support those around me to make sure that we are collectively doing something as a bigger unit?’ It’s something that I took from there and applied to my life.”
Drive finished 58–81 and had 45 different players throughout the season. John Lester (on rehab from lymphoma recovery), Josh Reddick, Daniel Byrd, and others who played in the major leagues included the big leagues.
Even then: “We had John Lester and Gabe dropped him off the roster to start rehab. He didn’t let Lester pitch that night, a reliever having to scramble to get ready. Later, he told us that he had made a big mistake. He was honest about it and we took it to heart. Had it been any other manager I don’t know how he would have reacted. There was some growing pain but we all knew how hard he was working.”
Room: “In the minors, the manager makes the lineup but not really. He’s told who to play and the lineup is what he is. You’re developing the players and when they’re playing well the organization moves people up. I’m sure his hands were a little tied.”
What happened in Philly?
Kapler was two games under .500 and was fired after two seasons with the Phillies. They got a chance to see what worked, what didn’t, and formulate ideas about the roster.
Room: “I think you need the right kind of players to be coached by Gabe. Some people want a manager who gets out of hand. I think the mix of players was probably not the best for his coaching style.”
Even then: “You have to be a certain type of player to jump on the board, if that makes sense. I’m not there, but I’m guessing that’s what he has with the Giants.”
Big: “I think you have to be surrounded by the right people. There has to be common ground and a willingness to learn. And when we get a second chance we all learn from our mistakes, don’t we?”
staying in touch
Baseball is transient in nature and relationships come and go. It’s no different with couplers.
Room: “I haven’t seen him in so long and he’s on the West Coast. He’s so busy and we’re on opposite sides of the country. I love watching him succeed and telling stories about what a good coach he is ”
Even then: “Baseball is one of those weird sports. When someone moves, you can’t see them anymore. If I had his number I’d love to contact him, but he’s probably slammed. I have great respect for him and even today I tell many stories about him.”
Big: “We still push each other back and forth. We have many common friends. When he was with the Phillies, we would meet, catch up, keep in touch with each other. He is a noble person. I try not to lose touch with elite humans. ”