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(Photo credit: Drew Wohl)


New York Boulders manager, Kevin Baez, reflects on baseball career

Baez has been a face in New York baseball for the majority of his playing and coaching career.

Kevin Baez enjoyed playing both baseball and basketball when growing up in Brooklyn, New York, with a little bit of roller hockey mixed in. With is Mom moving the family to the Bay Ridge District, Baez was adamant on attending Lafayette High School despite having to take the bus or train to school every day.

Baez continued to play both baseball and basketball at Lafayette.

“I was a starter on both the baseball and basketball teams and one thing I loved about basketball is it kept me in shape,” said Baez. “Baseball wise, all I knew was Lafayette had a good baseball program, Louie Lopez, Johnny Franco, Fred Wilpon and Sandy Koufax. to name a few. A lot of guys that came out of there went to the minor leagues. I enjoyed my time and still stay in touch with my coach Joe Gambuzza who lives in Marlboro, New Jersey.”

After graduating from Lafayatte, Baez did not field a ton of offers from colleges despite earning All-City honors. However, one program that did stand out was Dominican College.

“If you look at me in high school I was a skinny little rail,” Baez described. “ I said you know what, I want to get away from Brooklyn, I wanted to go to a school where I could at least sleep over and that’s part of college life. It wasn’t too far away from home and was the best decision I ever made, I made great friends, including head coach Rich Martin.”

A dream came true for Baez when he was drafted by the New York Mets in the seventh round of the MLB Draft in 1988. The next couple of years, Baez played in the minors, starting in Little Falls, New York in 1988, Columbia, South Carolina in 1989 and Jackson, Mississippi in 1990. Finally, in September of 1990 Baez got the word he would be called up to the major leagues.

“My Mom is my biggest fan, still alive and in her 70’s and lives in North Carolina right now,” said Baez. “She was excited, no doubt, when I got to the major leagues, it was a dream come true. Where I came from, not too many people make it. My Dad passed away when I was really young. I saw him every other Sunday. Growing up he was a good man, not involved as much and a correctional officer in the Brooklyn House of Detention.”

“The reason I got called up was in case the team needed offensive help in case anyone went down,” Baez recalled. “I was in awe of the talent on the team. Buddy Harrelson was my first manager. It was nerve wracking, a little ragged. The first time walking out on to the field at Shea Stadium, John Franco who was an expert and went to my high school helped me out. A memory I will never forget. I remember getting my first hit in Pittsburgh, seeing Ozzie Smith in St. Louis.”

The following year, Baez ran into a speed bump, struggling in Triple-A, compounded by getting plunked in the face, shelved him for the rest of the season. Baez rebounded by playing two more years for the Mets before the organization traded him to the Baltimore Orioles in 1994. For the next five years, Baez bounced around from city to city, state to state. In 1995 and 1996 he played for Rochester in Triple-A, next with the Toledo Mud Hens, Triple-A with the Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins and Salt Lake City.

In the midst of all the traveling, Baez ended up getting married.

Keeping himself in shape year-round, Baez traveled down to Puerto Rico to play winter ball. “Once you get an opportunity in the major leagues, you got to take advantage of it because you don’t know if you are going to get that chance again,” Baez explained. “I didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, but it was good to get down there and what a experience. Living on the beach and playing baseball for three months out of the year. I would come home for a couple of weeks and then go to spring training in February.”

Reuben Sierra was the batting champ, when we started in October we had a stud of major leaguers in Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Juan Gonzales and Carlos Baerga,” Baez told Double G Sports. “I didn’t have an agent, so you basically become your own agent. You are making phone calls, you make some money in the wintertime and get to live on the beach in Puerto Rico. There were three teams, Arecibo Lobos, Ponce Leones and Caguas Criollos. We had veteran players such as Bernie Williams and Candy Maldonado.”

In 2000, Baez ended up coming back to the Mets, playing for the Norfolk Triple-A team where he tallied career highs in hits and doubles. In 2002, Baez jumped to the Atlantic League, playing for the Long Island Ducks. Just when the door seemed to be closing on a return to the major leagues, Baez got picked up the Cincinnati Reds Triple-A affiliate. After a short stint, Baez returned to the Ducks where the team made the playoffs.

“I came to the Ducks in 2002, 2003, I was having a good year and knew my career was coming to an end and could play closer to home,” Baez described. “I got picked up by Cincinnati and the Ducks made the playoffs and I came back and we had a bitter ending. I just wanted to play and Cincinnati came calling because they needed someone because a shortstop went down. Here I am, 37 or 38 years old, and said why not because I don’t know if I will get this shot again.”

“I think I ended up hurting my hamstring but I told the guys that it’s about displaying love for the game and doing well. Don’t worry about getting picked up because you are putting stress on yourself. Control what you can control, keep playing the game and they will call and I was excited to go to Louisville and play with them and get a chance and one step away from the big leagues.”

After his baseball playing days ended, Baez still wanted to stay in the game so he decided to remain with the Ducks as a full-time coach in 2005. In 2007 Baez returned to the Mets organization as a manager in the Gulf Coast League. Two years later, Baez came back to the Ducks as the third base/infield coach.

“I lived three miles from the Ducks stadium,” said Baez. “At the time, Dave Lapointe was the manager and Dom McCormack was also there. Learning how to coach third was a little nerve-wracking because you don’t know the signs and are thrown in the fire.” In 2007, I got a call from the Mets after being away for six months. I didn’t like being away for that long so I came back to the Ducks because they had an opening and it felt good.”

After two years as the third base/infield coach, Baez was named as the new Long Island Ducks manager for the 2011 season.

Michael Pfaff and Frank Bowen who was the owner gave me the opportunity to manage,” Baez explained. “They said, we’re going to make a move with the manager position, think highly of you and want you to take it. I knew I didn’t have the experience but they surrounded me with a lot of veteran guys that helped me out tremendously. Bud Harrelson was my bench coach, Jay Loviglio the hitting coach and Steve Fouccault the pitching coach.”

Managing Long Island for eight years, Baez guided the Ducks to the playoffs seven times while winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013 and reaching the championship series three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018.

“My first year we had a great team, we won the second half and should have won the championship,” Baez explained. “The following year we really had a good team, thought we could have won it and just a credit to the players. Mike (Pfaff) and I had a conversation about putting together the best team.”

“When you get players that have Triple-A experience, big league guys and couple of Double-A guys that have played the game for quite a while and were dominant is a big leap. They understand they are coming to your team and know how to play the game and prepare.”

Last year, when the Rockland Boulders managerial position opened up, Baez opted to jump at the opportunity. “An exciting moment and new chapter in my career,” he described. “I went to college in the area, the stadium was outstanding and great fan support. When I first spoke to Shawn (Reilly) on the phone he was a true gentlemen and professional. Megan Ciampo in her first year as Assistant GM was outstanding and communicated with me all the time.”

Despite the team finishing up 42-50 in 2019, the Boulders reached the postseason for a sixth consecutive year. Facing off against Sussex County in the first round of the Can-Am League Playoffs, Rockland put up a good fight but ultimately the Miners prevailed in the series 3-1.

“I know that the guys fought every day and we had a lot of guys coming in and out and getting hurt,” Baez remarked. “It’s a cut throat game, sometimes you have to release guys and you understand how passionate these guys are. The guys came to the park every day, were good teammates and that’s the one thing I appreciate as a coach. If you do that every day, everything will fall into place. Obviously you are not going to win every day but having that desire to compete and win.”

“Losing John Brontsema and Ryne Birk was huge, but other guys stepped up,” Baez recalled. “It’s frustrating because guys that were there with you from the beginning and they played well. It could have been who is going to make a play, get a timely hit and old saying goes the is keeping mistakes at a minimum. We did win one game in Rockland but had opportunities and couldn’t come through.”

“As a manager or player you feel terrible when you lose. You have been through the season with guys, ups and down and road trips. I told them at the beginning of spring training you have to get along because we are going to be with each other a lot. Though it hurt, I went up to each and every guy and shook their hand and thanked them for their season.”

A couple of months after the season ended, wholesale changes too place within the Boulders organization. The organization changed the team name from Rockland to New York and moved the team to the Frontier League.

Baez on the impact, “I’m sure the people from Rockland were torn and a little bit disheartened but they have to understand going to a new league they want us going to new places where they are not really going to know Rockland. They will know more about the New York Boulders. I have heard a lot of good things about the Frontier League and am excited to get started.”

A father of two boys, ages 14 and nine, Baez spends his time in the off-season conducting baseball clinics with kids and adults. “They’re into sports, they play all the sports and baseball and basketball like me,” said Baez. “They are very athletic and eager in trying to get better every day. The one thing I do regret is not having kids younger so they could see me play. I’m always away a lot, my wife holds down the fort. She gets annoyed sometimes but is a good person and mother.”

“I’m trying to teach kids and adults the fundamentals, teach them other aspects of the game of baseball which is exciting for me and just to see the enjoyment of the younger kids. Obviously I’m not a big league star but you know they come up to me for an autograph and that makes me happy and feel good about myself. Making some kids happy and teaching baseball is what I’m enjoying right now.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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