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Coaching Spotlight: Coach Tony Rasmus #2 in the Nation Russell County
Monday, April 04, 2005
Tony Rasmus is starting to draw more and more attention. Not only is he the father of one of the best high school seniors in the nation in Colby Rasmus, but he also coaches the second best team in the nation according to Baseball America, Russell County High School in Seale Alabama. He also coached Colby's Phenix City (AL) team that beat the Tom's River Little League team in the 1999 Little League World Series for the national title before falling to Japan in the championship game. Tony Rasmus is a former professional player who played at Enterprise State Junior College in Alabama before being drafted by the Angels in 1986. Tony talked to me about how he uses his experience and career to help motivate not only his sons, but the rest of the players on the Russell County team, what he thinks of all four of his talented baseball-bred sons, and he shares some of his own future aspirations.
Patrick Ebert (PE): How far do you feel your professional career would have gone if it weren't for the torn labrum you suffered as a member of the Angels organization?
Tony Rasmus (TR): Probably not much longer. I had an accident the day I graduated from high school and I ended up cutting every ligament in my left hand. I never could field as well after that. I still got drafted after that. I could still hit as I hit over .400 in two years in college. Even today I can't feel my left hand. I can burn it on a frying pan and I won't feel it, because it cut the nerves. I was just an average player and I was used to fill the roster up. PE: How and when did you get involved with coaching?
TR: Actually, I said I was never going to do it (return to baseball). Eddie Rodriguez was my manager at Quad Cities, he ended up being the third base coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks when they won the World Series, and he ended up releasing me. It broke me up. As you can imagine, someone whose dream is to play Major League Baseball, when you get released it's pretty tough on you. After that I drove straight through from Davenport, Iowa to Phenix City, Alabama, which is a really long drive. I didn't watch a ballgame for three years on TV. Every time I would come across a baseball game I would just skip it. Colby began playing Coach-Pitch at five years old, and my wife said, "Why don't you get out there and coach?" And I said, "No, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to be one of those dads who tries to live through their kid." After one year of watching him not be taught anything, or any of his teammates, I felt I could do a better job (coaching) than that. I felt that I had the baseball knowledge to help. So that's when I started, when Colby was six years old.
PE: So you started by coaching Colby's team?
TR: Yes, I coached his Coach-Pitch team. We started working our kids right away. I worked them like my coach worked my teammates and I in college, at Enterprise (Junior College) in South Alabama. I had practices for little kids like we had in college, believe it or not. We worked at five and six years old at turning double plays, the correct way to field a ground ball, the correct way to swing a bat (etc.). Simple mechanics, things that I didn't learn in high school. And subsequently we started winning. If you know anything about Little League or any kind of ball at that age, you know you can get hated in a minute when you start beating people bad. We won like 54 games in a row in one stretch, and we were winning like 45 to one. People would hate me because they didn't like getting beat that bad by our teams, but at the end they would say, "Hey Coach, I sure hope you pick my son next year."
PE: So you started teaching them all of the little things, the little things that are the foundation of baseball that caused them to be better overall baseball players at a younger age, which inherently caused your teams to start winning more ballgames?
TR: Absolutely. People always say that you can't teach kids the finer points of baseball when they're that young. I believe kids are like sponges, and they want to learn. You can go out there and do nothing and let them play around, or you can teach them how to play. Our kids learned how to play. Those little kids that were five and six were the same group of kids that went to the 1999 Little League World Series. We didn't have the best athletes, but our kids knew how to play.
PE: What are some of the biggest things you have been able to pass onto your sons and all of the players that you have coached as a former player?
TR: I was a good athlete, but I was like a typical kid and I was a lazy player. I look back on my playing career and I have a lot of regrets. I sit here and wonder, "What could I have done if I would have worked hard?" That's my biggest regret, and when I die I will still have that on my mind. So I try to teach everyone that plays for me that if you're going to play baseball, and you want to play in the Major Leagues, and every kid will tell you that they do, then you need to go out there and work everyday and have that as your goal. At the end of the day if you can say, "You know what, I gave it everything I had, I'm just not good enough," that's easy to live with. I never worked as hard as I could have, so I don't know if I could have made it or not. That's something you don't want to live with. I'd like to think the one thing my kids, personally and the other players on my team, have learned is to work their rear-ends off. Practice is hard work. Hitting the weight room is hard work. We've hit 43 home runs in 21 games so far this season. Alan Matthews (of Baseball America) called me the other day and asked what size our field was because we've hit so many home runs. I told him we've only played six games on our field, and it's 375 (feet) to centerfield. We've played most of our games away. It wouldn't have mattered where we played our games. Our kids are bigger, stronger and faster than most of the teams we play.
PE: What are the strengths and weaknesses of your four children, Colby, Cory, Case and Cyle?
TR: I think Colby's biggest strength is that he handles failure well. Most kids aren't used to failing, so when they start moving up the ladder in baseball and start failing they fall apart. We've met with 15 or 16 scouts in our living room and I tell them all the same thing. If he goes 0 for four in a game, he doesn't come back and think that he has to change his swing. He feels that the pitcher got lucky four times. He's a good player and will recognize that the guy just beat him that day. He understands the concept that you're going to lose more than you're going to win at the plate. He handles that greatly, he does not collapse mentally. If he goes 0 for 20, he's not pouting or down in the dumps. He's working to correct the problem.
Weakness...I'm more critical of my kids than most parents, but if he has a weakness (long pause), maybe he needs to gain some weight. I have a long list of weaknesses with Cory, but Colby has very few. He's 180 pounds right now, he probably needs to be 200. He wants to get quicker, but he runs a 6.6 60 (yard dash). That's pretty fast as it is. We had some scouts come in to watch him in the outfield the other day, and I brought him on the mound and we clocked him at 93. He's got a great arm, he runs well, he bench presses 295 with a little, wiry frame. He's strong, and mentally he's as tough as nails. (Laughing) Maybe he needs to work on functioning better early in the morning. He's a bad morning guy, maybe that's a good weakness.
Cory now, he's just the opposite. If he goes 0 for three he has a different swing the next time he goes up, or he opens or closes his stance. He doesn't trust his abilities. I watched a show on Mia Hamm that reminded me of him, in that they both don't think they're really good. Colby believes he's greater than life, but Cory on the other hand needs constant re-assurance. I have to pat him on the back and tell him he's good because he doesn't believe it.
He has great tools. This year we've had crosscheckers and at least six (scouting) directors come in to watch Colby play, and every time they have come Cory has hit a ball out of sight. I'm not talking about a 350 (foot) home run, I'm talking about a 450 home run. After the game, the director will come up to me and say, "I had to call my area scout and ask him which guy I was coming to watch." Cory has Major League power. He has tremendous bat speed and a tremendous arm. He can go on the mound and throw 94, 95 at will and hit balls out of sight.
Cyle (pronounced Kyle) plays with me, he plays second base on my Varsity team. He started for me last year and hit .311. I've said this many times, I wish I could have Colby's and Cory's talent in his body. He's a little bitty guy at like 5'9", 5'10", and about 145 pounds. But he's like that little chihuahua, he believes he can handle anyone. People will say after the game, "Boy, that Cyle is a great ballplayer." He doesn't know he's not supposed to be there. He sees his older brothers getting all this attention, and he wants it so bad. He doesn't quite have their ability, their size, their strength or their tools, but he sure wants it bad. I wish I could put his mentality in Cory, as he would be unstoppable then.
Casey, he's my youngest one, he's going to be a lot like Cory. He's got a great body. Right now he's probably 5'10", 165 (pounds). He's really muscular, and he bench-presses over 200 pounds, he has great tools and he throws 84 right now as a ninth grade kid. Cory is a catcher, and that's probably where he'll end up playing in pro ball, but he can't catch for my team because he has to pitch for me. But Casey, my little one, is going to be a catcher. He has great mechanics and is a great receiver behind the plate, a great arm, and a left-handed stick to boot with all kinds of pop.
PE: I don't think a lot of people think that much recruiting is involved with high school coaching, especially compared to college coaches where recruiting talent is key to any team's success. However, you have a couple of players that have transferred to play for you in Kasey Kiker and Daniel Esparza, which is a tribute to the job you have done at Russell County High School. How important is it for you to get these kind of players to come to your program and to enjoy the type of success you have?
TR: It's really important. The one thing I got going for me is that most of the schools around here are football schools. You go across the river to Columbus High School (in Georgia), and they have a great program every year, and they do a great job promoting their kids. I try to get our kids to play summer baseball with teams like the Ohio Warhawks to get some recognition and get seen by people. When you start to get some positive publicity about your school or the kids, other parents recognize this and want to put their kids in a situation where they're going to get seen. They want them to play college and pro baseball. I think I've done a pretty good job of promoting the kids we have had at our school. Kasey Kiker's dad called me and asked how Kasey could get on the Warhawks, and I helped them get in contact with Ron Slusher (Manager of the Ohio Warhawks). After that Kiker's dad felt that I did such a good job promoting the players in the area that Kasey needed to come play for me. The same is true with Esparza. He knew we were going to have some scouts in the stands the next two years, so he wanted to be in that position to have a chance. The only thing you can ask for is to be in front of the scouts, and if you don't have it, you don't have it. Scouts don't just show up at every school, they have to know about you some way. We have a lot more young kids, seventh and eighth graders, that have transferred (to Russell County). There are nicer schools in this area but they have come here because of the positive publicity we've received.
PE: Since you brought up the importance of exposure to scouts, how valuable are the services, showcases and events that Perfect Game USA hosts, to not only you as a coach, but to the players on your team, including your sons?
TR: I believe it's a huge tool. I told Jerry (Ford) awhile back, "I'm not trying to blow sunshine up your rear-end, but you guys do a great job." If you're a great talent, people are going to try and find you. But they (Perfect Game) provide the venue for these kids to match up against other top players. Every kid likes to think he's a good player, but how do you test yourself? How do you matchup with those good teams? How do you fare against a 95 mile-per-hour heater from someone like (Kyle) Drabek in Texas. Well, you need some kind of venue, and Perfect Game provides that venue. I can't say enough positives about it, and like I told Jerry, it's not because Perfect Game made Colby Rasmus, Kasey Kiker or Cory Rasmus great players, but boy did they provide a player a place where they can play against other great players and showcase their skills. I have said this to my good friends that I played with in college, I wish we had something like Perfect Game when we were young. We had American Legion baseball and that's it. They provide a service to all of these kids that no one else can match.
PE: How many scouts do you average in attendance at your games this spring with your son Colby swinging the bat the way he has so far this spring?
TR: The first game we played we had 25. We tried to keep up (with the scouts) early on, and then it became too much to deal with. I know every area guy for every team except I haven't seen the Tampa Bay Devil Rays guy and the Arizona Diamondbacks guy. I keep a list of all of them now. Ever since we played that first or second game we had about 12 there, and ever since then we have had four or five every game. And in the last week we have had a bunch of guys I don't recognize, crosscheckers and I know we had the (scouting) directors for the Cardinals and Yankees come in. The guys I don't recognize I guess is a good thing because that means they're either crosscheckers or some bigger folks up the line that come in.
PE: Do the scouts come to you directly with questions, and if so, what are they asking you about?
TR: Not really. I talk to the area guys just about every day. This morning when I got up I got a call from the Pirates' Everett Russell, the Angels' Jeff Crain, Mark Quimuyog from the Twins, and the crosschecker from the Cubs. The biggest question I get is if we'll be taking BP before the game and to verify game times. Whenever they (the area scouts) have a crosschecker or director coming in, they want to see the kids take BP with a wood bat. PE: Do you build certain relationships with specific teams or college recruiters that may influence which teams may be interested in your players or where your players may be inclined to play at the next level? TR: Not really. I've had it both ways. I'm a dad and also a coach, so I've dealt with a lot of these scouts and I've had a lot more phone calls than most people get. They can't always call the kids directly or the parents, but since I'm the coach they can call me. I've developed a pretty good relationship with all of the college guys, but it ends pretty quickly. You're the greatest thing on the planet one week, but when Colby committed to Auburn I saw them at the East Coast Showcase and they wouldn't even speak to me anymore. I'm not sure that it really helps you or other players get scholarships. Now the pro guys have been more helpful in that regard. I've got a kid on my team, Kuyaunnis Miles, who actually had a really good tournament down in Ft. Myers (at the Perfect Game WWBA Championship) as he went six for eight with three triples, and I have a bunch of scouts saying he's going to be a draft and follow kid. They've actually come to me to tell me that they have had three or four junior college coaches that need a player, and I was wondering if Kuyaunnis has already been offered a scholarship. So, they've been more helpful in getting my kids recognition in regards to scholarships more so than my relationship with individual college coaches.
PE: You mentioned to me earlier that you're hitting the road for a tournament in Marianna, Florida tomorrow (Tuesday, March 29th). How often do you travel with your team to help your players not only gain more national exposure, but to allow the team to play the best teams in the nation?
TR: We've done all we can do this year to play as many good teams as possible. As I mentioned before, we've played six home games out of 21. The scouts have been telling me that's bad, because we don't take BP on the road. Everyone knew we had a pretty good team, and most teams aren't going to go out of their way to hunt you down to play you. So, you have to go to them if you want to play good talent. We've been to Mobile already this year to play some highly ranked Perfect Game players like Lance Baxter. I've set my schedule according to a lot of top-notch prospects, because we want to play against them. If we're going to get recognition of being a good team we have to beat good people. It wouldn't do us any good to face some little kid throwing 70 miles-per-hour and we crush the ball off of him. We've been all the way up to Birmingham, and all the way down to Mobile, and now we're going to Florida to play the best teams we can.
PE: Is there any added pressure of coaching the number-two ranked high school team, according to Baseball America right now, in the nation?
TR: It's unbelievable. The only thing I can relate it to is when I coached the Little League team and we played Tom's River, New Jersey. It's like childbirth. A woman will tell you right after she had that child that she will never have another one, but then she forgets how bad it was over time. I can't remember most of the stuff that happened in Williamsport (PA) because it was so stressful. Being undefeated drives me batty. If we lost a game or two it would probably be easier to deal with. But there is so much stress on me personally. I lie in bed every night and stress out over the next ballgame. I can't describe it to you. It's not something I'm used to, but maybe these teams like Chatsworth in California that go undefeated for years at a time are used to dealing with it. For me every game is like a World Series game. We went to Birmingham and played in a little tournament up there. A team lost three games saving their best pitcher for us, and they could have won at least one or two games by using this guy. It's that way every time out. It's a feather in their cap to beat us because we are so highly thought of.
PE: With the success Russell County has had under your direction, do you have future aspirations to coach at the next level?
TR: I do. I'd like to coach in college. I'd love to coach in the minor leagues. I'd love to get in an organization and coach because I love teaching the game, and that's probably what I do best. I teach chemistry in high school because I have to, it's not because I love it. I can do baseball all day long because I love it. It's like what I tell Colby, when it comes to Auburn, the only thing that scares me is I'm not sure he'll commit himself to the books. I have no doubt that he would work out 12 hours a day for baseball and never get tired of it because he loves it that much. My desire one day would be able to wake up in the morning and do baseball all day long.
PE: Have you received any interest at all?
TR: I haven't. Maybe I'll get some in the next few years. I'd like to think people would recognize you if your teams are good or well-coached, and that they can give you those opportunities down the road.
PE: And what do you see for your son Colby with the draft approaching?
TR: This has been the first time for me dealing with this, so I don't know. I know if directors are coming in that's a good thing, because that means he's possibly a top five round guy. He sat down at the beginning (of the season) and felt that he probably wasn't a first-round guy, but he told me his goal and his dream was to squeeze into a sandwich pick or may the second round. I think it's doable for him. He has 15 home runs as of today and 45 RBIs in 21 games, and he's pounded the ball. We've played good pitchers, like a guy (we faced) in Montgomery this week throwing 93, 94, who is going to be a top 2006 guy, and Colby was two for three off of him. So, he's put up pretty big numbers, and even though it's high school and he's using an aluminum bat, it wouldn't have mattered if he was at Turner Fielder swinging a wood bat, he would have hit them out of that park too. I don't know how to read all of these guys (scouts). I had one guy tell me, "He's my number one guy." I don't know if they say that to everybody. This time next year I think I'll have a pretty good feel for it (the draft) then.
PE: Before you brought up that you want your players to work as hard as possible so they don't regret anything down the road. Aside from that, what might you say to any young player as words of advice?
TR: If Baseball is what you want to do, don't let anyone tell you that you can't make it. Don't let anyone tell you that you're too small. I tell Kasey Kiker all the time, he's 5'9", that he's a great baseball player. Don't let someone tell you that you're not good enough or you're not big enough to make it. Look at David Eckstein. If this is what you want, and it's your dream, go get it.
PE: Thanks for taking the time, and best of luck to you and your team at the tournament this week in Florida and for the rest of the season.
TR: Thanks Patrick, I appreciate what you do.
Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
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