April 17, 2008
By David Driver
for the Mail Tribune, Used with permission
BALTIMORE — Brad Arnsberg, while pitching in the minor leagues in Oklahoma City in 1989, had a catcher by the name of John Gibbons who had played for the Mets. The two had played against each other in the minor leagues as New York rivals but did not know each other well.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Medford High graduate Arnsberg is the pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays under manager Gibbons.
But the two are more than just co-workers.
"He was my batterymate. That is where we built a bond together," says Arnsberg, 44, who is in his fourth season as the pitching coach for Toronto. "We kind of just took off from there. He has children who are close in age to my children. Our wives get along great."
Arnsberg, a 1981 Medford High graduate, was a pitching coach in the major leagues under manager Felipe Alou with the Montreal Expos and Jeff Torborg with the Florida Marlins. But Arnsberg said the relationship with Gibbons is different.
"It has been a match made in heaven," says Arnsberg, before a recent game in Baltimore against the Orioles. "We seem to click in so many ways. He is such a player's manager. I sit in on a lot of the meetings he has with pitchers and players. He is more my age and my generation."
Gibbons told MLB.com in 2006: "Nobody cares more about their (pitchers) than Arnie does. He never slows down. He's just go, go, go."
Arnsberg starred in baseball, basketball and football at Medford High. The 6-foot-4 right-hander then pitched for two years at Merced Junior College in California and was drafted by the Yankees in the first round in 1983.
He was the minor league pitcher of the year for the Yankees in 1985 and was also the top pitcher in the Class AA Eastern League that season when he went 14-2 with an ERA of 1.59 with Albany, N.Y.
Arnsberg spent most of the 1986 season with Class AAA Columbus and made his major league debut with the Yankees against the Angels on Sept. 6 of that season.
So what did Arnsberg think of the Yankees digging up a Boston Red Sox T-shirt that had been buried by a construction worker at the new stadium being built?
"I found that kind of funny," he says. "To each his own. The same thing probably would have been done if the Red Sox were building a new Fenway and someone put a Yankee T-shirt there."
The Blue Jays have enough problems trying to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox on the field in the American League East. Toronto, slated to visit Seattle July 1-2, was 8-6 after beating the Orioles here on Tuesday.
"I am really excited, even though we lost pitcher Casey Janssen for the year in spring training," Arnsberg says of the reliever who appeared in 70 games last season with an ERA of 2.35. "That put a little damper on things. I am really excited about what we got. I feel we have one of the top two or three bullpens in the American League."
Closer B.J. Ryan, who missed most of last season with elbow problems, recently returned to the club. And the Jays have Roy Halladay, one of the top starters in the game.
"It is great to have B.J. back," Arnsberg says. "Roy is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He is such a great leader by example."
Arnsberg pitched for the Yankees, Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians during his major league career and was 57-49 in 217 games with an ERA of 3.80. One of his highlights came when he got the save for Texas in the game in which Nolan Ryan posted his 300th career win.
Arnsberg said the only reason he came out of the bullpen in that game was Ryan was forced to throw several extra pitches when the Texas defense could not turn a double play.
"He would still be stuck on 299 without me," says Arnsberg, with a laugh. "Nolan was such a positive influence to be around. He was one of my favorites."
Arnsberg became a pitching coach in the Texas minor league system in 1995 and became the bullpen coach for Montreal after the 1999 season. He began the 2000 season under Alou in that capacity but was named the Expos pitching coach in the middle of that season when Bobby Cuellar was dismissed.
The Seattle native was named the pitching coach for the Marlins prior to the 2002 season and remained in that role until he and Torborg were dismissed in May of 2003.
"I knew it was a personal thing and not a professional thing," Arnsberg says of his dismissal from the Marlins. "I think my track record speaks for itself."
Arnsberg was the pitching coach for Triple A Syracuse, the top farm club of Toronto, in 2004 and was named the pitching coach of the Jays before the 2005 season.
"I feel like I went from the outhouse to the penthouse," he says of the move from Florida to Toronto. "I am back around true baseball people again."
He is one of the few people to put on a uniform with both Montreal and Toronto.
"The language barrier (in Montreal) was a lot different than in Ontario," he says. "There is a lot of English spoken in Ontario. It is easier to get by. For the most part I love both cities. Toronto is a wonderful city. The ballpark in Montreal was obviously at the end of its tenure. The one in Toronto is still state-of-the art with its retractable roof. The nice thing is you know you are going to play every night."
Arnsberg's ties to Oregon are mostly with his wife, whose parents are from the Medford area. His mother and sister live in Texas and his brother Tim, a former minor league player, lives in California. Arnsberg and his wife and two boys live in Arlington, Texas. He has two teenage sons who play baseball and the oldest, Kyle, is a high school junior who is attracting attention from several big-time colleges as a left-handed hitting first baseman and pitcher.