When he took over as manager of the Sacramento River Cats in November, Steve Scarsone was fortunate enough to inherit a number of coaches and players who had helped lead the club to a Pacific Coast League Pacific South Division title in 2012, its fifth straight.
But there was a catch.
He had to accept the high level of pressure that comes with being the face of a franchise that has such a culture of winning and that has often led all of minor league baseball in attendance. Scarsone knows he probably won’t get much of a honeymoon period to adapt to the Triple-A game.
Good thing he’s used to high expectations.
“(There’s a) tremendous amount of pressure, especially from within,” Scarsone told reporters gathered on the diamond at Raley Field during the team’s annual media day on Monday. “Not so much from the A’s or even Sacramento’s front office or anything like that. Obviously, we know the reputation, the tradition here.
“Every year I have pressure on me. I put pressure on myself, too. That’s what helps you strive and continue to do the work. I mean, my goal is to win this division and move on from there. I don’t think anything less would be acceptable.”
In addition to the expectations, however, the job possesses a great amount of opportunity, and for someone like Scarsone, who has been climbing the professional baseball ladder since the early 2000s, the rewards of doing well could be great.
After leading the River Cats to winning seasons in 2011 and 2012, Darren Bush is now the bullpen coach for the Oakland Athletics. Another former Sacramento skipper, Tony DeFrancesco, spent time with the A’s and was the interim manager of the Houston Astros last season.
Scarsone’s Triple-A career starts tonight (7:05 p.m.) when the Cats begin an eight-game homestand by hosting the Las Vegas 51’s at Raley Field.
A successful stint in Sacramento would be just another positive chapter in Scarsone’s professional career. He was drafted in the second round of the 1986 MLB draft by Philadelphia, and went on to play seven seasons in the majors with the Phillies, Orioles, Giants, Cardinals and Royals. During that time, he played in 350 games, hit .239 with 20 home runs, knocked in 86 RBIs, plated 103 runs and collected seven steals.
Scarsone also spent time playing in the minors, including a season with the Vancouver Canadians — the franchise that moved to Sacramento and became the River Cats after the 1999 season.
He transitioned to coaching soon after his retirement in 1999 and became the manager for the South Bend Silver Hawks, a Single-A feeder team for the Arizona Diamondbacks, in 2001.
In 2009, he left the Diamondbacks for the Athletics organization with the help of Greg Sparks, an old friend who is now the hitting coach for the River Cats. Scarsone most recently coached Oakland’s Double-A team, the Midland Rockhounds. One of his pitchers on the Rockhounds, Sonny Gray, is set to play his first full Triple-A season this year with Sacramento.
“I love him. I played for him last season in Midland for most of the season until I came up here. He’s awesome,” Gray said. “He’s very easy to talk to. He’s super competitive. You can tell he wants to win.
“He played, so he knows what we go through and he knows how to handle it.”
Center fielder Michael Choice, who also played for Scarsone in Midland before joining the River Cats, has a similar view of his manager.
“He’s all business on the field,” Choice said. “But he has his times where he’s going to try to lighten the pressure and joke around every now and then.”
With his players’ support and his wealth of experience, Scarsone appears ready to tackle Triple-A. He seemed optimistic on Monday about his first foray into the highest level of minor league baseball:
“We’ve got a great bunch of players here. (They’ve) already proven a lot in their short careers and they’ll continue to prove that they can play this game. A lot of what I’m going to do is basically letting them do what they do best and try to position them in the right spots so that they will continue to have that success.”
And if he needs a breather, there’s always Netflix.
“I’ll pick a TV show, a series that I’ve never seen before and I’ll start knocking out episodes of it, just kind of help myself turn the brain off a little bit,” Scarsone said. “(But) you don’t really decompress. (With) 140 games in 150 days, decompressing isn’t really an option. It’s just kind of stalling it off for a couple of hours.”
— Reach Will Bellamy at [email protected]