Tag: Jeff Suppan

Ramirez returns to Idaho Falls for second stint

Chukars’ Manager Omar Ramirez talks to players during the first practice together of the year at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. This is Ramirez’s second stint with the Royals. He was manager in 2013 when the Chukars won the Pioneer League Championship going 41-35. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | @LukeORoark

Idaho Falls Chukars’ field manager Omar Ramirez is back in the 208.

But now in his second stint with the burgundy and silver, the 47-year-old has evolved. Grown and matured — as a manager.

“More experienced. More experience as a manager,” Ramirez said of his transition back to Idaho Falls during the Wednesday’s media day at Melaleuca Field. “In 2012, it was my first time being a manager … Just knowing the game more. About movement and pitching change and all that. Players teach you so much, about everything.”

Ramirez returns to the Chukars after spending time with the Royals’ other rookie and low-A affiliates during the previous three summers. After a quick hiatus to manage in Burlington and Lexington, respectively, Ramirez returns with not only more knowledge, but an outgoing personality that fits with Chukars baseball.

“One of the great attributes of a guy like Omar, especially at the lower levels in the minor leagues where the Latin players haven’t acclimated, or haven’t learned English yet, perhaps, Omar has the ability to speak and communicate equally well with the American and English and Spanish speaking players,” Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said. “And I think that’s a great attribute for anyone to ever have, especially to be successful at this level.”

Being a player, or manager, in the ever-so-fluid minor league system can be difficult. It’s no secret.

There can be some long hours, pitching coach Jeff Suppan and hitting coach Damon Hollins said. You spend time away from family, friends. You’re in Idaho one week and then next thing you know: poof, you’re in Kentucky.

By late August, the two-month grind of the minor leagues can grind even the most hardened.

Chukars’ Manager Omar Ramirez talks to players about fielding during the first practice together of the year at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. This is Ramirez’s second stint with the Royals. He was manager in 2013 when the Chukars won the Pioneer League Championship going 41-35. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

“You’re always coaching, and it’s like as a player, once the games over, you shower and then you go home. a coach has more work to do,” Suppan said. “As a player, you come to the ball park and your work starts, but as a coach, you’re doing work well before the players are there. So, the best job in baseball is player, you know. Coaching has a lot of enjoyable things, but it’s a lot of work.”

And if someone knows this, it’s Ramirez — who got to the AAA level and played in the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros farming system at one point in his career. He’s no stranger to not settling in one place for too long: he’s bounced around from Cleveland to Mexico to independent leagues, he said.

But within that minor league grind, there’s a chance to make an impact on a pro-baller’s career. That’s what drew Ramirez back to Idaho Falls, and coaching, after retiring due to lingering injuries, spending time in Mexico and building a family.

He said he loves teaching.

“It’s my life. It’s what I enjoy doing,” Ramirez said. “I love it. They always ask me, ‘Do you want to become a big league manager?’ And if the opportunity is there, that’s fine, but I like the minor leagues. The players listen to you. In the big leagues, they don’t listen to you. I like this. I can tell, ‘Hey, you’re doing this wrong, you’re doing this wrong.’ In the big leagues, it’s different.

“I enjoy my job,” Ramirez added.

The Chukars play the Idaho Falls Bandits, an American Legion double-A team today at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is at 7:15 p.m. Idaho Falls official season begins Friday at Melaleuca Field against Ogden.

Same time as always: 7:15 p.m.

Chukars’ Manager Omar Ramirez works with players during the first practice together of the year at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. This is Ramirez’s second stint with the Royals. He was manager in 2013 when the Chukars won the Pioneer League Championship going 41-35. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Chukars announce 2018 coaching staff

By Luke O’Roark | Post Register | @LukeORoark
A familiar face will be back with the Idaho Falls Chukars this summer.

The Chukars, an advanced rookie-level affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, announced Omar Ramirez will manage the team in 2018, returning to Idaho Falls after spending three season with Burlington and Lexington.

Idaho Falls Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, right, watches right-hander Reid Redman on June 14 at the team’s first workout at Melaleuca Field.(Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Ramirez takes over for now former Chukars manager Justin Gemoll, who will join Grand Canyon Baseball as a volunteer assistant coach for the Lopes’ 2018 season.

Ramirez previously managed the Chukars from 2012 to 2014 and was a part of the Chukars’ 2013 Pioneer League championship team.

“We welcome back Omar Ramirez, the manager who brought us our last championship in 2013,” Chukars’ President and general manager Kevin Greene said in a press release. “He along with a great supporting coaching staff of Jeff and Damon should make for a fun season of baseball in Idaho Falls.”

Joining Ramirez in 2018 will be pitching coach Jeff Suppan and hitting coach Damon Hollins, both who were a part of the Cuhkars’ 2017 staff. Suppan returns for his fourth year in Idaho Falls and brings 17 years of Major league experience.

For Hollins, he returns for his eighth season within the Kansas City Royals organization, the press release states. Hollins will also serve as an assistant outfield, base running and bunting coordinator.

Justin Kemp will also return to the Chukars as the team’s head athletic trainer in 2018. It will be his third season with the Chukars.

Idaho Falls’ opening day is set for June 15. The Chukars will host the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field, as first pitch is slated for 7:15 p.m.

Chukars notebook: Chukars may face problem with pitcher shortage

By Luke O’Roark | Loroark@postregister.com | @Lukeoroark
Editors note: Every Sunday, Luke O’Roark will break down the Chukars, the Pioneer League, and give some insight on what’s going on inside the Kansas City affiliate.

The Idaho Falls bullpen was a bit rattled.
Chukars pitchers had just given up 18 hits to Grand Junction at home and surrendered five home runs in a 14-3 loss which saw fans leave after the seventh frame.

Andres Sotillet pitches against Grand Junction. The Chukars lost 14-3. (Photo by Taylor Carpenter)

After 10-straight games, the Chukars had used up almost all 13 pitches on their roster. And they still had 12 more games before their first day off on July 11.
One pitcher, Michael Silva, was seen practicing his fastball late the night before their 14-3 thrashing.
The shortage of pitchers on this year’s Chukars roster could be a concern — at least in the first half of the season.
“We don’t really worry about that stuff,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “That’s out of our control. We just work the guys that we got here.”
To add on to the shortage, all 13 pitchers are right handed.
And there’s not much they can do about it.
“I was shocked, too,” Silva said when he saw the Chukars didn’t have any southpaws. “It is what it is, honestly. We just have to make due with what we got and what we got is pretty good.”
Because of the MLB’s minor league system, the Chukars don’t decide the makeup of their roster. They simply have to work with the players given from the Kansas City Royals’ front office.
So, if a Chukars player is doing well, they might not be wearing the maroon and grey for too long.
And while the system has given Chukars a chance to move up (Jonathan McCray was recently moved up to Triple-A), it puts Idaho Falls in a bind. The Chukars have the fewest pitchers available on any given night. Orem and Grand Junction have the most in the Pioneer League with 22. Other teams range anywhere from 16 (Missoula) to 19 (Billings).
And this shortage has affected it statistically: Idaho Falls has the second-worst team ERA in the Pioneer League (7.36) but has pitched the third-most innings (99), as of Friday.
“We have faith and trust in all the right-handed pitchers we have,” Silva said. “Because it’s all we have.”
This isn’t anything new for Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, who’s in his third year in Idaho Falls.
Suppan said last year he had to work with the opposite — mostly left handed pitchers. The 17-year MLB veteran added that the purpose of the minors is trying to get pitchers to work on certain pitches, not worrying about aligning certain pitchers against certain batters like one might see at higher levels.
“It is a part of the minors” Suppan said. “I coach who’s here and try to get each guy better.”
Robby Rinn, one of the Chukars’ best hitters this season (he leads the league with 19 RBIs), said he’s noticed how Idaho Falls only has righties in the bullpen.
But he said it hasn’t affected his at-bats during practice or games.
“We’ve been facing a lot of righty’s, actually, except for Orem, but other than that we’ve been heavy righty the whole entire season so far,” Rinn said.
Jake Wakamatsu echoed a similar sentiment for the Chukars’ short bullpen. It’s just a component of the minors Idaho Falls will have to live with.
“That’s tough, too,” Wakamatsu said. “Hopefully we’ll get some guys coming up to help the bullpen.”

Recent Chukars Acquisitions (as of June 30)

• Emmanuel Estevez was recently acquired by the Royals-Arizona League affiliate. Estevez’s departure shrinks the Chukars’ bullpen to 12.

• Jonathan McCray was assigned to triple-A (Omaha Storm Chasers) on June 28 and then returned two days later. He has batted .361 in eight games with Idaho Falls.

• The Chukars acquired the Royals’ 16th round pick in this year’s draft: catcher Chris Hudgins.

Around the Pioneer League (as of June 30)

• Orem and Billings are tied for first in the Pioneer League. The Owls (7-4) have beaten the Chukars twice (10-6 on June 23; 9-3 on June 14) and lost to them once (9-7 on Thursday) this season. Great Falls, Ogden and Idaho Falls are all tied for second in league standings at (6-5).

• The Chukars are tied for second in the South Division behind the Owlz. Both teams feature some of the best offenses in the league (Owlz are batting .342; Chukars’ team batting average is a .309).

• In the North Division, Billings tops the standings at 7-4. The Mustangs have gone 6-4 in the previous 10 games.

• Ogden’s Cristian Santana has the league’s highest batting average (.537) in 41 at-bats this season. Chukars first baseman Robby Rinn, who’s from Rhode Island, leads the league with 17 RBIs.

• Billings has the two best pitchers in the league: Tyler Mondile and Moises Nova. Mondile has a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings pitched. Nova has a 0.96 ERA in 9 and ⅓ innings pitched.

Chukars announce their 2017 coaching staff


A new hitting coach will sit in the Idaho Falls Chukars dugout this summer.

Damon Hollins will replace Andre David as the Chukars’ hitting instructor for the 2017 season, the Chukars announced Friday. Manager Justin Gemoll and pitching coach Jeff Suppan will return to Idaho Falls for their third straight seasons, and Justin Kemp will serve as the Chukars’ head athletic trainer for the second straight year.

This is not Hollins’ first stint as the Chukars’ hitting coach. He held the same position in 2013 and 2014. Hollins spent the previous two seasons as the hitting coach for the Single-A Lexington Legends. 2017 will be Hollins’ eighth year in the Kansas City Royals’ organization.

David was named the hitting coach for the Burlington Royals, Kansas City’s other Rookie-level affiliate, according to the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News. Former Chukars manager Omar Ramirez will become Burlington’s manager this upcoming season, as well. Ramirez, who managed the Legends the last two years, spent three seasons in Idaho Falls. He and Hollins won a Pioneer League title in 2013.

The Chukars did not name a bench coach on Friday. Ramon Castro has occupied that role the previous two seasons.

Lefties deal in the Chukars’ 7-3 win over Billings

Idaho Falls pitcher Richard Lovelady closes out Thursday’s 7-3 win over the Billings Mustangs at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls pitcher Richard Lovelady closes out Thursday’s 7-3 win over the Billings Mustangs at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Another solid start, a hot lineup and a fresh mustache keyed the Idaho Falls Chukars’ second straight win.

The Chukars ended the seven-game homestand with a 7-3 win over the Billings Mustangs on Thursday night at Melaleuca Field. The win over the Pioneer League’s best team gave I.F. its first back-to-back victories in August.

Lefties shine

Matt Portland started a string of a strong starting pitching performances on the homestand. The left-hander topped off the seven home games with another solid start.

Portland pitched five innings, allowing three runs (one earned) one five hits and three walks with six strikeouts.

“We worked a lot on his tempo, with the idea of throwing it through the strike zone instead of to the strike zone,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said.

Every Chukars starter on the homestand pitched at least four innings, and the most earned runs any of them allowed was two.

Drew Milligan entered Thursday’s game with a 9.27 ERA, which ballooned thanks to nine earned runs over his previous four innings. The left-hander said he was thinking too much about mechanics, but there was also something missing. He needed mustache.

Milligan said he pitched well in extended spring training, the last time he sported a thick mustache. A couple weeks ago, he decided to bring it back. The stache grew back to spring training form Thursday, when he pitched three scoreless innings. Was it due to the mustache?

“One-hundred percent,” Milligan said. “It’s gotta stay, for sure.”

Milligan didn’t allow a hit or a walk, and he struck out three. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is now 28-to-7, and he still hasn’t allowed a home run.

“It’s a process,” Suppan said. “‘What makes me more intense? What makes me less intense? How do I take the same intensity every game?’ That’s what they’re learning, and Milly did a really nice job tonight.”

Lefty Richard Lovelady closed the game out with another perfect ninth inning. Lovelady has allowed one earned run in seven innings with the Chukars. He’s struck out nine, walked one and allowed four hits.

Sending them home

A week ago, the Chukars were struggling with runners in scoring position to an unsustainable degree. They went 1 for 25 with runners on second and/or third at Billings over the weekend, and they only slightly improved to start the homestand.

I.F. went 4 for 11 (.364) with runners in scoring position during Wednesday’s 7-5 win. That number swelled to 6 for 12 on Thursday.

In the bottom of the fourth, I.F. had a 4-2 lead with Luke Willis on third, one out and Ricky Aracena at the plate. The Chukars shortstop hit a high chopper to the left side, and pitcher Patrick Riehl appeared to touch it before it hit the ground and bounced foul. But home plate umpire Trevor Danneger ruled it foul, even after a discussion with base umpire Chris Sundvold.

The call looked like an omen, the way the Chukars had played earlier in the homestand. Instead, Aracena walked, Meibrys Viloria drove Willis home, and Aracena scored on a groundout.

Player of the game 

Chukars second baseman Angelo Castellano 

Castellano led all hitters with three hits, and he finished 3 for 4 with an RBI and two runs scored. But he also earns this honor for the impressive range, body control and arm strength he displayed at second all night.

Up next

The Chukars (29-27, 7-11 second half) get Friday off and start a six-game road trip Saturday. Arnaldo Hernandez is scheduled to start against fellow righty Alejandro Requena in game one of a four-game series against the Grand Junction Rockies.


Chukars’ all-stars took giant leaps this season

Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque grabs a foul ground ball during the game against the Orem Owlz on June 22 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque grabs a foul ground ball during the game against the Orem Owlz on June 22 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

Last Wednesday, the Chukars lost to Missoula on a walkoff home run. The man who served up the homer was Brian Bayliss, who discovered he was a Pioneer League All-Star hours earlier.

Bayliss’ all-star selection couldn’t fully neutralize the sting of the walkoff, but it softened the blow. The second annual Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star Game is a good reminder to Bayliss and the Chukars’ other four all-stars Alex Luna, Yeison Melo, Manny Olloque and Meibrys Viloria of the larger picture. They’ve taken strides toward the higher levels of affiliated baseball over the last month and a half.

“It’s an honor,” Olloque said. “Just keep going. We’ve got plenty of season left. Improve on it.”

All five of I.F.’s All-Stars have gone through some version of the same story: they’ve broken through this season afterlackluster 2015 campaigns. Viloria might be the most glaring example.

The 19-year-old catcher leads the Pioneer League in batting average (.448), slugging percentage (.776), OPS (1.269), doubles(17) and total bases (97). Viloria has drawn only 10 walks, but that does not mean he’s impatient.

“He knows what he’s looking for,” Chukars hitting coach Andre David said. “If there’s a fastball on the outer half, and hedoesn’t like it, he’d rather be 0 and 1 than 0 for 1. Taking nothing away from his aggressiveness. It’s a controlledaggressiveness.”

Why take a walk when you get a pitch you can crush?

Viloria has 20 extra-base hits, including the six home runs that landed him in Tuesday’s home run derby and in the starting lineup for the game to follow. He had 39 hits last year with Burlington. None went for extra bases.

“I was working hard last year,” Viloria said in Spanish through I.F. bench coach Ramon Castro. “I tried hitting the ball (hard)but I couldn’t do it last year. I wasn’t focused. This year, I’m more focused, relaxed, I see the ball better and I have moreconfidence.”

Olloque hit .169 with a .438 OPS in 18 games with the Arizona League Royals that summer after battling a thumb injury. Hehas been plenty healthy this summer.

Olloque’s .342 batting average and .895 OPS netted him the start at third base for Tuesday’s game.

“He recovers really well,” David said. “If the pitcher makes a good pitch or a good couple pitches, it doesn’t phase him.”

Melo had the best 2015 season of I.F.’s all-stars, hitting .318 in 43 games for the Arizona League Royals. His OPS, however, was .772. That number is .919 this season, thanks in large part to 12 doubles, four triples and three home runs. Melo leads the Pioneer League in hits (58) and RBIs (39).

“We have done some things that have allowed him to be more in a position to see the fastball,” David said. “If it’s a breaking ball that he can get to or they hang, he’s in a better position to (hit) that, but he’s also recognizing, for the most part, the ones he can’t handle.”

Luna had a 4.54 ERA in 41.2 innings with Burlington last year. In 40 innings this season, he leads the Pioneer League in ERA (2.48) and the team in strikeouts (42). He’s issued just seven walks.

“We want to fill up the strike zone, and he’s able to do that,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said. “It makes the hitters more aggressive. Then he can pick, he can change speeds, and he does that well.”

Luna will miss the game due to a strained oblique, and Bayliss filled his vacancy. Bayliss played for the Chukars last year and finished with a 6.39 ERA in 25.1 innings. His ERA is 3.24 in 16.2 innings this year, and he allowed only one earned run his first 10 innings. Suppan said Bayliss has been effective in throwing his changeup off his sinking fastball, and he tries to get hitters to chase his curveball.

The five all-star Chukars aren’t close to their major goal, but Tuesday’s game validates the progress they’ve made.

“I continued working hard,” Melo said. “I want to make the next level next year.”

Chukars cruise 9-2 with World Series trophy at Melaleuca Field


Wendy Barckholtz takes a photograph of her children Zane, 13, and Mallory, 8, along with the World Series Trophy on display at Melaleuca Field on Friday evening. The family came from Buhl to watch the Chukars play. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Wendy Barckholtz takes a photograph of her children Zane, 13, and Mallory, 8, along with the World Series Trophy on display at Melaleuca Field on Friday evening. The family came from Buhl to watch the Chukars play. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Curt Nelson “woke up” the 2015 World Series trophy at 6 a.m. on Friday.

Nelson, the director of the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame, put the trophy in a case and wheeled it out of Kauffman Stadium. The two headed to Kansas City International Airport, where they caught a flight to Denver at 9 a.m. From Denver, Nelson and the Commissioner’s Trophy flew to Idaho Falls.

The trophy’s final destination was Melaleuca Field, where it was on display during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-2 win over the Helena Brewers Friday night. It was the first visit to I.F. in the trophy’s 49-year history.

Trophy life

The Commissioner’s Trophy has now visited five of Kansas City’s six minor league affiliates (the other Rookie-level team, Burlington, will get the trophy in August). These visits must work around the Royals’ schedule because the trophy is displayed for all 81 games in Kansas City. The Chukars got an opening this weekend with the Royals playing in Detroit.

The World Series Championship trophy is on display at Melaleuca Field. The trophy is being taken to all the Kansas City Royals affiliate team sites. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
The World Series Championship trophy is on display at Melaleuca Field. The trophy is being taken to all the Kansas City Royals affiliate team sites. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Nelson flew coach on his trip to Idaho Falls. Sitting next to him was the trophy, with a seat belt around its base and everything. Passengers gawked.

“The question I get most often is, “Is that the real one?” Nelson said.

Nelson handles the trophy with white gloves, but he doesn’t worry about the trophy — which cost tens of thousands of dollars to make — getting broken or stolen. In fact, the trophy sat on a plastic table and was not covered as fans took photos with it.

“I try not to get too nervous,” he said. “I have to remind myself to be careful with it.”

The trophy will also be displayed during Saturday’s game, and it will fly back to Kansas City on Sunday morning.

Swept away

Many I.F. players saw the Commissioner’s Trophy in person for the first time. An easy narrative would be to credit the trophy — and the 3,280 fans that came to see it — for I.F.’s dominant win.

Helena’s Ronnie Gideon just makes it to second base as Idaho Falls’ Angelo Castellano fields the ball during Friday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Helena’s Ronnie Gideon just makes it to second base as Idaho Falls’ Angelo Castellano fields the ball during Friday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

But the Chukars played like this well before the trophy arrived. Friday’s win completed a three-game sweep and increased their winning streak to four. I.F. won all four games by at least six runs.

“For those guys, it’s good to actually see (the trophy),” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said of his players. “It shows them what they’re working for, the ultimate goal of winning a world championship. I don’t know if it had any effect on our game or not. These guys have been playing hard since we got them.”

Everything was firing on Friday. Matt Portland had a no-hitter through four, the defense made few mistakes and every batter recorded a hit. Luke Willis and David Edwards each hit their third home runs of the season, and Yeison Melo hit his first — a 428-foot, three-run blast in the fourth.

“I feel comfortable hitting the ball right now,” Melo said through translator Ramon Castro, I.F.’s bench coach.

A different World Series celebration

The Chukars’ pitching coach Friday was not Jeff Suppan. In his stead was Royals minor league pitching coordinator Larry Carter.

Suppan is visiting St. Louis this weekend for a reunion with his former teammates on the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Suppan started game four of that World Series, allowing three earned runs in six innings. The Cardinals won that game 5-4 and closed out the series a game later.

Player of the game

Chukars starting pitcher Matt Portland

The left-hander was literally unhittable for the first four innings. He struggled in the fifth, allowing two runs on Helena’s only three hits of the game.

Overall, Portland allowed two earned runs with three walks and seven strikeouts in five innings.

Up next

The Chukars (16-11) begin a four-game series against the Missoula Osprey (11-16) at 7:15 p.m. Arnaldo Hernandez is scheduled to start for I.F.

On the road again: Jeff Suppan adjusts to life as coach


Idaho Falls Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan, right, watches right-hander Reid Redman on June 14 at the team’s first workout at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Jeff Suppan has memorized one line of Spanish: “No hablo español pero entiendo todo.”

Translation: “I don’t speak Spanish, but I understand everything.”

It’s a joke Suppan tells the Spanish-speaking pitchers on the Idaho Falls Chukars in attempt to hurdle the language barrier. And the Latino pitchers make up a fraction of the players Suppan is mentoring in his second year as I.F.’s pitching coach.

“You try to understand the individual, whether they speak the language or not,” Suppan told the Post Register.

Last season, Suppan made a translated cheat sheet of key points he wanted to tell his Latino pitchers. He also consults bench coach Ramon Castro or bilingual players if he needs a translator.

But the maze of translation still provides some frustration.

“If I say, ‘Hey, be aggressive,’ (a Latino pitcher) might think it means, ‘I have to throw 100 miles an hour,’” Suppan said. “To me, that doesn’t mean that. ‘Just hit the strike zone. Be aggressive in your pitch, whether it’s a changeup, slider, curveball or fastball.’”

These adjustments are relatively minor compared to Suppan’s first weeks in Idaho Falls last summer.

Suppan officially retired from Major League Baseball in 2014. His last pro season was 2012, when he split time between the San Diego Padres and their Triple-A affiliate. When the Padres released Suppan after the season, the right-handed pitcher ended his 17-year MLB career.

The year before his stint with San Diego, Suppan played for the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Kansas City Royals’ AAA affiliate. Suppan said people in the Royals’ organization gauged his interest in coaching. At the time, he couldn’t fathom coaching career.

“It took a year, maybe two years to get the player out of me,” Suppan said.

Suppan became more attracted by coaching the longer he was retired. He stayed in touch with the Royals and went to the team’s scout school. A year after officially retiring, he was hired as the Chukars’ pitching coach.

One of the hardest things for Suppan to get used to last summer was riding the bus to every road game. He flew in chartered jets his entire major league career, which began in 1995. From 1998 to 2011, Suppan’s only trips to the minor leagues were for one-start rehab assignments.

He only had to worry about one pitcher for the previous two decades, as well. As a pitching coach, Suppan had to focus on more than a dozen.

Suppan owned a Los Angeles restaurant fittingly named Soup’s Grill until this past December. His coaching responsibilities helped lead to the restaurant’s sale.

“My wife was stuck in California with two kids having to run to the restaurant because somebody didn’t show up,” Suppan said. “I didn’t really think that was fair, and the market was right, so we sold it.”

Chukars left-hander Matt Portland was disappointed when he found out he’d be returning to I.F. for a second straight season. No player wants to repeat a minor-league level. One bright spot, however, was the Chukars coaching staff, particularly Suppan.

Portland described Suppan as approachable and hip, a coach who deftly balances the mentor-peer relationship. Suppan will discuss more than just pitching, although he’s good at that, too.

“His favorite saying is, ‘You never know when a bag of (expletive) is going to fall on your head,’” Portland said. “You’ve gotta be even-keeled and be ready for the highs and the lows.”

Portland has a 9.18 ERA this season, but last week he threw a sequence of pitches that left Suppan proud.

The basis of the sequence is this: throw an inside slider followed by a sinker that begins where the slider ended. The goal is to create an invisible X in the hitter’s mind, keeping him off-balance.

After weeks of practice, Portland executed the sequence in a game.

Moments like these make the grind of I.F.’s season worth it for Suppan. Whenever he can get through to his pitchers, Hispanic or otherwise, he’s glad he pursued a coaching career.

“Hitters can hit forever in the cage, but we can’t really throw (forever),” Suppan said. “Getting that work down to where it’s short increments where we’re gaining a lot of knowledge from it, that’s where I get really excited.”

Tall order: Cole Way transitions from punter to pitcher


Not many athletes get to choose between playing pro baseball or college football.

But there was Cole Way, sitting in his parents’ living room, wondering if he’d be selected in the 2014 MLB draft. If not, he’d likely return for his senior year at Tulsa. As a punter.

Way almost lost faith, but he finally heard his name called in the 38th round. The Kansas City Royals selected him, causing the living room to fill with hugs and tears.

“(The Royals) called me right after that and were like, ‘Hey, we’re serious about you,’ Way said. “I told them right there, ‘I’m in.’

Two years and a $50,000 signing bonus later, Way is pitching for the Idaho Falls Chukars. At 24, the left-hander is one of the oldest players on I.F.’s roster. But in baseball years, he’s one of the youngest.

I feel like I’m growing, maturing in the game like I need to be doing,” Way said.

Perhaps more surprising than Way’s path from punter to pitcher is that he was a punter to begin with. He’s 6-foot-11.

Way became a punter because of his brother Tress, who is heading into his third season as the starting punter for the Washington Redskins. Cole juggled baseball and football scholarship offers entering his senior year at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla. Watching Tress thrive at the University of Oklahoma helped sway Way toward football.

“Being a little brother, I was like, ‘Well if he can do it, I’m gonna do it,’ Way said.

A group of Way’s friends chose to attend Tulsa, so Way’s decision became easy. Tress believes Way could have gone to bigger school if he attended more football camps in high school.

“Out of high school, Cole was probably the best punter in the country,” Tress said. “Cole was a better punter than I was.”

Way grew three inches after his junior season at Tulsa in 2013. In May 2014, he traveled to Corona, Calif., to visit Tress’ future in-laws, which included former Seattle Mariner Brian Turang. Turang, who owns a training facility in Corona, heard Way was a pitcher in high school and asked him to pitch for the first time in three years. Turang’s radar gun clocked Way’s fastball from 89 and 92 miles per hour.

Turang recommended Way to a Southern California-based Royals scout, who brought Way in for a workout, according to MLB.com. The scout was also impressed, and Way was invited to a Royals pre-draft workout.

A week after the workout, Way sat in his parents’ living room listening to the MLB draft feed on a laptop. If Way wasn’t drafted but signed as a free agent, he’d consider balancing baseball with his final season at Tulsa. That consideration went out the window when the Royals selected him.

Tress told his brother that baseball was a no-brainer. As impressive as Way was as a punter, Tress gushed even more about his pitching ability.

“I try telling people how good he was in high school. Anytime he stepped on the mound, guys never touched the ball,” Tress said. “We all had a pretty good idea what God created him to do.”

Last year with Burlington, Way overextended his elbow three weeks into last season and missed the rest of it. He entered this summer healthy, and he’s posted a 3.18 ERA in 5.2 innings so far.

Pitching coach Jeff Suppan is impressed with Way’s stuff and temperament. Way’s football career rarely comes up.

“He doesn’t really say he was a punter,” Suppan said. “He just says he was on the football team.”

Way knows he’s raw compared to most minor-league pitchers, so he’s patient. He’s just grateful the Royals gave him a shot.

“Hopefully I can live up to the expectations of what they saw,” Way said.

Reid Redman continues adjusting to life as a pitcher

Right-handed relief pitcher Reid Redman, 27, is on a rehab assignment with the Idaho Falls Chukars. He underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2015. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Right-handed relief pitcher Reid Redman, 27, is on a rehab assignment with the Idaho Falls Chukars. He underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2015. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

It’s hard to blame Reid Redman for missing the warning signs.

The right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization felt some tightness in his right forearm during 2015 spring training, but he pitched through it.

“I was pretty new to pitching, so I thought this was just what pitchers go through,” Redman told the Post Register.

The pain persisted during his first two months with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Kansas City’s Double-A affiliate. That May, Redman decided to get his arm looked at. An MRI revealed a ulnar collateral ligament tear. He underwent Tommy John surgery the next day.

The surgery landed Redman, 27, with the Idaho Falls Chukars this summer on a rehabilitation assignment. His goal this summer is to progress as a pitcher, a position he began playing three years ago.

Redman graduated from Texas Tech in 2012 with a degree in oil and gas. In 2013, the Lubbock, Texas, native started considering a career in the oil industry.

Redman was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 23rd round of the 2012 MLB draft. He played infield at the time and had hardly pitched an inning in his career.

In 2012, the Rays assigned Redman to Rookie-level Princeton, where he spent most of his time at second base. Redman batted .265/.324/.376 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 253 plate appearances that summer. It wasn’t a horrendous performance, but Tampa Bay released him after 2013 spring training.

Redman packed his things and headed back to West Texas. He figured his career was over.

“I was going to get into oil and gas of some sort,” Redman said. “That’s all there really is around there.”

Before he began searching for new jobs, a scout for the Miami Marlins called Redman wondering if he could come to Palm Beach, Fla., for a tryout. Redman didn’t hesitate.

Redman arrived in Palm Beach hoping to impress the Marlins scouts at the plate and in the field.

“They said, ‘You don’t need any bats or anything, you just need your glove. We want to see if you can pitch,’ Redman said. “I was pretty confused at first. Thought they might have the wrong guy.”

A Miami scout was impressed with Redman’s arm as a infielder for Texas Tech, Redman said, and the Marlins wanted to see if that arm would translate to the pitching mound. Redman wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity. But all he threw, all he knew, were fastballs.

“I really had no idea what I was doing,” Redman said.

His velocity, movement and mechanics impressed Miami enough for them to offer him a contract. It’s paid off.

Redman posted a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 relief innings for the Batavia Muckdogs (short-season Single-A) in 2013. He played for the advanced Single-A Jupiter Hammerheads and the Double-A Jacksonville Suns the following season. His combined ERA in 61.2 innings that year was 2.04, with 68 strikeouts and 12 walks.

Redman and left-hander Brian Flynn were traded to the Royals for Aaron Crow before the 2015 season, and Redman was assigned to Northwest Arkansas. He posted a 3.63 ERA in 17.1 innings before he experienced a pitcher’s worst nightmare last May. But he considers the Tommy John rehab a blessing in disguise, a chance to improve his slider and changeup.

“His stuff is there, he’s got good velocity,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said. “He has a good idea of how the game is played. That’s half the battle really.”

Redman does not know how long his rehab assignment will last or where he’ll be assigned after Idaho Falls. But it’s easy for him to be patient. After all, he thought his career was finished three years ago.

“I’m gonna try to do this as long as I can, and hopefully have some fun while I do it,” Redman said. “Oil and gas will be there when I get done.”