Jeff Banister is the Minor League Field Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jeff has spent his entire professional career (24 years) as a player, manager, and coach in the Pirates organization. He has been a major league player, major league coach, minor league manager, minor league coach, and for the last 6 years has been the Pirates field coordinator. He is a link to the Pirates winning past and he has been adaptable and loyal enough to commit to changing culture under numerous GMs, managers, and farm directors. There is no staff member who touches more lives or has more influence in molding the physical, mental, fundamental, and personal development of Pirates players.
Jeff was a member of the 1991 Pirates NL East championship team and he had a hit in his only major league at bat, July 23, 1991. He overcame bone cancer, osteomyolitis, seven operations on his left leg and ankle, and a crushed vertebrae from a home plate collision that left him temporarily paralyzed from the neck down in his road to becoming a Pittsburgh Pirate. He possesses a combination of baseball knowledge, hard-nosed work ethic and discipline, and an amazing sense for how to tell every single person he deals with exactly what they need to hear without sacrificing his honesty and integrity.
Geoff Miller: I think it would be helpful to our readers to have a better understanding of the role of a field coordinator in a Major League Baseball organization. Can you explain what you do in Spring Training, during the season, and within the structure of baseball operations?
Jeff Banister: A field coordinator implements the philosophies and ideals and fundamentals that are set out by the major league manager and staff and translates and teaches them to the minor league staffs and coaches. I also help our farm director evaluate all of our coaches, managers, pitching coaches, strength coaches, and all other staff members. I help teach our managers the art of managing: managing the men and the players, and implementing of the programs that we have in place. With players, I help aid in evaluating their skills, I aid in developing and overseeing player plan programs. I coordinate all of Spring Training for our minor leaguers. I take info from each coordinator (pitching, hitting, infield, etc. ) and put all the instruction together to map out each day to maximize our instruction. The goal is to have each day be full of instruction and to have it be a progression as we get closer to the beginning of the season. There is an evaluation of each day of practice so we know as a staff what went well, what we need to do better, etc, so we can make sure that we are teaching well and players know what they need to work on.
GM: What kinds of character qualities are you looking for as you get to know newly drafted players and how do you determine whether or not a player has them?
JB: One, I want to find out what kind of worker each player is. I want to know their work ethic…are they over-workers, under-workers, do they need to be pushed, do they need to be reined in a bit? A lot of young guys come in and think they have an understanding of their work ethic, but they all need to be taught when to push and when to back off. As far as competitive nature, I want to know if they are game competitors or if they back off in games. How do they handle pressure? Do they want to be comfortable or are they willing to be uncomfortable? What is their character as a team player? Are they willing to immediately listen and be part of a team or are they individual, solo type players?
GM: What is the most important factor in getting players to achieve their full potential?
JB: To get the player to understand his full potential without any cloudiness there. He needs to understand where he is now as a player, to have enough vision to be able to see himself down the road as a championship player, and also that they have the perspective to be able to know that there are going to be hurdles, setbacks, and quick gains. They also have to be able to focus on themselves without getting caught up in the success of other players.
GM: What are some common differences you see between players selected in the draft from college versus those selected from high school?
JB: The biggest difference between the high school player and the college player is that they still have the “dad-coach” mentality built in. They will still rush out and do anything you tell them to do. The college player is more molded in his ways because he has had success and failure already and have been told to do some things that haven’t worked for them. The high school player is an open book and will do just about anything you’ll ask them to.
Also, the college player has more urgency than the high school player so there is more sense of panic in them when things aren’t going so well, whereas high school players don’t even know the word release yet and everything is fresh and new.
GM: How much leadership should come from the manager and his coaching staff and how much should come from the players themselves?
JB: There are two parts to that. In the clubhouse, there should be a strong player presence of leadership. The clubhouse is a domain and sanctuary for the players and team chemistry should be developed there. On the field, the manager should be the type of person that has a stronger presence and a stronger leadership flow. When the game is on the line, when things are going well, or not going well, the manager needs to be able to provide a sense of calm or a sense of urgency based on what the situation calls.
GM: What is the best advice you’ve been given as a coach?
JB: Forget about my playing days! Every coach should remember what it was like to be a player, but I was told to forget about what I was as a player. My role should be to help all of my players gain in their knowledge of who they are every day, not to have the highs and lows of success and failure that you go through as a player. My players’ peaks and valleys are going to be more extreme if I don’t manage my emotions on the results of today.
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