Kuehl has the TJs on course
Column by RANDY HAMMERICKSEN
He's a man of many personalities.
He's competitive, but he can be soft-spoken.
He's demanding, but he can be compassionate and understanding with hisplayers.
You've got to like and respect the guy. He's John Kuehl, first-year managerof the Southern Oregon Timberjacks.
Kuehl, 29, is the son of Carl Kuehl, former minor-league director forthe Oakland Athletics, the short-season Class A Timberjacks' parent club.He learned baseball watching and listening to his father. Now, he's applyingwhat he learned from his father and from playing the game.
Kuehl's leadership and teaching skills have the young Timberjacks improvingand moving up the South Division standings of the Northwest League.
Kuehl is not only committed to developing players Oakland's way, butin instilling the will to win.
My stomach was churning, said Kuehl after a recent Timberjackswin.
I'm emotionally drained, he said another time.
It shows how much winning means to him despite the developmental themeof Class A ball, where players are often moved through the organizationas their production warrants. A first-place club, such as the Timberjackshave been through much of the year, can lose big guns quickly. To wit, SouthernOregon has lost four top pitchers when they were moved up to long-seasonteams.
If I can teach my players skills and develop a winning attitude,I'm teaching them two important things, said Kuehl. Hopefully,that will carry over for some of them someday in the major leagues.
Kuehl insists on a never-give-up attitude.
As long as I'm skipper, they won't quit, he says.
That attitude was very evident on Sunday night, when the Timberjacksrallied from six runs behind (10-4) in the seventh inning to defeat theEugene Emeralds, 16-10, at Miles Field.
Hopefully, some of these guys will remember back to A ball whenthey were down 10-4 and came back to win, says Kuehl.
Kuehl, who played a major role in helping the 1988 Spokane Indians defeatSouthern Oregon in the Northwest League championship series, played thegame with the same fire that he teaches to his players. Plus, he had talent.
He led the Northwest League in doubles (25) and in runs batted in (65)that season and finished second in hitting (.325).
When his dream of playing major league baseball ended, Kuehl was hiredas a scout by Oakland. He still has scouting duties, concentrating in Arizona,Utah and New Mexico, but he was given a chance to manage by the club thissummer.
So far, so good. He has his team playing winning, interesting baseball.That's good for the team and good for the Timberjacks, who need to makea profit by drawing fans to stay in business.
If we can win and entertain the fans, they will keep coming back,says Kuehl. That's important to me.
I can compare this team in a lot of ways to the 1988 Southern Oregonteam that made it to the championship series. They had two or three qualityhitters (third baseman Stay Royer, catcher Tom Carcione and outfielder LeeTinsley) and a great closer (Tim Floyd).
We compare to them favorably in almost every area, says Kuehl.We have quality starting pitching and a good bullpen, we can playgood defense when we concentrate and we have several guys capable of hittingthe ball out of the ballpark.
Timberjacks general manager Suzanne Daniel says Kuehl's managing styleis impressive.
John is a wonderful manager, says Daniel. He workswell with the players, and he understands them because he was a player andhe knows what they go through. He demands responsibility, but he also relateswell with them.
Adam Piatt, Oakland's eighth-round draft selection out of MississippiState, agrees.
We have a good time, but we work hard all the time, saysPiatt, who clubbed a three-run home run in the seventh inning to highlightthe nine-run outburst against Eugene.
This team has a lot of confidence it can come back and do whatit needs to do to win, says Piatt. I think major credit forthat has to go to John. He's a player's kind of coach. He relates real wellto us, but he also teaches us and drives us to work hard and to understandwhat we are learning. He picks us up when we are down. That's real important.
Miles field seats approximately 2,900 fans. Most of those seats needto be filled with fans for the Timberjacks to make money.
That's why the local franchise needs the team to win. And that's whyOakland needs to help it win by keeping talented young players around longenough for them to have success.
Oakland recently moved Southern Oregon pitchers Mike Holmes, Eric DuBose,Chris Enochs and Chad Harville to long-season ball. Those four pitcherscombined for a 4-0 record before being moved up.
Kuehl and the Timberjacks must adjust to the loss of the pitchers. Fortunatelyfor the Timberjacks, Oakland loaded up on pitching in the 1997 draft andthey will have 16 pitchers on their roster, including first-round pick DennyWagner.
Behind the leadership of part-owner and club president Fred Herrmannand Daniel's staff, the Timberjacks used effective marketing and promotionaltactics to average approximately 2,300 fans per game the last three years.That's excellent for such a small market.
But it's not enough. The team needs to win to draw fans in big numbersand pay the bills.
Thus far, Kuehl and the A's are doing their part.