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Williams using AFL as managerial stepping stone

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The big corner office at the D-backs' Spring Training facility has darkened windows and the door is shut.

Matt Williams was asked if he intends to use it. After all, he is the manager of the Salt River Rafters, the Arizona Fall League team that calls Salt River Fields at Talking Stick its home.

Want to put your feet up, Matty, and sit a spell?

"Nah. Uh-uh. No way," Williams said, waving off the question almost immediately. "That's Gibby's."

Yes, the office does belong to D-backs manager Kirk Gibson. Williams, however, isn't about to tread on his territory.

Williams hopes to manage in the Major Leagues, like Gibson, but there is a certain way to do it. Just because you hit 378 career home runs and won four Gold Glove Awards, as Williams did, doesn't mean you get an intentional walk directly to the skipper's chair. You must pay your dues. You must earn it.

And that's why Williams is here.

Williams was a third baseman for 17 Major League seasons for San Francisco, Cleveland and Arizona. He had some very good managers, but did not consider trying to become one himself.

It was after he had been out of the game a few years that he changed his mind. He had a small ownership stake in the D-backs, working in the front office and in the broadcast booth. He filled in for Brett Butler as manager of the Double-A Mobile affiliate for two months in 2007 when Butler had health issues, and filled in briefly for Chip Hale when he managed in the AFL that same year.

Williams went on to become Arizona's first-base coach in 2010-11 and switched to the third-base box in 2012.

Each of the AFL's six teams have players from five Major League teams, as well as a coach or trainer from each of the five organizations. The manager is selected from one of the five teams every five years on a rotating basis. So this is the D-backs' year to provide a manager.

"The opportunity came up. [D-backs farm director] Mike Bell asked me if I would be interested, and I said yes," Williams said.

He said he enjoyed the previous front-office and broadcasting work, "but it's not like putting the uniform on. It's not on the field and in the dugout. Sometimes, it takes you going in a different direction to know what the right path is.

"You want to be the best player, or you want to be the best coach. I don't know anybody in their right mind who wouldn't want to be a manager. I certainly do. It's not easy. There are 30 positions. You have to be good at what you do to get to that point, and I'm working toward that."

He said he has received a great deal of support from D-backs general manager Kevin Towers, Gibson and the other D-backs coaches, some of whom have Major League managerial experience such as Alan Trammell and Don Baylor.

Managing in the AFL isn't quite the same as managing a team over the course of a full season, because each Major League team wants each of its players to work on particular things.

Williams received the blessing of his family, which is aware that as much time as a player puts in, the manager's time at least doubles.

"If there isn't, then there's a real issue," Williams said. "You have to make sure you're ready to go out and make those split-second decisions. The game goes really fast. It gets really fast when you're in that situation and you have to make that decision right now. It's similar when you're coaching third base. If you make the decision that you feel is appropriate at that time, then you live with that. It's fun."

There have been star players in their respective pro sports who have had a harder time and had short-lived stints as managers or coaches, because the younger players don't always approach the game the same way.

"You must never forget how difficult the game is," Williams said.

"I've been that dude who struck out with the bases loaded. I've been the guy who ... made three errors in a game and cost our team the win. I've also been the guy who sent the guy home [as the third-base coach] when I shouldn't have. I've been that guy. I constantly try to remind myself of that.

"This game is so unique, it's hard to explain to people what the mindset is. I use the analogy all the time, and I think it's true and it's valuable -- in this game, perfection is unattainable, but the pursuit of perfection is imperative."

Don Ketchum is a contributor to
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