Experience an asset for Braves' coaches

Manager Snitker will be surrounded by seasoned staff

October 14th, 2016

OK, I'm biased. I'm overjoyed these days whenever employers in any profession hire folks my age or older. So this is splendid news: With the Braves removing "interim" from the front of Brian Snitker's name, they now have a manager who is nearly 61 years old.

I love it. Then again, as I observe a few more gray hairs in the mirror, why wouldn't I?

Snitker and I are in the same age bracket.

So is Jose Castro, the Braves' 58-year-old assistant hitting coach. Kevin Seitzer is their main guy when it comes to delivering batting instructions, and at 54, he's nearly the babe of this eight-man staff. The latter distinction belongs to 48-year-old Eddie Perez, their first-base coach.

Then the Braves have a couple of 55-year-olds -- pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and bullpen coach Marty Reed. Going the other way, bench coach Terry Pendleton is 56, and Ron Washington is 64, ranking as the elder statesman of what qualifies as one of baseball's most senior staffs.

That's an average age of 56. Now get this: John Coppolella helped bring these veteran baseball people together, and he's the Braves' general manager who was two years from birth when Snitker joined the franchise in 1977 as a Minor League player. While Coppolella directly controls the roster of the Braves at 38, John Hart is the head of the team's baseball operations at 68, and John Schuerholz is the president of the franchise at 76.

To be clear, this isn't about age. It's about experience, and Coppolella values experience.

You know, lots of it.

"Personally, I'm used to being the youngest guy in the room, and it was like that when I was with the Yankees at 21. So I've always been comfortable around guys who have been veterans in the game," said Coppolella, who joined the Bronx Bombers as an intern in 2000, after he graduated from the University of Notre Dame. "With the Yankees, I always tried to get around the great, old scouts, and I would just sit down and shut up and listen and learn."

The results? Six years later, Coppolella was with the Braves in various capacities before he advanced to GM following the 2014 season. Since then, he has become even more of a disciple of Hart, Schuerholz and others around the Braves organization with considerable baseball wisdom.

"I've been in this for 20 years since I worked my first internship in this game at 18, and each year, I learn so much more," Coppolella said. "So having somebody around like John Schuerholz, who has been in this for 51 years, or John Hart, who has been in it for 48 years? I mean, they have forgotten more than I know. So to have those types of minds, assets, experience, all of it -- I'd be foolish not to try to learn from them and get better."

Among the things Coppolella learned from his senior bosses was that "the obvious" isn't awful.

Take Snitker, for instance. After he spent all four decades of his professional baseball career with the Braves (including half of that time in the Minor Leagues), he got his first opportunity as a Major League manager earlier this year. The situation reeked. He inherited a 9-28 team after Fredi Gonzalez was dismissed, and his Braves were expected to battle the Twins for the distinction as baseball's worst team. Instead, the Braves finished 59-65 under Snitker, and they ended the season by taking 12 of their final 14 games.

Suddenly, there was "the obvious" ... Snitker had to return, especially since he was the people's choice around the Braves' clubhouse.

Still, with the Braves opening a new ballpark next year after a mostly challenging season, it wouldn't have been shocking if team officials decided to give Snitker a firm handshake, thank him for his contribution and make a pick that was young and flashy.

"Just because Brian wasn't a hot name to the outside world doesn't mean he wasn't a hot name to us," Coppolella said. "He's a great guy. I don't care that he's older. This guy has always put the Braves first. For Brian, he's comfortable enough in his own skin that he'll admit that he doesn't know everything. He knows that if he can have good people around him, it's going to make him better."

Forget good.

Snitker has great people around him.

On one side of the Braves' coaches room there is Hernandez, a mentor to the late and , when the Tigers ace was a rookie. On the other, there is Washington, who managed the Rangers to consecutive American League pennants and was a finalist for the Braves' current managerial job.

"Nobody works harder than Ron Washington, nobody has more energy and is more upbeat and positive," Coppolella said. "He's a great hire for us, and he's a great hire for [rookie shortstop] and and No. 2 prospect Ozzie Albies and all of our other middle infielders. He'll help them get better like he's helped so many other players."

This isn't to say the Braves' other seasoned coaches aren't impressive. They are, starting with Reed, who spent the past seven years helping to groom Minor Leaguers for the Braves as a pitching coach. You also have Seitzer and Castro turning what was baseball's worst offensive bunch during the first half into one of its best after the All-Star Break. Perez is so well-respected in baseball that he ranks among the top candidates for most Major League managerial jobs. The same goes for Pendleton, who joined Perez as a finalist during the Braves' search before management went with "the obvious."

"There's always a value to having a veteran staff, because of the experience and the other things associated with that type of leadership," Coppolella said. "But it's really about hiring quality people."

No problem there for the Braves.