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Schaefer keeps it old school

By Vickie Fulkerson

Publication: The Day

Published January 12. 2013 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Bob Schaefer of the Washington Nationals, left, makes former Boston Red Sox star Jim Rice laugh during the Talking Baseball breakout session Friday night at the World Baseball Coaches' Convention at the Mohegan Sun.
Former Ledyard coach talks defense at the Sun

Mohegan - They don't take infield before major league baseball games much anymore, something which once was a staple. And if you tell an outfielder to move in three steps, you need to tell him why.

"It's part of the game," Bob Schaefer was saying Friday at Mohegan Sun. "They don't talk the game the way they used to talk the game. They don't have the baseball instincts. But you understand that. You talk to the guys. They still come up and talk to me. They still want to learn."

Schaefer, 68, the former Norwich resident and Ledyard High School baseball coach who went on to manage in the majors, is in the midst of a stint as special assistant to the general manager of the Washington Nationals, serving mainly as a scout.

Together, with former Red Sox manager Jimy Williams, Schaefer presented separate sessions Friday on the managerial philosophy of offense and of defense at the World Baseball Coaches' Convention.

"They have an old-school approach and coaches appreciate that," said Pete Walker of Waterford, one of the co-directors of the 10th annual convention and the newly named pitching coach of the Toronto Blue Jays.

"It's a simple game that's made too complex at times and they're proof. I love that approach. My approach is similar. (Schaefer and Williams) are baseball lifers. They've learned so much; they have so much knowledge. They have an opinion on everything, that's for sure."

The convention, which began Thursday, drew more than 1,000 baseball coaches to the Sun to hear presenters such as Arizona coach Andy Lopez, whose team won the 2012 NCAA championship, and Tampa Bay Rays coaches Jim Hickey and Derek Shelton.

More than 1,000 more coaches, including walk-ups, are expected today for the softball portion of the event, including presenters such as Patrick Murphy, coach of the national champion University of Alabama, and former Olympic gold medalist Jessica Mendoza.

Schaefer has never minded the "old-school" label. He referred to himself that way, in fact, when he was serving as bench coach for manager Joe Torre with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2008-10.

Among the advice he dispensed to coaches in the defensive session: if the situation calls for playing the infield in, play the infield in; if it calls for a defensive shift, same thing (but keep the second baseman and the shortstop at their natural positions to avoid outfielders and third basemen having to try to turn double plays). Playing the infield in and shifts tend to make hitters panic.

"It's enjoyable teaching baseball," said Schaefer, a 1966 UConn graduate who managed the Kansas City Royals on an interim basis in 1991 and 2005.

Formerly the Red Sox director of player development, Schaefer moved from the area several years ago and now lives full time in Fort Myers, Fla. He hasn't been back to southeastern Connecticut since.

Schaefer said he has no plans to retire; playing golf in the winter time is enough.

He said he's enjoying his time as assistant to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, a job he took in November, 2010. Schaefer and Rizzo formerly worked together with the Red Sox when Rizzo was a scout and Rizzo had talked about working with Schaefer again someday.

"He's not afraid to make a move. He has a lot of good baseball people around him," Schaefer said.

Schaefer appeared in a "Talking Baseball" panel discussion later Friday with Baseball Hall of Famer and former Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice.

Said Walker, asked of the number of coaches who attended the first convention in 2004: "Certainly not a couple thousand (as there are this year). It was far less. Five hundred might be on the high side. It's come a long way."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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