Portland hitting coach lived out a dream, now hoping to help others reach majors

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff
Posted April 05, 2013, at 6:51 p.m.

PORTLAND — Rich Gedman had the opportunity to live out a dream.

Growing up in Worcester, Mass., he was a Red Sox fan and was signed by the Red Sox as a free agent out of Saint Peter-Marian High School in 1977.

Three years later, he made his major league debut, pinch-hitting for Carl Yastrzemski.

In 1981, starting catcher Carlton Fisk became a free agent and signed with the Chicago White Sox so Gedman and Gary Allenson shared the catching duties.

Gedman wound up spending 11 seasons with the Red Sox before being traded to Houston and eventually finishing his career with St. Louis.

Now he is the hitting coach with the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s Double-A affiliate.

Gedman was a two-time American League All-Star with the Red Sox and had his best year in 1985 when he hit .295 with 18 homers and 80 runs batted in. That followed the 1984 season in which he belted 24 homers and knocked in 72 runs while hitting .269. He hit .258 in 1986 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs as the Red Sox won the American League pennant only to lose to the New York Mets in seven games in the World Series.

He wound up a career .252 hitter over 13 seasons with 88 homers and 382 RBIs.

He was the hitting coach in Salem (high Class A) a year ago.

“It’s nice to be back in New England although I hadn’t really left. I just had the one season down in Salem,” said the soft-spoken Gedman. “It’s beautiful country up here.”

Gedman gained notoriety for being a disciple of Red Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak.

He said he still believes in what he was taught by Hriniak, but he follows the Red Sox approach to hitting.

“It’s basically stay under control, keep your legs underneath you, see the pitch, swing at strikes and, basically, be a tough out,” said Gedman.

He looks back on his playing career with fond memories.

“I got to play with a lot of good players and with a lot of good teams,” he said. “I got a chance to play with Yaz, Dwight Evans and Jim Rice who were some of the greatest players of their time. Having grown up 40 miles a way, it was a treat.”

The 1986 season was torture for Red Sox fans, who were one strike away from beating the Mets on a couple of occasions only to lose the series.

A Bob Stanley pitch that evaded Gedman allowed the tying run to score with two outs in the 10th inning in Game 6 and Mookie Wilson followed with a grounder that went through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner as the Mets won to extend the series.

But the Red Sox, who hadn’t won the World Series since 1918, managed to break through in 2004 and 2007.

“I’m sure [1986] was very difficult for lifelong Red Sox fans,” said Gedman. “I couldn’t be happier for the 2004 and 2007 teams. Just knowing what Red Sox fans had gone through, I’m happy they did it.”

The 53-year-old Gedman, who was a bench coach with the North Shore Spirit of the independent Northeast League and the manager of the Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am League from 2005-2010 in Massachusetts, said he is looking forward to the season.

“There are a lot of good young players here,” said Gedman. “I hate to pick out any one player but [shortstop Xander] Bogaerts is exciting and [catcher Christian] Vazquez and [third baseman/first baseman/designated hitter Travis] Shaw are good players. It’s a very talented group.”

Barnes unfazed by expectations

Matt Barnes knows he is going to be closely scrutinized.

The 6-foot-4, 203-pound righthander is a former first-round draft pick of the Red Sox after spending three years at the University of Connecticut.

Last year was his first full season in professional baseball and he is already in the Portland Sea Dogs starting rotation.

He said he isn’t going to let the scrutiny or the high expectations impact him.

“If you start thinking about that, you’ll take your mind of what you’re doing and what you’re supposed to be focusing on,” Barnes, a native of Bethel, Conn., said. “You need to be focused. At the end of the day, you have to go out there and perform. It doesn’t matter who you are and where you’re pitching.

“It’s 60 feet, 6 inches from the rubber to the plate and you’ve got to go out and trust what you’ve done is going to work for you,” the 22-year-old Barnes said.

According to Soxprospects.com, Barnes throws a fastball in the 93-95 miles per hour range but he can also get it up to 98 mph if necessary. It has downward movement to it. He also throws a curve in the 74-77 mph category with good, tight rotation and a deep break.

He has a 85-87 mph changeup that has been one of his primary focal points.

“I worked on my changeup a lot last year, especially over the second half of the season,” he said. “I really need to develop it in order to move up to the next level. But I feel confident throwing it now.”

He acknowledged that it’s a tough pitch to master. He throws a circle changeup which involves making a circle with your thumb and index finger on the ball. The key is to make sure the arm speed mimics the arm speed with the fastball.

“It’s a 100 percent feel pitch. You’ve got to trust the grip. You’ve got to throw it like a fastball,” Barnes said.

He was 2-0 with an 0.34 earned run average in five starts with Greenville of the low Class A South Atlantic League before being promoted to Salem of the high Class A Carolina League where he was 5-5 with a 3.58 ERA in 20 starts. he struck out 91 and walked 25 in 93 innings.

He knows the hitters will be better in AA, but he’s ready for the challenge.

“You can’t make as many mistakes,” Barnes said. “You have to focus more, especially in tough situations. But at the end of the day, you’re here for a reason, too. It’s because they saw something in you [that led to the promotion].”

Barnes said he likes being in New England again.

“My family and friends can come and watch me pitch,” Barnes said. “They’ll get to see me a little more, which is awesome.”

He went 24-10 in his three seasons at UConn including a terrific final season when he went 11-4 with a 1.62 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 116 2/3 innings.

“I met guys who are some of my best friends and there were a bunch of guys I already knew,” Barnes said. “We turned the program into more of a nationally known baseball school.”

His junior year, the Huskies went 45-20-1 and won the Clemson (S.C.) Regional with four straight wins after an opening loss. They got swept by the University of South Carolina in the best-of-three Super Regional.

“[The Big East] was a good league. Louisville got to the College World Series; Pittsburgh was one of the best hitting teams in the country. West Virginia as well. And there was also St. John’s. We put four or five teams into the regionals,” Barnes said.

He admits that he used to be a New York Yankees fan.

“I grew up an hour from New York City. But, at this point, it doesn’t matter any more. I play for the Red Sox and that’s who I want to help win,” he said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/04/05/sports/baseball/portland-hitting-coach-lived-out-a-dream-now-hoping-to-help-others-reach-majors/ printed on August 23, 2014