The Interview Vault: Jason Hart
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last five seasons here in Clinton, it’s that baseball managers and coaches are never cut from the same cloth. There’s no “prototype” background necessary for teaching the game, no resume that’s perfect for guiding a team. I’ve worked with former Major Leaguers like Brian Dayette, Lance Painter and John Tamargo and similarly worked with guys like Mike Micucci, Danny Clark and Scott Steinmann who had zero big-league service time. Yet, they all
Tamargo’s staff was the oldest in the Midwest League last year. This season, the LumberKings will be helmed by potentially the youngest manager in the league in Eddie Menchaca (who will be freshly 30) and an equally-youthful pitching coach Rich Dorman (who is only 32). Of course, they’ll be balanced out by returning hitting coach Terry Pollreisz, who turned 64 yesterday.
In preparing to work with a guy like Menchaca who is just three seasons removed from playing in the Mariners’ minor league system himself, I have found myself thinking back to 2008 when a 30-year-old former Major Leaguer named Jason Hart joined the LumberKings as an assistant coach under interesting circumstances.
Hart ended an eight-year career in 2006 and was out of the game for just one season before contacting the team that gave him his cup-of-coffee, the Texas Rangers, about a job in coaching. With Dayette slowly returning from off-season shoulder surgery, the former power-hitting first baseman was given a shot to come to Clinton as a fourth coach.
His presence on the team was instantly unique from any other coach I’ve observed. While the intense Micucci was the unquestioned leader of the club and Clark was the no-nonsense teacher of the pitching staff, Hart was more like a laid-back veteran teammate.
His career path, filled with twists and turns, helped him relate to just about every kind of player. Oakland’s fifth-round pick in 1998 out of Southwest Missouri State, Hart literally powered his way through the low levels of the A’s system. In 2000, he hit .326 with 44 doubles, 30 homers and 121 RBI for the double-A Midland RockHounds and was on just about every post-season All-Star list possible. Prior to 2001, Baseball America ranked him the 59th-best prospect in all of Minor League Baseball.
A January, 2002 trade sent him to Texas along with Gerald Laird and Ryan Ludwick in exchange for Carlos Pena and Mike Venafro. After hitting .263 with 25 blasts and 83 RBI for triple-A Oklahoma City, the 24-year-old Hart earned a 10-game call-up to the Rangers in early August, his only Major League stint. He played in just 10 games, hitting .267 with three doubles.
Hart would never again make a big-league roster, but he would hang on in the Rangers’ minor-league system before finishing his career in the Minnesota organization in 2006. He’d spend only one year away from the game, but felt baseball calling once again when Texas offered to send him to Clinton as a sort of coaching “intern”. While with the LumberKings, the man nicknamed “Diesel” would be able to relay his experiences on to the likes of Mitch Moreland, Engel Beltre, Tim Smith, Jonathan Greene, Ian Gac and the rest of the Midwest League’s top offense.
And now for the interview. I caught up with Hart fittingly in the home of Oakland’s low-A affiliate, at the time, Kane County. He spoke about being drafted by his hometown Athletics in 1998, his time playing alongside Cougars’ manager Aaron Niekula, getting a chance to coach for the first time, learning from the likes of Micucci and Dayette, relating to the players and more.
Jason Hart Interview (2008).mp3
As you’ve noticed in the final question, Hart said at the time that his goal was to be a full-time hitting coach rather than a manager. The Rangers made that dream a reality in 2009 when they named Jason as their AZL hitting coach. A year later, he’d be promoted to the same position with low-A Hickory. After guiding the Crawdads’ hitters to the South Atlantic League’s third-highest home run total (97) and eighth-best team batting average (.256) in 2010, Hart will be back on manager Bill Richardson’s staff again in 2011.
“Diesel” also earned national television recognition in the past year. He and the Crawdads were featured in ESPN’s “It’s not crazy, it’s sports” ad campaign in a very memorable commercial that shows Hart handing out signs from his first-base coaches’ box. It was definitely one of the better ads run on ESPN in recent history. Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2zQf6bxsZo