Hulett pursues pennant
You’ll never hear Tim Hulett say he’s more focused on developing his players than on the Spokane Indians’ win-loss record. The second-year Indians manager is in it to win.
Don’t get him wrong – he’ll work all season to get his players ready for advancing. But he doesn’t buy the idea that short-season Class A ball is simply about development.
“I think, if you lose every year in the minor leagues, there’s something that’s built into your psyche,” Hulett said. “And it’s not good. Because it’s about winning.
“I mean, you’re going to develop these guys either way, so why not win when you develop them? Because I think you’re adding one more part of their development, and that’s the attitude of winning.”
So when he arrived back in Spokane on Thursday night, into the now-familiar territory of the Northwest League, Hulett had a single goal in mind: win the pennant.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done.
Sitting in his manager’s office Friday in the depths of Avista Stadium, he looked over a roster of his 2008 Indians. The copy posted in the clubhouse hallway was more complete – with heights, weights, ages and draft picks – than the version he had been handed a few days before. Just three returnees to Spokane.
A clean slate.
Last season, the Indians finished 33-42. They were in contention for a first-place league finish with just a few games to go, but they fizzled in crunch time. On Friday, Hulett blamed it on offensive holes.
“I promise to be a much better manager this year than I was last year,” he said. “We’re going to win, first of all. I’ll have a little bit of control over that. Not a lot.”
With the Indians’ season opener Tuesday, Hulett has just a few days to get to know his team. While he joked that the biggest challenge is learning all of his players’ names, he’s had a lot of work to do this weekend. He has to feel things out.
Going into the season, there are a few top players he knows about. He has watched Neil Ramirez, a 19-year-old pitcher drafted in the first round in 2007 by the Texas Rangers, straight out of high school. He is looking forward to working with 2007 second-round pick Matt West, whose gritty, hard-nosed personality could be a big presence at third base.
Then there are the guys who played as Indians last season.
Tim Rodriguez pleased fans last year with his acrobatics, but Hulett said he wants Rodriguez, a potential team leader, to step it up a bit more on the baseball field. Eric Fry joined the team midseason last year and has a powerful bat, Hulett said. Outfielder Kyle Murphy also will be back.
“Those guys all are very talented players,” Hulett said. “And they need to step up and show the consistency, and take their game to another level this year.”
But for many of this year’s Indians, it will be their first time playing professional baseball.
They arrive in an unknown city and go to an unknown stadium. They meet their new coach and their new teammates. Come Tuesday, less than a week after getting to Spokane, they’ll suit up and play ball in front of a new crowd.
“I remember those times,” Hulett said. “Anytime you go into a new environment, it can be a little intimidating. And so, I try to look into the guys’ eyes and see which ones of them are uncomfortable with that situation and which ones are kind of wanting to take on that challenge.
“Because usually those guys step up and become leaders. The other guys are usually good players, but you’re always looking for leadership at every level that you play.”
The Indians open their 76-game season against the Everett AquaSox at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Avista Stadium. A ceremony honoring three Indians Rim of Honor inductees will precede the first pitch.