Back to his roots
Focusing on player development is a joy for Rockies GM O'Dowd
Dan O’Dowd sat in the stands at Suplizio Field last week and talked baseball.
And he listened.
“This is probably one of the best environments we have,” O’Dowd said of Suplizio Field. “We’re blessed to have some great affiliations, and this one is special. One, because we own it, and I’m a part-owner. I feel a personal responsibility when I come here, meeting with the (front office) staff, which I try to do when I go to any affiliate.
“The fact is, I told these guys, there’s a sense of authentic connection to this ballpark every time I walk into it. I can’t explain it to you other than esoterically. There is a sense of connection like this team belongs to this community and these players belong to their fan base.
“I’ve sat behind home plate, down the left-field line and (Tuesday night) down the right field. I do that not just to see the game from different vantage points, but to listen to the fans talk about our players, and it’s really cool.
“It is really neat to see the connection they have to the Rockies through these players each year, and I know they’re following them on their journey.”
The general manager of the Colorado Rockies, who is also the executive vice president and chief baseball officer, has been on a tour of the minor league affiliates, checking on how the new organizational plan is working.
In the offseason, the Rockies announced a shake-up in staffing at the minor league level, adding a development supervisor at all of the clubs from Rookie to Double-A.
O’Dowd has shifted his focus away from the major league club in Denver and is now more involved with the minor league affiliates. Assistant GM Bill Geivett now handles the day-to-day operation of the big club in Denver.
His new duties allow O’Dowd to get back to his roots in baseball, which were in player development.
“Probably the greatest joy in my professional life is scouting and development,” he said. “I’ve always felt that way. It’s the essence, the backbone of the game.”
The new staffing structure, he said, was to ensure everyone in the organization had some form of accountability, but also to improve communication between the minor league clubs and the big club in Denver.
“This has been on my heart for a long, long time, ever since I was a farm director myself with the (Cleveland) Indians in the ‘80s,” O’Dowd said. “If you just look at it from a purely business standpoint, how many companies in our country have headquarters in X and six separate divisions, but not a divisional head in each one?
“In my mind, each of these gentlemen here are our director of development at each of these levels, and they’re responsible day in and day out of connecting the dots of everything that goes on here.”
In Grand Junction, that’s Tony Diaz. He’s on the field every day, working with the players before games. When the game starts, he can either be in the dugout in uniform, or change into street clothes and sit in the stands or the press box, taking notes and observing the GJ Rockies from a different viewpoint.
After each game, the entire coaching staff meets for about a half-hour to go over not only the game, but the entire day.
“They don’t make any decisions, they just review it,” O’Dowd said. “The next day they get together for an hour and specifically come up with a game plan, and if there’s any disagreement, they can’t leave the room until they’re on the same page. Then they share that with the players, and the cycle continues every day.
“For me, it was forcing communication, because the more you communicate about things, the more creative and thought-provoking you can get at resolving things, and your process becomes better.”
The coaching staff has control over how they accomplish the “absolutes,” as O’Dowd calls them. Having a team bunting competition instead of batting practice one day is not only OK, but encouraged.
“They know better than anyone sitting in Denver what their needs are,” O’Dowd said.
“They have to have the courage to be creative and address those needs, and when they find something that’s working, they need to share that with the other supervisors.”
O’Dowd also met with the players on his trip and got them communicating.
“We were actually doing a team bonding thing,” third baseman Ryan McMahon said Wednesday night. “The GM from the big club came in, and we all talked. We personally stood up and went around the room and said something that nobody knew about us. That got us a lot closer. We’re in a lot of similar situations.”
O’Dowd acknowledged the criticism he’s received the past few years, especially last season when the Rockies lost 98 games.
“I never was discouraged with the game. I took quite a pounding, to say the least, but after a period of time, your sense of self-worth, if it continues to get tied to what other people think, say or do, you really shouldn’t do it,” he said.
“I truly went to this whole concept with (Geivett) and all the supervisors because I really thought it was a more effective way to run the organization.”
O’Dowd isn’t sure how this new minor league plan will evolve, and when the Rockies will start to see the results. He admits, in a way, the Rockies are trying to build a better mousetrap.
“In our game, we have a tendency to continually do things over and over and over again and expect results, just because it’s the way it’s always been done,” O’Dowd said.
“We are trying to blow up that model. We’re trying to create a new norm for the Colorado Rockies.”