Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Claire holds no grudges

Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Randy St. Claire caught on quickly with the Marlins after getting fired by the Nats.
VIERA, Fla. -- Since the day he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Montreal Expos in 1978, Randy St. Claire had never spent a summer at home in Lake George, N.Y. For 30 years, he found himself pitching in some minor-league town or (in good times) in the majors, then later coaching both in the minors and eventually the majors.

So upon getting the news June 2 that he had been fired by the Nationals, St. Claire wasn't exactly sure what to do. He drove back home to Lake George, north of Albany, and contemplated a quiet summer with his wife, Elizabeth.

That didn't last long. So accustomed to a life in motion, whether on a baseball field or a snowy upstate New York snowmobiling track, St. Claire knew he needed to do something to keep himself busy and his mind off the fact he was now unemployed.

"I can't sit around," he said. "That's just my personality flaw. I've got to be doing something. Always."

So St. Claire decided to build a small addition to his house. Which, as is often the case with construction, turned into a far more complicated project than originally anticipated. The next thing he knew, baseball season was over.

"I mean, I was right straight on out 'til October," he said. "So I was very busy, actually."

Five months of construction and household tasks couldn't eradicate St. Claire's true passion from re-emerging. As much as he enjoys getting away from it all during the offseason, from February through September, there's only one place he wants to be: in a bullpen, working on mechanics with a young pitcher.

So when the Florida Marlins came calling shortly after the season with an offer to become their new pitching coach, St. Claire didn't have to give it a moment's thought. Why'd he go to the Marlins?

"Because they were the first ones to offer me a contract," he said with a laugh. "To me, it really doesn't make that much difference where I'm at, just as long as I'm doing what I love to do. They've got a great young staff, a good organization with a lot of young talent. I enjoy working with the young kids. It was easy to make the choice."

Standing inside the visitors' dugout at Space Coast Stadium this morning, wearing a black and teal Marlins jacket, St. Claire both looked out of place and yet completely at home. He may no longer be with the Expos/Nationals franchise that employed him much of his adult life (both as a player and coach), but he is where he's supposed to be. In the bullpen. In the video room. Driving up I-95 on his own after working with a couple of guys earlier in the morning in Jupiter. This is the only life St. Claire knows or wants.

He holds no grudges against the Nationals for making him a bit of a scapegoat when last year's pitching staff crumbled during April and May and set the tone for a 103-loss season.

"Not any whatsoever," he said. "God, they gave me six-plus years of work to try to help guys get better. Not one bit. When things aren't going right, you've got to try to do something. And that's what they thought necessary to do. That's the game. I've been released as a player. I've been released as a coach. That's the game of baseball."

Besides, St. Claire knew he still had a strong reputation around baseball. Sure enough, the Marlins came calling during the offseason, selecting him as their replacement for Mark Wiley, who had been fired himself.

Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez knew St. Claire a bit after crossing paths with him over the last few years. What he didn't know first-hand, Gonzalez could see with his own eyes: St. Claire was one of the hardest-working coaches he'd ever seen.

"You'd always see him working with the pitchers," Gonzalez said. "You always liked the way he worked on the field. You never know what happens behind closed doors, you're not privy to that. But all his pitchers seemed like they were prepared, had a good gameplan. You know, you see coaches from the other side and who works and who doesn't work. He's one of those guys who works.

"And now that I've been with him more than a month ... he's detailed, organized. We leave there at 6:30 at night, and he's in the video room. You get there in the morning, and he's in that video room with a pitcher. He is a very prepared pitching coach."

St. Claire, 49, worried for a while he might not get another big-league coaching job.

"Of course," he said. "There's only 29 of those left. That's a tough gig to get, really tough. I was very fortunate that someone wanted me and I got the chance."

And if not? Well, St. Claire never really worried about that. He knew he'd get a gig coaching in someone's minor-league organization. If it meant going to Class AA or even Class A, he was willing to do it.

A rare summer in Lake George building a new addition to his house was nice. But Randy St. Claire's true summer home has always measured 60 feet, 6 inches.

15 comments:

peric said...

Great article Mark! Wonder what he thinks about the current incarnation of the Nats pitching staff?

natsfan1a said...

Second that. I love these pieces. It's good to know that he landed on his feet.

natsfan1a said...

I think I had a misfire there.

I second peric. I love these pieces!

Good to know that the Saint landed on his feet, although I figured that he would.

Pedro G. said...

Nice to hear St. Claire is still doing what he loves to do. And in terms of Nats history, he will be remembered for doing a lot with not much.

natsfan1a said...

Oops, sorry about the dp. I agree re. Nats history.

Traveler8 said...

Good piece, thanks Mark.

Doc said...

Great article MarkMeister! I followed The Saint when he was pitching in Montrel. He still is one of the best, if not the best, pitching coach in BB. I think the Nats lost a good one. The pitching last year was a problem nobody could solve---not even a Saint!!!!

Anonymous said...

Mark,

Who is Rachel Zuckerman?

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anon: My "special assignment photographer." Also known as my wife. :)

Doc said...

Behind every great man, is a great woman! Hope you're helping her with the cooking and the dishes, Mark.

natsfan1a said...

Go get 'em, Rachel! :-)

bluejeener said...

This was a treat, I love keeping tabs on our original Nats. Didn't know that St Claire was an upstate NY'er.

Sildenafil Citrate said...

I have following Randy St. Claire's career and I am really impressed by all his success and achievements, they guy can be stubborn sometimes, but he does know what he is doing!

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Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on this topic.

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