Joel Youngblood Brings Love of Game to Hillsboro Hops
Joel Youngblood has come to town. The young Hillsboro Hops players are on the path to the next level and maybe even the “Big Leagues” as Joel refers to MLB, but he warns it will “take hard work and serious concentration to hone your game and become an even better ball player than when you came.” It will not be handed to you. It will be earned.
The Coordinator of Outfield and Base Running is one of several coordinators that the Arizona Diamondbacks send around to their minor league teams to help their players grow. Each coordinator is responsible for one aspect of the game. They all travel among the minor league teams helping and instructing their team’s possible future stars. Some of the others include pitching, hitting, medical and catching.
Joel’s year starts with spring training in February. When the season starts in April, he travels around to the six teams that are in the Diamondback organization. He can travel as far north as the Missoula Osprey for their rookie team. He will go west to Oregon and the Hillsboro Hops short season single A franchise outside of Portland. He will also travel to the Mobile BayBears (AA), the Reno Aces (AAA), the Visalia Rawhide (Adv A), and the Kane County Cougars (A). This past week, he has been watching the Hillsboro Hops during their five-game series against the Spokane Indians.
An average day for Joel starts early in the morning. He routinely gets up around 4am and prepares for the day, including daily paperwork and reports from the day before. He is at the park by 11am to work with the young men until late afternoon. After dinner, he comes back to the park and sits in the press box to watch the game and take notes of what mistakes he sees or improvements are needed that night. Just before the end of the game, he will head down to the dugout. This is where he points out the fine details that need to be improved, lectures on fundamentals, and leaves no doubt about any mistakes made on the field.
After the season, Joel will head down to Arizona and the Rookie league for a month and a half. He follows that up with another month and a half in the Dominican Republic. When asked about all the travel, Joel smiled and chuckled. “I have three months off every year around the holidays.”
The young players face plenty of hurdles on their attempt to move on their career path. Players come from an environment where they are used to being the best player on their high school or college team. Some players come from foreign soil and face the exact same hurdles. Here, the player has to get used to the fact that the player next to him is just as good as he is. Players are bigger and faster than their teammates from the previous level.
Joel wants every young player to realize the seriousness of what is at stake. This is their opportunity to live the dream. This is their career opportunity and you can’t wait for it to come to you. You must hustle to reach it while you still can. Like a hot ground ball trying to get passed you, you have to go after it. Joel advises that “You have to get better on the field ‘cause you can’t do it in the clubhouse or at home.” Effort is the key to everything. “You can’t be satisfied by signing your contract.”
Players are also reminded that “Every day, the organization is hiring people to hopefully become one of their top players.” The competition never stops. “There are three things that can happen,” Joel explains. “Someone could get hurt, someone could be in a slump, or someone could be traded. If you are not starting, then you have to be the first one off the bench in the eyes of the manager. Be prepared for opportunity.”
Joel brings an intensity of his own that carries over from his playing days. His first at bat in the majors was April 13th, 1976 against the Cincinnati Reds. It was the era of the Big Red Machine. Third baseman Pete Rose. Catcher Johnny Bench. Pitcher Pedro Bourbon. Shortstop Dave Concepcion. Second baseman Joe Morgan. First baseman Tony Perez. Left fielder George Foster. Center fielder Cesar Geronimo. Right fielder Ken Griffey.
Utility outfielder Joel Youngblood earned a World Series ring in his rookie year as they won it all through hustle, hard work and talent. A lesson he continues on with the next generation. By the time Joel swung his last bat on September 27th, 1989, he appeared in an All-Star Game (1981) and once led the league in outfield assists with six (1980).
After retiring, Joel coached with the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and the Baltimore Orioles. He left coaching in 1999 and tried his hand in sales for a computer company but, eight years ago, the Diamondbacks came calling and asked him if he wanted back in the game. He did like the job he already had but he was interested enough to listen. He heard enough to take the step back into baseball.
Youngblood’s approach to each young man is the same. Work hard. “If you want to be an All-Star, then practice like one.” But his message can vary from man to man. He gets to know each young man he tries to reach. Which ones can take the hard approach to drive them to improve? Which need a more calm approach?
One of the most common hurdles is confidence. Doubt can manifest with any player when he first comes or it can start accumulating with his first experiences at the professional level. Each strike out or error can add to the doubts. Joel sticks with them. “Results + practice = confidence,” is the Youngblood formula. Each hit, each gloved grounder can build that confidence back up as easily as it can be torn down.
“Some get it. Some don’t. Some develop. Some don’t. That is the reality that Joel recognizes. He knows that no matter how hard he tries, it is up to the player to listen. All he can do is his best to direct the player to the correct habits and right attitudes that will give the young man his best chance to succeed.
Why does Joel put himself through all the travel and lecturing? “Love the game,” he explains affectionately. He preaches to every player to “Love the game.” Everyone he sees “wants to make it to the Big Leagues one day…to shorten the gap of the learning curve.” Joel knows they will face several moments of doubts searching for what will get them to the next level. Joel remembered one young pitcher by the name of Jhonny Peralta. Peralta was being switched to the outfield. Joel came along and spent time with the young man, teaching him the nuances of the position. Through hard work and perspiration, the young man made to the Majors. When Joel saw Jhonny again he came over to Joel, gave him a hug and said, “Thank you for all that you did.” Moments like that show Joel that those who follow his direction really do have that love for the game.
Does Joel have any plans to manage again? A wry smile came and there was a slight shake of the head. “What I would rather do is teach hitting at the major league level.” Then he nodded and said, “Everyone down here wants to make it to the majors. Players AND coaches.”
by Greg Stoker
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