07/15/08 3:45 PM ET
Hurdle took long path to All-Star Game
NL skipper has inspired many since days in Minor Leagues
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
But those who were on a team that came from nowhere to win 20 years ago will watch Hurdle and smile knowingly.
Hurdle's first team in the Minors, the 1988 Port St. Lucie Mets of the Class A Florida State League, will not go down as one of the all-time great Minor League teams. Of the players who appeared in more than 50 games, just three made the Majors. Of pitchers who threw more than three times, just two made it. None became stars.
Given the lack of raw talent, it's understandable this team finished last in the first half-season. But, somehow, these Miracle Baby Mets won the second-half title, and marched through three playoff series to win the league title.
If Hurdle could do that with such an ordinary crew, and with no managerial experience, imagine what he could do with a bunch of talented -- if inexperienced in winning -- big leaguers.
The smile from Tim Bogar, who would play in 701 Major League games with the Mets, Astros and Dodgers, as a utility man, could be heard miles away. Bogar has become a quality assurance coach with the Rays, who are trying to repeat the Rockies' out-of-nowhere story.
"What Clint did with the Rockies doesn't surprise me a bit," Bogar said. "I know from experience that Clint can get the most out of his guys. And he never gives up. He approached us with a, 'We're still in it until they say we're done,' type of deal. And he got guys to believe that."
When the last Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium is done, Hurdle will find himself in a worse spot than a year ago. At 39-57, 8 1/2 games behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West and miles from .500, his Rockies are more similar to his Port St. Luice squad was in '88.
Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca was with Hurdle then.
The two hit it off before that season, when Apodaca and Hurdle met over dinner with Mets player development director Steve Schriver.
It wasn't long afterward that the two realized they were leading a group of mostly 'Double-A tops' -- player-development parlance for the talent level of the players. At no point did they think they had losers.
"How we got there was we scratched, clawed, got good pitching and great defense," Apodaca said. "We were by far not the best team on paper. We were the team that absolutely played the best. They played 27 outs, how Clint teaches and preaches today."
Hurdle's flair for the one-liner and sense of humor was evident then.
Bogar remembers Hurdle bringing the trainer into the clubhouse and having him distribute cups containing a placebo pill.
"He told us they were hitting pills, and we all had to take the pill at the same time for them to work," Bogar said. "We did what he said, and went out and got 20 hits."
But Hurdle worked because his message had substance.
"At one point, he got us together and was brutally honest," Bogar said. "He told us that most of us were a little older for Class A -- 24 or 25 years old -- and were hitting .260, .270.
"He said, 'You can hit .260, .270 and lose, then go away. Or you could hit .260, .270, but do what it takes to win, and all of you will have a few years left in you. It blew us away, but we needed to hear that."
The days leading up to the All-Star Game would be a great time for Hurdle to reflect on how far he has come.
But he's too busy managing his club. There's a long NL losing skid to end. Even as he tried to pull his Rockies beyond their slump, he took an hour out of each day to study All-Star matchups. All of his coaches would have scouting reports in front of their lockers on certain days.
Measuring how far he has come is something he leaves to others.
"I don't know. I don't really go there," Hurdle said. "I think I said it best for me personally after we won the National League Championship: There's two kinds of people in this game -- those that are humbled and those that are about to be. So the fact any given night I can go out to Coors Field and find out I haven't made it -- that's the beauty of the game.
"When you're in uniform, there's always a plate spinning, there's always something next to do, and there's always another goal to meet with your club or with an individual. I just need to be respectful of that. Humility needs to be a big part of what I do."
The '88 Port St. Lucie club revels in what it accomplished and what their leadership has done since. Several of the players have made pilgrimages to Denver to watch the Rockies. Apodaca said they still receive texts from many of them.
"Some of them didn't have much baseball after that," Apodaca said. "For them it was a very, very important time of their lives. It was fun for Clint and me to be part of that."
And for anyone who believes the Rockies are done already, Bogar has a message -- as long as Hurdle's players themselves believe it.
"This game is about being fundamentally sound," Bogar said. "As Clint says, 'If we can pitch and catch and score one more run than the other team, we win.' "When the Rockies made their run last year, did they make mental errors? No. If they play well and play smart, I bet you'll see them rise toward the top of the division."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.