Zane Stafford reported to spring training with the Milwaukee Bear Claws hoping to catch on in the bullpen. The 35-year-old lefty underwent Tommy John surgery last season, and he was considered a long shot to make the team. After posting a 7.04 spring training ERA, Stafford realized that his playing days were over. His baseball career will continue, however, as the Bear Claws signed him to serve as their pitching coach.
“We really liked the way he worked with the younger fellas in camp,” said Bear Claws manager Poss Horton. During spring training, Stafford helped reliever Stu Juens improve his pickoff move and taught starter Patrick McNorman a circle change-up. “Zane is a born teacher. He’s forgotten more about pitching than most of us will ever know. Plus, he’s a hell of a storyteller and he can hold his liquor. Basically, he’s everything I’m looking for in a coach.”
For his part, Stafford is grateful for the opportunity. “Obviously, it’s not the ending I was hoping for,” he told reporters. “But I’m just glad I’m still getting paid to put the uniform on. And I have a new audience to tell my old war stories to, which is great.”
Stafford has traveled around extensively in his 15-year professional career. He played at every level of the minors, from Rookie to AAA, and in three different independent leagues. He has played in Japan, Italy, and Mexico, as well as winter ball in Venezuela and Puerto Rico. “My favorite song is ‘I’ve Been Everywhere‘ by Johnny Cash, because it’s the story of my life,” Stafford said. “I swear, every city in that song, I’ve either played in it or ridden through it on a bus. I tell my family I’m a professional hobo.”
Stafford said that his primary goal is to help Milwaukee’s staff have a relaxed approach to the game. “Nobody ever thought their way or worried their way out of a slump,” he said. “I want our guys to stay loose and roll with the punches.” He stressed that he will also provide instructional guidance as appropriate. “When you’ve got a physical or mechanical issue, you need to put the reps in and fix it,” Stafford said. “But often as not, when a guy’s in a slump, it’s mental, and doing reps won’t fix you. If a guy’s in a mental slump, I’ll tell him to take a day off. Have a couple beers, maybe a margarita, get some sleep, and forget about the game. Come back the next day, and you’re a whole new man.”
Stafford is optimistic about the Bear Claws’ chances this season. “I think we’ve got a hell of a staff,” he told reporters. “And the lineup looks solid from top to bottom. This team knows how to work hard, how to fight when they need to, how to have a good time. I’m just glad to be along for the ride.”