J.R. House enjoyed a playing career that included stops in the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles. Cut from the cloth of other current managers that are former catchers, House has brought his winning managerial ways back for a second season with the Visalia Rawhide.
Catchers see the game from a perspective unlike any other player on the field. They’re the field generals, the orchestrators and the multitaskers of the baseball diamond. Catchers are nurturers by nature, as their job requires building relationships with a pitching staff and earning trust. Being behind the plate gives them the unique view that allows them to witness the full scope of each pitch, each at-bat and each play in the field. Oh and let’s not forget, it’s also the most physically grinding position on the field as well.
House spent years honing all of those skills on the field and it would ultimately payoff, as he had the coaching path in mind when his playing career was over.
“The last five years of my playing career, I could see myself doing this type of work. As a catcher, you’re always working with the pitchers and trying to help them. You’re kind of the field general. You’re continually coaching the other players and orchestrating how things go. It’s our opportunity to still compete by managing.”
His self-improvement and growth came not only from personal learning experiences but also from those that invested their time in him. House’s first mentoring came from his own father, who was also his first coach. Since then many others have helped him become who he has become today.
“There were a lot. My first coach was my dad. Guys like Jay Loviglio, Dave Clark, Trent Jewett, guys throughout the years that I looked up to and learned so much from as a player. It’s really helped me and molded me.”
Life in the minor leagues is challenging. From long bus rides to a lack of sleep, there are many factors that can affect the mental performance of the players. Keeping players at their peak levels mentally is important during the grind of a season and it’s where motivation becomes key.
“The old keyword of motivation is a big factor. There are millions of different ways that we try to be creative to make that happen. When you’re evaluating players, you’re looking for those that can motivate themselves, are self-driven and are able to perform day in and day out. Those are the ones that end up making it. It’s our job for those that aren’t going to play in the big leagues, but can be productive minor leaguers, to get the most out of them.”
The first priority of a minor league manager is to develop the talent on the team’s roster. Maintaining a cohesive team environment during the season is a formidable task, as the cast of players evolves through attrition, injury, promotions and trades.
“I try to be very proactive and upfront with what’s happening. If there are problematic areas, difficult personalities and other types of things, I’m very upfront about it and address it as quick as I can. I think that’s the number one goal for me as the manager, is to make sure that the clubhouse itself is taken care of, they are enjoying themselves and it’s a good atmosphere. Usually, if it’s a good place in there, they’ll go out and play well in the field. We’re with each other, more than we are with our families. We try to find good guys, that are good players and keep them around as long as we can. Hopefully, they all get to the big leagues, make a whole lot of money and can be productive citizens.”
In 2014, House led the Hillsboro Hops to a Northwest League Championship in his first season as a manager. His experience there was good from the start.
“That place in Hillsboro is unbelievable. It’s awesome. The facility that they have there is beautiful for a rookie ball situation. It’s a great place to develop. I was fortunate enough that our scouting department sent me a really good team. I was kind of spoiled in my first year being able to have that type of quality players. Just great guys. I really didn’t have any trouble as far as personalities or difficulties, they all meshed well together. It was good from the very beginning.”
After a championship managerial performance for the Hillsboro Hops, the Arizona Diamondbacks rewarded House with a promotion to Visalia in 2015. New town, new team and the result was a California League semifinal playoff appearance and a California League Manager of the Year award.
“I was really lucky to have three guys that started with the Visalia team last year that ended up playing in the big leagues. That was very special. We try to get as many guys that are on this team to the big leagues and help at that level. That’s what we do this for, is to help the big league club. To see the guys progress and be the best players that they can possibly be. Not all of them are going to make it to the big leagues, but at the same time, they do have the talent level to get there. It’s just a matter of overcoming the difficulties.”
J.R. House has experienced success early in his career as a manager. When asked about his ambitions to step back on a major league field as a manager, he replied:
“There are so many different avenues that can transpire. It’s a great life. We all have ambitions and try to be the best that we can. It’s a whole lot of fun being at that level. It’s about getting these kids to grasp what we’re trying to do in the minor leagues for the Arizona Diamondbacks. If they can do that, once they get to the big leagues it’s a better environment and they’re better players for it. It’s the grind of making sure they get there the right way.”
Success has come quickly in the dugout for J.R. House. While his future path could go a variety of directions, he’s making sure that his current players perform at their best in preparation for the big leagues.
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