It was about one year ago that Tripp Keister was making the jump from collegiate coach at Wesley College to his job as manager for the Gulf Coast League Nationals.
Now he has been promoted to manage the low Single-A Hagerstown Suns. Keister believes his purpose and job description really hasn't changed despite the classification jump.
"I look forward to being at (Hagerstown)," Keister said this week. "I recognize as a player development staff member your job is still the same: Get these guys to the big leagues and make them as good as can be by getting them ready for the next level, whatever that may be to them."
And one of the biggest parts of learning how to be a big leaguer is learning how to prepare and act from one day to the next in a long season.
"For a lot of these men, it will be there first full season, so it is about teaching them the routine," Keister said. "It really is a job that is not much different than it was last year in getting guys ready to play, teaching them the fundamentals, (like) how to get prepared to play. (This) is a big deal when you are talking about younger players in professional baseball. I look forward to that challenge."
Keister said these players have never had this kind of toll on their bodies where they can play 140 games in 155 days. They have to learn how to take care of themselves, how to eat right and get their work in and develop a pregame routine, whether it be a position player or a pitcher.
"I was watching (Lakers All-Star guard) Kobe Bryant in Philadelphia (this season) to play the 76ers say he really wanted to have a cheesesteak, but he realized that his body becomes slow and sluggish when he doesn't eat right," Keister said.
"That is what happens if you eat fast food over a long season. You have to listen to your body. You got to learn what your body can take and what your body needs to be able to play at your best for 148 (games)."
Keister is excited to take over a Suns team that was a prolific scoring machine in 2012. He has worked with several of the guys that played in Hagerstown last season, like Cutter Dykstra, Steven Souza and others.
The roster will be different this season and will likely include several players from short-season Auburn and Keister's 2012 team, the GCL Nationals. Former Suns manager Brian Daubach will have a lot of the same guys he managed at Hagerstown this season as he steps into the same role at high Single-A Potomac.
Keister said the coaching staffs and coordinators in the Nationals system have been critical to helping him as he ventures into his second season with the Nationals organization.
Keister was a New York Mets draft pick in the early 1990s after a standout career at the University of Delaware. During his four minor league seasons, Keister remembers being in the South Atlantic league in 1993 and working with a young manager learning the ropes, Ron Washington. Now the manager of the Texas Rangers, Washington talks with Keister when he can.
"He was the first manager I had in pro ball that was very positive on a day in and day out basis and I felt that if I was ever going to be like anyone it would be like him," Keister said. "In a negative game, you need to be a positive as you can be."