Terry Steinbach played in more than 1,500 major league baseball games during a 14-year career, but some of his favorite baseball memories have come after his retirement as a player. Coaching your sons will do that.
Steinbach, who played with the Oakland A’s and Twins before retiring after the 1999 season, is in his fourth year as an assistant coach at Wayzata High School. He took the job when his son Lucas was in high school; Lucas is now playing college baseball at Minnesota-Duluth and Jake Steinbach (pictured here with his dad) is a junior catcher, second baseman and outfielder at Wayzata.
“For me it was a natural fit because I was going to be at the games watching my kids play, anyway,” Steinbach said before a game this week. “It’s nice just to be able to be here, to help all the kids and try to give back some of the stuff that I’ve learned.”
Steinbach grew up in New Ulm, where he was a baseball and hockey star, and he played baseball at the University of Minnesota before being drafted by Oakland in 1983. He played in three All-Star Games with Oakland as well as three World Series, including the A’s 1989 World Series championship. In 2007 he was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame as well as the National High School Hall of Fame.
I remember sitting in the Twins dugout at the Metrodome late in the 1998 season, interviewing Steinbach. He was 37 years old at the time, knowing his playing career was in its closing stages. Back then, Terry and Mary Steinbach’s children were 11 (daughter Jill), 8 and 5 years old.
He told me back then, “The kids are getting pretty active in a lot of their sports. They're like, ‘Hey Dad, can you come and watch my game?’ And I’d love to, but Dad's got to be down at the field, too. They understand, but I don't think it makes it any easier.”
This week, the 49-year-old Steinbach sat in the home dugout at the Wayzata field and talked about spending time with his kids on the ballfield. There was a clear sense of contentment as he spoke.
“It’s fun,” he said of coaching his children. “It’s a little bit of a challenge, too, because here I’m their coach and at home I’m their dad.”
The Steinbachs aren’t the only connection between Wayzata High School and the major leagues. Freshman infielder Mickey Leius is the son of former Twin Scott Leius and brothers Maris (senior) and Matt (sophomore) Blanchard are grandsons of the late New York Yankees player Johnny Blanchard.
Trojans head coach Bobby DeWitt said that whenever Steinbach talks to the players, “Literally, there’s a hush. He’s a guy with experience and know-how, and he’s been where every kid dreams of going. The people he’s played with and played against, those are all the pros that guys like me grew up watching in the '80s.”
Luke Steinbach fondly remembers when he was little, playing baseball with his father on the Metrodome field. His dad became a coach when Luke was 13, and Luke admitted it was a little strange.
“I didn’t know what to say, Dad or Coach? But now it’s 100 percent natural. I’d definitely say it’s a benefit having him out here. He teaches what he calls perfect form, how to throw faster, good footwork and most of all how to be a good catcher. Respecting the game is his main priority.”
Terry Steinbach said he has noticed some differences between his own days as a high school athlete and today.
“I think it’s a little bit different because of the competition for the kids’ time," he said. "In our era we didn’t have the internet and the social networking that they all have now. Not that that’s good or bad.
“I remember my group, we’d get up on Saturday morning and go to the ballfield. We’d just meet there, you didn’t have to call and it wasn’t orchestrated. You’d find ways to play games. Now everything has to be orchestrated. Again, I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. And it’s that way in all sports. But the game’s the same. And there’s better training, better equipment, even some better fields.”
He also has realized that not all players dream of playing baseball beyond high school.
“When you spend a lot of years in pro ball, everybody has aspirations of being a pro ballplayer,” he said. “When you come to high school, there are a few people who might have aspirations of playing college ball, and there are probably more kids who are like, ‘this is it.’ And that’s OK. But when I first got here I would have assumed that everybody would want to play college ball. The reality of it is there’s a select few who would move up that ladder.”
Steinbach still plays baseball with the Searles Bullheads amateur team; his older brothers Tim and Tom are teammates. (Terry Steinbach’s bio on the Bullheads website says he “was a perennial last pick for kickball on the playgrounds of New Ulm in elementary school. … Unfortunately for Terry, his years in the majors prevented him from recognizing his childhood dreams of becoming a corn de-tasseler.”)
Playing amateur baseball “is competitive enough and you’re still playing baseball,” he said.
I’m tempted to write “You can take the kid out of the game but you can’t take the game out of the kid.” But that would be incorrect, because Terry Steinbach and the game remain together. And that’s a great thing.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 600
*Miles John has driven: 9,172
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