Brian Esposito, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A affiliate the Indianapolis Indians, was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview. Get to know more about both Esposito the baseball coach and the person.
As we all know, minor league baseball was finished for 2020 before it could even get started. Other than the ones lucky enough to make the taxi squad teams, the minor league players and coaches both in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and throughout baseball are left questioning almost everything. Now I know having a MiLB season was a long shot, but I can’t help but feel even sadder than what I already was.
I also know you came here to read an article on my conversation with the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A manager Brian Esposito and I promise I will get to that. I just wanted to get my thoughts and emotions out in the air before we get into the interview. If you’re still here and reading this, thank you! Let’s get to the business at hand, shall we?
From what I heard, Esposito is a very organized man who has nothing but love for his players and the game of baseball. This makes him a great member of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. To get a better feel for who the man is, I asked him to describe himself to the best of his ability.
“If I had to say who I am, I would say I am a continuous work in progress. From the time I was little, the only thing I ever wanted to do was play baseball. When playing baseball, it’s about being competitive, relentless, and always wanting to be on the field. At a young age, I was able to play baseball on an extremely competitive level. At 11 years old, our Little League All-Star team came a game away from going to the Little League World Series.”
Esposito continued, “I experienced defeat, and as we got set up again as 12-year-olds, we decided we weren’t going to lose this year, and we didn’t we went on to play at Williamsport. That experience taught me the importance of winning and pushing yourself to become better at a young age. There are times when you start to steamroll through some things and whether that’s being considerate of other people, taking feelings into account, humility, and compassion. Those things for me are a work in progress even at 41-years-old. It’s been a fun journey so far with my career and now coaching with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but as I said, I’ll describe myself as a work in progress.”
Esposito spent roughly 13 years in professional baseball before hanging up the mitt and cleats. The majority of his time was spent in the minor league system with several different teams. I wanted to get a feel for the main things he learned during his career with so many different influences and philosophies.
“To be honest with you, over those 13 years, I got to step foot in eight different organizational uniforms. It’s almost a tale of two cities. As a player, I was drafted kind of high with the Red Sox to a position change my final year with the Red Sox going from a catcher to a pitcher then back to a catcher again. Then at 24-years-old, it was going to different organizations as a free agent listed as a non-prospect. I always had to prove my way and fight for playing time, which was in my wheelhouse at what I’m good at already.”
Esposito continued, “Then on the flip side of it being in those eight organizations, I had the opportunity to be around so many different people, managers, front office people, coaches, philosophies, and just how things got done. I learned not just the hitting, pitching, fielding aspect of philosophy, but the off-field philosophies and culture, discipline, and how to carry yourself. Playing on those eight different teams plays a big role in how I coach now.”
But wait, there’s more, “As a player, it was tough. It was a battle always trying to fight and pave my way until I got a little older, and then you become a more sought after free agent. I did what I had to do. You know, I started this conversation off as being an 11 or 12-year-old and having to face the very same things, so it wasn’t something I wasn’t prepared for or anything like that. I remember having a conversation with my little league manager saying I wasn’t playing enough, and he told me we have a catcher that’s hitting this, so what are you going to do about it to get in the lineup?”
Oh yes, baby, there is more from Esposito!
“I wound up fighting my way through and played really well and ended up being the starting right fielder at 11-years-old. Long story short, I understood what I have to earn and fight and do what you need to do. I feel like eight organizations in 13 years was a blessing for me.”
Every person has a reason to do the things they do, especially when it comes to passions. As far as Esposito goes, I wanted to pick his brain and find out who his biggest supporters and influences to play baseball.
“Both my parents and I know it sounds kind of cliche, but if you think about it, they’re the ones that took me everywhere I needed to go to play this game. You don’t realize it until you get older and you start to have more responsibilities you have as an adult. You start to realize how they did without and how many times my father left work early. All the different trips and places we had to go you think that’s missing work, doing without, less money, but they always managed to support me and get me to where I needed to go.”
Don’t go, yet there’s more to the story!
“My mother, to this day, is my biggest fan. I had a head start on video. My mother enjoyed taking pictures and videos. She had a video for just about every game that I ever played in. You figure from 9-years-old until the day that I stopped playing, so I had a decent head start on video by learning how to use it at a young age (laughter ensued for quite a bit.) On a serious note, they supported me on everything I wanted to do and made sure I was where I needed to be.”
He went on to talk about the history of his neighborhood in Staten Island, New York. He talked about how in 1985, his Little League team had the chance to make it again to Williamsport again and how in 1964, their rival team actually won it all. One of the more interesting things he mentioned was the team’s practices and how organized they were at 11-years-old. This may be why he’s as organized and strategic to this day in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization with the Indianapolis Indians.
Now a little earlier in the interview, Esposito mentioned how his mother would tape every game of his. I would imagine that those tapes would create some fond memories for him. Out of all of those memories, I wanted to know what was his favorite one out of the mounds of VHS tapes.
“I would say my final at bat in Little League, and it happened to be during the Little League World Series. I wound up going deep in the final game, and we beat Canada 16-0. My good buddy from Little League, as well as St. Louis, Jason Marquis threw a no-hitter that day. To me, that is one of my favorite VHS tapes I have because you figure at 12-years-old that’s what you dream about, right? Hitting a home run in Williamsport has to be my fondest memory I have on tape.”
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As we know, he mentioned that he played for eight different organizations, and I can only imagine how many great minds he came into contact with. Out of all those great minds and philosophies, I wanted to know who was his biggest influence as far as managerial experience goes.
“You know experience isn’t always what you learned in terms of the positive stuff. I think a lot of the things you can take from your playing days is you put in your back pocket some of the things you would do, but you also filter out some things that made you feel a certain way. I try to avoid doing things like that to a player because I know how that made me feel, and I now have an understanding of that.”
Esposito continued, “As far as philosophies and how the game was played, I really enjoyed my two years with St. Louis. I loved watching how Tony La Russa went about his business and how he put his staff in a great position to do some things. He spoke the truth as well. I had the opportunity to go to the big leagues and be called up by La Russa, and I also got sent back down by him. He told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. La Russa never beat around the bush, and he gave me nothing but the truth.”
This guy has a way of telling stories, huh? He continued, “I was with St. Louis for two years, and it was the year before the World Series and the year after. I got to see what spring training was like prior to the World Series and after. It was a unique thing to see and to witness things being business as usual after the offseason of celebrating. It was really cool to see him operate and how he handled veteran players as well as the role players. I took a lot from La Russa and watching him work.”
Baseball managers are a different breed of coach, so the main thing I wanted to know from him was what made him want to be a manager? I wanted to know if there was an aha moment or if it was just a natural transition.
“Being a catcher, you always hear they will become managers because of the responsibility that you have. I always thought about that, and I was infatuated with watching the game. I spent a lot of time on the bench as a backup catcher as I got on in my career, which allowed me to hone in on the responsibilities of not just my position but everyone’s. By sitting back and watching, I learned what to do and what not to do and what’s important.”
Esposito continued, “One memory pops in my head that made me realize managing is what I wanted to do was when I got called up by the Astros in 2010. In ’09 and ’10, I had the opportunity to play for Marc Bombard, who was my manager. When he sent me up to the big leagues, he told me you’re going to be a really good manager one day. I said, well, can I go to the big leagues first to see if I can be a decent player first? (Laughter) That stuck with me, and as we got closer to the end, I knew I wanted to manage, but I was open to getting my feet wet in some form of coaching.”
In 2014 Esposito got his start in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization with the Jamestown Jammers. Fast forward to 2019, where he served as Indy’s manager. In that five year or so span, I wanted to know what was different from the Brian Esposito then to the Brian Esposito now.
“Right off the bat, I can tell you patience was a huge thing. When you start managing, you think you lay down the law, and it’s your way of doing things. If things don’t go the way you want it to you, put your foot down and that type of thing. That is kind of the mentality I had coming in at first. At the end of the day, YES, we have principals and guidelines and a set of core convictions how we do things, but this game is driven by players.”
He continued, “It’s not about me or trying to win the manager of the year or have a winning record to prove my value. It’s about helping players on the field or, more importantly, become better people. That’s the biggest difference because, in the first year, I thought it was about me, and I would steamroll through players and coaches and try to do everything by myself. Now I realize it’s about the players and developing them to make it to the big leagues and then have that translate into wins. In order to make that happen, I have to step away a little bit and recognize it’s about them.”
Truly you could hear how passionate he is about player development and how much he cares for not just the player but the man outside of the jersey, which is one of the many reasons he is a great asset to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. The evolution of a manager from day one to now is truly a remarkable thing to me.
We then got into some discussion on the minor league life and what that entails. We see, especially nowadays, how much of a struggle and a grind it can be just to make it let alone sustain it. So I asked Esposito to delve into that a little more.
“It can be a grind, and there are some things people don’t see. Now the Triple-A level compared to the New York-Penn League is a little bit different. In Triple-A, the quality of living, hotels, and travel is a little bit better. One of the things people don’t understand is if you travel in Triple-A, and we’re going to Gwinnett and then Charleston for a series. We may have an off day Monday, but on Tuesday, we’re waking up at 4 in the morning to make a flight for 6. We might get delayed a bit and not get into town, and the hotel isn’t ready, yet so you go straight to the ballpark.”
He continued, “At times, the schedule and the travel can be a bit tricky, and it might set you back. One of the bigger things people talk about with this game is the rest and recovery where you need that for optimal mental and physical standpoints. So yeah, it could be a grind on the minor league side where the schedule isn’t friendly at times. Some people enjoy the grind like me I enjoyed going into battle with a group of men and just battling it out. You do have to realize you have guys with families where the minor league grind can get in the way and mess with them, so you have to be careful handling that. Which can take a toll on you mentally.”
As Esposito had mentioned before the Triple-A level and the NY-Penn League are two different animals. One is on the cusp of making it to the show, and the other is pretty fresh on their journey to make it. In the vein, I wanted to know what it’s like managing a group of guys that are right there and if it’s difficult to manage egos at times.
“I wouldn’t call it egos I would call them personalities. At the Triple-A level, players find themselves in different positions. You can be so close to the big leagues, and you know that it’s coming, but sometimes things don’t line up and your opportunity that is set back a bit. You could also have a guy playing really well, but the guy in the Majors at that position is as well. The unique thing about Triple-A is that you may have a player with 5-6 years of Major League service time that is now on a minor league opportunity to make his way back up there.”
He continued, “My first year up there was a little bit different to see how you’re managing players from outside of your organization who have done certain things with a different organization, and he now is with the Pittsburgh Pirates where things could be different philosophy wise. You have some guys that are just trying to hold on to continue to play, and then you have some guys that are trying to thrive and pave their way to the big leagues. Yeah, there are some days where you have to deal with some personalities and other things that come into play.”
Epsosito continued, “You also have a room full of guys who ultimately want to wind up in the big leagues, and then you have players who get hurt in the big leagues or whatever the case may be. In that situation, you have a player coming up as well as coming down. Now you have a guy going up, which is one of the greatest things I can tell a player, especially if it’s his first time. On the flip side, you have a player coming back down where you have to understand where he’s coming from and what happened when he was up there and try to get him back in position to where he can get called back up.”
God, I love this guy because there is more.
“You also may have 4-5 guys wondering why it wasn’t them that got called up to the big leagues and why am I still here. The best thing you can have at that level is gaining a good relationship with your players. Some of the better relationships I have with these guys came from having confrontations. Some guys are easy to get along with, and other times, we sit in my office, and we figure out who he is and who I am, and at the end of the day, we get better because of it.”
Now, if you have been paying attention to my coach interviews, you may remember Joel Hanrahan. In that interview, he stated how Esposito owed him some money after a golf match. I needed to know what that was all about.
“Let me give you a premise. I love to play golf, it’s something I enjoyed playing. When I started coaching in 2013, I stopped playing because I dedicated myself to learning and becoming a better coach. It came down to 2017 when I was managing in Morgantown, and my interest in golf started to pick back up, and the main reason was I realized how hard that sport is. It taught me to realize that this is hard and what the baseball players do is hard and keeps me in check when I play golf.”
Here is where it gets good. “Fast forwarding to the Hanrahan situation. Hanrahan is a STUD golfer that guy is a BIG BOY and he can SMASH balls! If my research has served me correctly, Hanrahan was really good all the way back to high school. Now my golf game has started to get better than where it was. At times I think I’ve become a really good golfer, but in reality, I’m a decent golfer. I learned a lot from Hanrahan in golf and a whole mess of other things. There are days when I think I’m on point, and then I’m humbled fast by Joel.”
Oh, there is MORE! “Now I don’t know where the money thing came up because usually I’m trying to be partners with him so I don’t lose my money to him (big laughter.) He’s a really good pitching coach and a really good guy who can mesh well with players and staff. There is a calming demeanor with him that allows you to absorb what he’s saying.”
I know you have been waiting for this moment and it has COME! The food question is here, ladies and gentlemen! I asked Brian what good recommendations around his hometown and what he eats on the road? He mentioned that in Indy, he frequents a place called Harry and Izzy’s often. Big steak guy during the season he mentioned anywhere he goes. If he can find a chicken parm or meatball hero, he will show up people!
Overall, Brian Esposito is an amazing guy with many words of wisdom, not just in baseball but in life. I know that when I head up to Altoona this weekend, I will hopefully get a chance to speak with him again and the many other great guys I’ve talked to along the way! Maybe he can be my life coach when it’s all said and done. (lol)