Matthias Ondracek provided Mister-Baseball with an interview with former Major League pitcher Bruce Hurst, who was one of the coaches at the recent MLB European Academy in Regensburg. The 55-year-old pitched in a total of 379 Major League games between 1980 and 1994 for the Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers. Now he is a coach with MLB International, helping Baseball to grow worldwide.
Matthias Ondracek: Can you explain what this MLB European Academy is all about?
Bruce Hurst: We’ve been coming to Europe for 14 years. This is our first trip to Regensburg. Major League Baseball is doing the very best, I think, to develop the game and grow the game. The game here in Germany is getting very well developed. So we bring kids from all over Europe and get them altogether and we spend two and a half weeks and work on the finer parts of the game. We try to give them as good of information as we can. We work closely with the coaches and we do the best to help kids prepare themselves. And we got several signed, we got two kids that made it to the Major League level [Alex Liddi, Donald Lutz] that have come to the academy system for us. That’s what we are trying to do, just help develop the game, promote the game, increase the awareness and hopefully improve the skill level.
Matthias Ondracek: How long have you been involved in this?
Bruce Hurst: From the very first year it came to Europe I have been involved. So it’s been a real treat for me.
Matthias Ondracek: So you can see a development?
Bruce Hurst: I can, yes. We had much younger kids our first two years. We had 14 and 15 year olds. Now we go from 15 to 18 and 19 or 20 year olds. So kids are a little older and a little more mature. What we see from top to bottom are kids that are a little more prepared for what we do. The skill level is a little better, the understanding of the game, the decision making. In the beginning we would play three or four innings and then they just didn’t need to make decisions that fast for that long. You know, where to run, which base to throw to. That’s not even an issue anymore. The kids have a great feel for the game and how the game’s played. The decision making is great. Now it’s just more of a fine-tuning. So, yeah, we’ve seen a lot of progress.
Matthias Ondracek: You’re talking about the progress in Europe in general or the progress in Germany specifically?
Bruce Hurst: Oh, I’ve seen both. The players in general have come a long way. Germany – and I know Martin Brunner very well – and the program they have here is very special. The ballpark, the facilities, I mean this is as nice as it gets anywhere in the world. So the German program is very advanced I would say and getting better and better. But Europe in general: Some countries are a little behind and working to catch up, but there are a couple countries that are becoming very developed and really good baseball countries.
Matthias Ondracek: Speaking about the facilities and all that stuff in Regensburg. This is the first time you are here, so what’s the experience compared to the others?
Bruce Hurst: This is fantastic! The field is Major League quality. I mean, it’s a wonderful field. And the work they do, they work really hard to maintain it, of course. And all the other things: the bullpens, the other practice field we have to use, the batting cages, the locker rooms, the dugouts, I mean everything is first class. It’s a wonderful place and this is my first trip to Regensburg and I love the city. I have been falling in love with it, it’s a great place. So hopefully, and I’m sure we will do it again someday…I don’t make the schedule, but hopefully we can do it here a few years. And if we don’t, I for sure will come back.
Matthias Ondracek: Can you tell the people, what is important for a player to possibly be a pro one day, what the scouts are looking for and what you are trying to develop in the players?
Bruce Hurst: I work with the pitchers. We find the skills as far as the command. With the younger kids, we work how they can get stronger. We work on the wind up. With the older kids we start to define the strikezone a little more to where they can command the strikezone a little better. We work on pitch selection, how to set up a hitter. All the things they have to do defensively to cover the bases and be at the right place at the right time, their decision making.
The first thing that scouts look for is arm strength and how it works. The second thing they look for is their pitch ability, their secondary pitches, how well developed and what kind of potential those show. And they look at all the other things: their athletic ability, the work ethic, their stamina. Those are the things we are trying to help them develop. Get organized in their programs, so they have an organized way of preparing theirselves every day. So that’s kind of what we do and what the scouts are looking for.
Matthias Ondracek: What can you say about Donald Lutz?
Bruce Hurst: I think that he has done wonderful. My hats of to him, because he has worked very hard. It hasn’t been easy a long way from home and it wasn’t an easy road for him. But he has developed in being a really fine major league hitter. So it’s great, I think that gives a lot of encouragement to a lot of kids. It really helps the game especially here in Germany but throughout all Europe. As if they see someone that’s doing something that is not common over here, something that is very special. It’s been great.
He is a good guy to have to be the first one. He is a good person and a great worker and he’ll handle this all very well. And he is on a great team…
Matthias Ondracek:...that kind of is his problem…
Bruce Hurst:…yeah, there is a lot of great players in front of you.
Matthias Ondracek: Do you think he has a good chance to come back in September this year?
Bruce Hurst: Yeah, sure, I think he would. I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, I don’t follow the Cincinnati Reds that much, but based on what I saw and how he played when he was up there and I think how he is doing this while he has gone down to the other leagues I think he deserves a chance.
Matthias Ondracek: It doesn’t get easier though with Ludwick and Heisey back…
Bruce Hurst:…no, it doesn’t get easier. But he is in the conversation now. A year ago he wasn’t in the conversation, but now he is. Now the next step for him is to make himself play there every day. And that’s how it works. Every player that is playing in the big leagues went through that.
Matthias Ondracek: And he was lucky the first time he went up there…
Bruce Hurst: Luck works in it a little bit. But also does hard work and skills and he has all of it.
Matthias Ondracek: It seems that Dusty Baker kind of likes him, so that might help.
Bruce Hurst: Yeah, I think so. He is an easy guy to like. So that’s good.
Matthias Ondracek: One other thing while we are talking about the MLB. The use of performance enhancing drugs was a big issue that has been coming up lately. What can you say about all that?
Bruce Hurst: I probably rather stay out of it. All I know that it’s something that Major League Baseball is addressing. You know, we all want a clean game. Especially the guys that played before, that played clean. They all wanna see a clean game. The beauty of Major League Baseball is that the players get compared against history. You know, the players are compared against guys that have played 50 to 60 years ago. And that’s one of the great draws to the game for fans. That they remember seeing this guy and that guy and how does he compare and how he stacks up against history. And cheating history and cheating game and the fans is not good. So I hope that Major League Baseball continues to work hard to get the game clean. And I hope that colleges and high schools and kids in the Minor Leagues begin to see the worth of being a clean player, too.
Matthias Ondracek: So what you tell people, that say, ‘baseball is full of those juiced guys’. What do you tell them and why it hasn’t always been like that?
Bruce Hurst: It hasn’t always been like that. Have there been some? Yeah! We are all aware of that. But there’s a lot of clean players, too. The unfortunate thing is, that clean players become dirty players, when they think that everybody is doing it. So that is the hard part. But not every player does steroids or PED’s and it’s not fair to those guys, that have great skill and compare favourably against guys who do use them. But I hope the game continues to work hard to clean it out. It’s not something that anybody likes to talk about.
Matthias Ondracek: It really is a problem, because whenever you talk about baseball that stuff comes up…
Bruce Hurst:...exactly. It’s like the Tour de France. You know, we want to be able to talk about their skills and the beauty of that event, of baseball. The beauty of the game, and not talk about the cheaters.
Matthias Ondracek: The poor thing is, whoever is performing well and standing out is connected to that and if he is clean or not...
Bruce Hurst:…yes. And that’s a shame! Hopefully they work to clean it out. But that’s way above my pay grade.
Matthias Ondracek: One last thing. Baseball in Germany is not very big and people have problems to understand the game. What would you tell them, why they should watch baseball, play baseball or get involved?
Bruce Hurst: Because it’s the greatest game on earth! As a fan it’s a game where you come and relax and leisure and converse and still enjoys great competition and sees great skill. If a person wants to come over, come and watch the game! Learn the rules, learn what’s going on! The more they watch, the more they learn the finer points of the game and you start to see the beauty of the skill that it takes to play the game. It’s a skill game, it’s not a brute force game, it’s not just a pure strength game, it’s not a sure speed game, it’s a skill game and so when people come over and appreciate the skill and which guys play they’ll appreciate the game and what it can do. It’s just a great way to spend a day, that’s for sure.