Former Major Leaguer Rich Amaral brought his son’s little league team to Cooperstown All-Star Village, a baseball tournament camp in New York for twelve year olds across the country. During the Championship Game on Thursday evening, I had the chance to interview Amaral, and the story can be read below.
After playing professional baseball for nearly two decades, you might want to take a break. Not Rich Amaral, who decided to begin a fundamentals camp in his final season in the Major Leagues.
“I decided that, since I had four kids and my son was little league age, it would be a good idea to do some kind of a camp over the winter to try to raise some money for the little league. We put it together to the little league board but we weren’t sure what kind of turnout it would have. We ended up having over 150 kids show up so it turned out to be something that was really good.”
That would be an understatement. The camp flourished, and Amaral is now in his tenth season with it, which he admitted is much longer than he initially predicted. The camp, which is held two weeks in the winter and two weeks in the summer, helps little leaguers work on their fundamentals and covers all of the basics of entry level baseball. It even includes dugout etiquette, which Amaral takes very seriously.
“We have our own session for it, and there are so many things that these kids do not yet know at this age,” explained Amaral.
While Amaral wants kids to take part in his camp, he also understands that there is not a better motivation than enjoying the task at hand.
“I try to make it fun and my big thing is to teach the kids to hustle and have a lot of fun. If you don’t have fun in baseball, it won’t last. You won’t have kids that will continue to love it. If you get kids started early who enjoy it, those kids will be lifelong baseballs fans regardless of how much they play.”
I was able to talk to Amaral about his playing days, as well. He began in the Chicago Cubs organization and bounced around the minor leagues in the northeast. He then went to the Seattle Mariners, where he spent the majority of his career. When I asked about his rookie year and what it was like to play for Lou Piniella, I didn’t expect such a great story to begin unfolding before my very eyes.
“Here I was, a 31-year old rookie competing for a middle infield job against 23-year old Bret Boone,” said Amaral. “Lou Piniella didn’t care who you were, he was just all about winning. Most organizations would have said that Boone was their future and that they would want to give him some major league experience, but Lou gave me the job. Lou was the type of guy that would just take the best players at that time and he felt like I was the best.”
Amaral had a career .276 batting average, and his best season came in 1996. He hit .292 in 118 games, hitting 3 triples while stealing 29 bases. Amaral played in over 100 games in a season twice in his career, with the other season being in 1993. Playing every position but pitcher and catcher, Amaral did what it took to be the best team player possible.
“I came up as a second baseman and I was comfortable with it. I had to learn how to play shortstop and third base on the way up through the minor leagues. I really enjoyed playing center field. I loved running balls down, trying to rob base hits. Another position that I enjoyed playing was first base because you are involved with every play and there is a lot of action. All in all, as a player you need to do what it takes to stay in the big leagues, and for me it was to be as versatile as I could.”
Following the 1998 season, the Mariners had developed other players to fill his spot, so he became a free-agent and began to look elsewhere. He was thrilled when the Orioles showed interest because Camden Yards was his favorite ballpark to play at and he began his career on the east coast.
“I was glad to be able to experience East coast baseball, since I was familiar with the area. With the American League East, the East coast was a bit rougher. It was neat to be a part of that, especially getting a chance to play with Cal (Ripken) and a few other guys. I look back and realize what an experience it was to play for a couple teams.”
Last season, Amaral worked in the Mariners organization coaching the baserunners from the minor leagues to the majors.
“It was a part-time job. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t do it this year, as they have a new General Manager and cleaned out their staff.”
One particular player who caught his eye while working in Seattle was a player named Tyson Gillie, who, like myself, has a severe hearing loss. Gillies is in single-A, but is a big time prospect and played in the Futures Game. He also played in Major League Spring Training this year.
“I saw him last year and he won me over by his attitude and determination. I think, at some point, the way he works and his desire, he will be in the big leagues some day. He is in high-A ball right now and he is working his way. Maybe in 2-3 years if things keep going well for him, he will get a shot in the big leagues.”
Amaral said 2008 was his only season working in baseball since he retired, explaining that he has wanted to spend time with his family over the course of the past years.
“As a baseball player, the thing people don’t realize is the sacrifice you have to take when you have family in your life. Yeah, we had the offseason which was great, but during the year, I missed little league games and other important things. I was blessed to be a big leaguer and there were a lot of great things, but the things you miss out on are things with your family. When I retired, I was able to spend a lot of time working with my kids, helping them out in the classroom. I started to work in the mortgage business, and I’ve done that for six years.”
Now that Amaral has been retired and has some time on his hands, he was able to travel with his son’s team to Cooperstown All-Star Village and compete with teams from around the country. During his stay in the Cooperstown area, Amaral was able to check out the Hall of Fame and look at some plaques of his former teammates.
“I was in Cooperstown 26 years ago right out of college but coming back now it means a lot more to me. It shows how hard it is to be a hall of famer, and to actually see some of the plaques of the guys that I played with up there was neat, too. It was really special for me to get back and look at that.”
As Amaral continues to be involved with his kids’ lives by traveling to Cooperstown and running a camp, he also realizes that they will soon grow up and that it will soon be time for him to think about the next chapter in his life.
“My kids are getting older to the point where I am thinking about getting back into baseball and see if it would be a good fit.”
With those words, it appears to be inevitable that we will see more of Rich Amaral in Major League Baseball.
It’s just a matter of when.