Benefield: Santa Rosa native Brandon Hyde is Major League Baseball's newest manager
Longtime and now retired Montgomery junior varsity baseball coach Mickey Rabinovitz remembers being struck by what he saw.
He was down on the field at AT&T Park, watching his former player and then the Chicago Cubs bench coach, Brandon Hyde, going over ground ball defense with a Cubs player before Chicago played the San Francisco Giants. Hyde had given Rabinovitz access to the field, so the coach got to watch his old student become the teacher.
Always diligent, always a learner, always a hard worker, Rabinovitz saw something more in Hyde that afternoon. He saw patience.
'He's saying, 'Move forward through the ball.' He must have said it 20 times to the guy,' Rabinovitz said, noting that the 'guy,' of course, is a probably a multimillionaire pro ballplayer.
But Hyde kept at it. He was positive, he was relentless.
'What Brandon has to do as a coach is convince the guy that what he's saying is going to make you better,' he said.
As he is retelling the story, Rabinovitz paused.
'And now he's going to be working with an entire roster,' he said.
Hyde, a 1992 graduate of Montgomery, was named the new manager of the Baltimore Orioles on Friday. It's news that, since it was leaked early in the week, has set the Major League Baseball offseason alight.
It's done much the same around these parts, where Hyde was not only a standout basketball player at Montgomery but a devotee to the game of baseball. He went on to play at Santa Rosa Junior College and Long Beach State before spending years as a minor leaguer in the Chicago White Sox system and eventually turning to coaching.
'No. 1, he was the kind of player who could play any position you could ask him to play,' said longtime and now retired Vikings varsity baseball coach Russ Peterich.
Where did Peterich put Hyde? At catcher. Because a catcher can command a game from behind the plate.
'He was a very good catcher,' Peterich said. 'He knew the game.'
And what he didn't know, he learned, said Rabinovitz.
'Not all players are learners,' he said. 'Brandon wanted to learn as much as he possibly could about everything. If he wasn't sure, it was, 'Why do we do this? Why do we do that?' He was like a baseball sponge.'
'He was a leader,' he said. 'Even then, he was only 15 years old but he was very well respected, he didn't screw around. He worked hard, he paid attention. If there was work to be done, he did it.'
Hyde has been steeped in baseball since he was a boy.
'He had a great knowledge of baseball when he was in high school,' Peterich said. 'His dad did a great job in teaching him the game of baseball. By the time he got to high school, he had the skills that put him in a very elite group.'
And it's that trajectory of learning that brings us to today, with Hyde's name the talk of the baseball world.
He's leaving his post as the bench coach with the Cubs but has a 2016 World Series ring as a nice memento of his eight years in Chicago. He's been their minor league coordinator, director of player development and first base coach.
Before that he was in Florida with the Marlins, where he was a minor league hitting coach, manager in their minor league system and bench coach.
When Hyde was plucked from the Marlins to go to Chicago, Rabinovitz was impressed. When he was elevated to bench coach with the Cubs, it was something more like awe.
'Jeez, to be bench coach for Joe Maddon? If you are a baseball person, boy, it doesn't get any better,' he said.
Well, it did just get better for Hyde.
Player and coaches stay in touch. They text regularly. Both Rabinowitz and Peterich have traveled to see Hyde coach and are always treated to the grand tour. Hyde looks out for his former coaches.
'He deserves to be where he is,' Rabinovitz said. 'He didn't get any gifts along the way. He has earned it.'
And Rabinovitz said the Orioles could not have picked a better guy.
'Brandon is a positive kid, he's always been positive,' he said. 'I'm sure that is one of the assets that he has that they are looking for.'
That, and perhaps the patience Rabinovitz saw on display at AT&T Park.
The Orioles went 47-115 last season. But of course, with a record like that, one can't be too patient — or the next job search will start sooner rather than later.
'I think the hardest part is going to be, up until now, he works with all the players — now he is responsible for managing,' Rabinovitz said. 'Being responsible for the whole program, in the pros, you've got to win. That's what they are paid for.'
But both Rabinovitz and Peterich said Hyde brings something that likely doesn't show up on a resume.
'He is the kind of person you want to be around,' Peterich said. 'He's a perfect person to be at that level. People won't only learn baseball from him. He has a lot to offer as far as personality and as a person in general.'
Yet even with their admiration for Hyde, neither Rabinovitz nor Peterich will fully embrace the Orioles. Their hearts belong to another. Both are diehard Giants fans.
Peterich, whose wife is a Dodgers fan, says the temperature in his house rises a little bit during any Giants-vs.-Dodgers series.
But both vow adopt the Orioles and make trips to Oakland when Baltimore comes to town.
'I'm for the Giants. Period. Brandon knows it,' Rabinovitz said.
But like they made room in their hearts for the Marlins and then the Cubs, the coaches will now make space for the Orioles.
'Now I get to be an Orioles fan,' Rabinovitz said. 'Gotta root for the kid.'
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671, email@example.com or on Twitter @benefield.
Columnist, The Press Democrat
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