His playing career, while short, could closely resemble some of the careers of the York Revolution pitchers that Paul Fletcher could be coaching later this year.
Twenty-two years ago the Kansas City Royals took a chance on Fletcher, drafting him out of the University of Tennessee in the 24th round and putting him with their low Class A affiliate in 1992. Over the next five seasons, the 5-foot, 10-inch left-handed pitcher bounced back and forth between the independent Frontier League and the Class A affiliate level, where he posted a career 3.70 ERA in just 52 games before ending his career as a player after the 1996 season to begin a new career as a coach.
"I was there. I went through that in the Frontier League, which never got to the level of the Atlantic League. It had a purpose and designation. I played there two years and both times got signed out of it (by a major league organization). I've been there. And I've been there as a coach trying to get players affiliated deals," said Fletcher, who last week was named the new Revs pitching coach.
Like Revs manager Mark Mason, who came to York in 2010 after coaching in the Frontier League, Fletcher also has past experience coaching in the Frontier League as pitching coach for the Springfield (Ill.) Capitals in 1997 and 1998 and manager in 1999.
"We ended up like 39-45," Fletcher said of his one year as Springfield manager. "It's been a long time since I've been on a field at the pro level. In 2002 I went through the MLB scout school and finished in the top 3 percent of the class and the Padres hired me. I did that full-time for a few years."
Fletcher then moved from Texas back to his home state of Georgia after his wife, Jennifer, gave birth to their only child, a boy they named Bradon. Fletcher, now 44, continued to stay involved in baseball, serving as the varsity pitching coach at private Lovett (Ga.) High School, where he also worked an administrative role in the athletic department, from 2004 to 2010. He also founded the 25,000-square foot Norcross Sports Training Academy in Norcross, Ga, with which he coached some of the nation's top travel teams.
Fletcher more recently took a step back from the travel teams to focus on the academy's business end but continues to give personal lessons on the side to more than 60 clients, from elementary school-level children up to minor leaguers, such as 26-year-old pitcher David Hale, a top Atlanta Braves prospect who made his big-league debut last season.
"For the last three or four years I've been trying to get back on the field," Fletcher said about his return to pro coaching ranks after a 14-year hiatus. "I miss it. I wanted a new challenge. I've had a lot of pro guys tell me 'you should be on the field.'"
Mason downplayed the fact Fletcher hasn't coached a pro pitching staff in more than a decade by crediting Fletcher's work with youth travel teams and individual players of all ages.
"At the end of the day I like his (Fletcher's) philosophy, approach and track record of producing a lot of successful pitchers," said Mason, who interviewed six of 12 applicants in recent months before hiring Fletcher. "It's really hard to be an individual that can also coach professionals and youths. I think it speaks a lot to handle different age groups and have success at all those levels."
Plus, Fletcher has more of a coaching resume than the guy he's taking over for in John Halama, the former big leaguer who finished up his playing career in the Atlantic League before spending the 2013 season as York's pitching coach despite having no prior coaching experience. In Halama's lone season on the job in 2013, York posted a 4.32 team ERA -- tied for the second-best single-season mark in franchise history -- and led the Freedom Division in strikeouts with 935.
Fletcher admits it'll be hard not seeing his wife and son for a large chunk of the year. But he's looking forward to a new challenge in his life.
"Right now I want to get up there and help York and I want to win. I want to see what I can do with older guys," he said. "If I can work with Mark and put something big together then why not do that?"
-- Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.