Red Lion native Butch Wynegar knows what it's like to excel as a young baseball player.
At just 20 years old, the 13-year, big-league veteran was selected to his first Major League Baseball All-Star Game, making him the fifth-youngest player to receive the honor in 1976.
Four decades later, he's still in baseball, and his goal is to help more young players reach the top.
Wynegar is the hitting coach with the Indianapolis Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Triple-A affiliate.
Wynegar says that at 61 years old, he's still trying to improve as a coach every day.
“The three years I’ve been here with Pittsburgh, I probably gained more intellect than I ever have,” he said recently. “I used to think I knew what I was talking about, but it’s really been a blessing to come over here with the Pirates after being with the Yankees for eight years. I like to think I was a good hitting coach when I was with Milwaukee, but that’s been 11 years and I feel like I’m a better hitting coach now. Maybe not more knowledgeable, but definitely more well-rounded from the mental side to the physical side.”
During his playing days, Wynegar said it was not until he blasted his first two career home runs — off Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter and Jim Palmer — that he felt comfortable in the majors. That boosted his confidence and allowed him to hit well as the season progressed. He finished his big-league career as a .255 hitter with 65 homers, 506 RBIs and 1,102 hits.
Giving credit to his parents: Now Wynegar can reflect on what he did well at a young age and see how he can use that experience to help the Pirates' farmhands.
“In my downtime, I’ll look back at that and think ‘how was I able to go away from home at 18 years old just after graduating from Red Lion High School and never been away on my own ever?’,” he said. “I went to rookie league my first year and won the batting title. I was trying to be a good boy, since mom and dad were worried about me going away from home.
“I go to Reno, Nevada, the next year and I had never been anywhere near that far away,” he said. “It just dawns on me that mom and dad did a good job of raising me. I was a lot more mature than the other 18 and 19 year olds that were my age.”
Desire is key: The two-time All-Star acknowledges that every player he comes across as a Triple-A coach has some sort of talent, otherwise they wouldn't have made it as far as they did. Wynegar said the difference in excelling and not often comes down to desire.
“I think that’s a thing where, if you don’t take it seriously, then you have to know that everyone wants to make it to the big leagues,” he said. “It’s the guys who really want it that are willing to put in the extra effort. Those are the guys who get there and stay. I don’t want these guys getting there and falling back. Once you get there, my goal is for you to stay there. That’s all mental. That’s all mindset. That’s something we really appreciate around here.”
Quick trip to majors: Wynegar said there are more tools available for hitters now, such as weightlifting programs and video work, where hitters can analyze their swings. On top of that, most of the guys he's working with have several years to develop as minor leaguers. In contrast, Wynegar had never played above Class A ball before being named the Minnesota Twins' starting catcher in 1976.
“That rookie year was kind of a whirlwind,” he said. “I got the notification when I was 19 saying I was invited to big league spring training, and that shocked the heck out of me. I figured I was going to spring training so they could take a look at me and see who I was. I played most of the days and I had a pretty good spring, but at no time did I think I was making the team. But then toward, the end, they called me in and said I was going north with them. A couple days later, I was the Opening Day catcher in Texas, and that was kind of a shock to me.”
Hoping to get back to majors: His final MLB game caught was in 1988, and he has not coached in the big leagues since 2006, when he was the Brewers hitting coach from 2003-2006. Still, Wynegar said his goal is to make it up to the bigs one more time before he calls it a career.
“I’d love to give it one more shot,” he said, of being an MLB coach. “But I always say there’s a plan for me, and I’ll let the good Lord take care of that. If it means being in the big leagues, I’ll get back. If not, I still have a passion for it.”
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