Standing in foul territory down the right-field line at Bowman Field, Matt Tolbert couldn't help but smile Wednesday afternoon. The newest Williamsport Crosscutters coach was watching his team run gassers in the outfield before taking batting practice and he was happy to not be a part of it.
The recently retired Tolbert does not exactly miss that part of being a player.
"I saw the gassers they were running thinking this isn't too bad," Tolbert said after batting practice Wednesday afternoon.
Wednesday night's game vs. Connecticut was rained out. The two teams will play a doubleheader starting at 5:05 today.
The 32-year old Tolbert spent the last 11 seasons as a player after being selected in the 16th round of the 2004 MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins. He appeared in 247 games from 2009-2011 with the Twins, but hadn't appeared in a big league game since Sept. 27, 2011 with the Twins.
He spent the past two seasons in the Philadelphia Phillies' minor league system, playing primarily at Reading and Lehigh Valley. Wednesday was Tolbert's first day with the Crosscutters and he'll be the fourth coach on the staff, along with hitting coach Eddie Dennis, pitching coach Aaron Fultz and manager Shawn Williams.
"I've been playing for 11 years, so yeah, obviously it's tough (to not be playing anymore)," Tolbert said. "Hopefully the transition can be smooth and I can help these guys out and live through them and cheer them on. We have a great group of guys here. When I was hurt down in Florida and got to know most of them. They want to get to the big leagues and will do anything to get there, so it's going to be fun."
Tolbert wasn't exactly expecting to start his coaching career so soon. Just a year ago he hit .327 in just under 50 games playing at four levels in the Phillies' system.
But he said the decision wasn't entirely his. He hit .198 in his final season in the big leagues in 2011. He was granted free agency by the Twins that off-season and signed with the Cubs. He hit .240 in 113 games for the Class AAA Iowa Cubs in 2012 before signing with the Phillies.
"It wasn't really my decision (to retire)," Tolbert said. "When they call you in the office and say it's the time we think you need to be a coach If they guys who are telling me that are the guys who are deciding the playing time or know who has the potential, they watch players all the time, so they know when it's time."
Tolbert is still getting used to the new schedule which comes with being a professional coach. He said he's caught himself standing around a couple times, and is still getting used to throwing batting practice.
During Thursday's batting practice session, he invoked some cackles from the coaches and players standing around the hitting cage when he came up and in to second baseman Robinson Torres during an early round.
"As a player, you always want a good BP thrower to get you locked in for the game. And on the other side of it now, I know what they're looking for," Tolbert said. "Throw one or two bad, then you kind of start thinking about it. But it was my third time throwing BP. They said it was good."
Tolbert is pretty well content with what he did as a player. As a 16th-round draft pick, he was never a highly-rated prospect. But he performed well enough to play in parts of four seasons with the Twins, and was on the roster for their playoff appearances in both 2009 and 2010.
And in 2010 when the Twins played an epic 12-inning game in a tie-breaker for the American League Central title against the Detroit Tigers, Tolbert had an RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning to extend the game. Minnesota eventually won in the bottom of the 12th on an RBI single by Alexi Casilla.
Being so closely removed from being a player, and a big league player nonetheless, Tolbert is hoping he can help relate to the Cutters' players as they're just beginning their trek through minor league baseball.
"I felt like I gave it all I had. I felt like I got the most out of my potential. I hit my ceiling," Tolbert said. "I feel like I left it all out on the field. The past few days I thought about a lot of things and I regret a couple things. I regret not being able to do better and stick around longer. But I gave it all I had. I'm ready to go in this phase and see where it takes me."