River Cats manager Steve Scarsone, left, greets Las Vegas manager Wally Backman before the season opener last week.

River Cats' manager on the rise in A's organization

Published: Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013 - 11:56 am

Steve Scarsone's immediate family lives in Arizona.

He's living solo in Sacramento, where he is in his first season managing the River Cats. His cellphone allows quick communication and, sometimes, comedic relief to ease the tension of distance from his family and a slow start on the new job.

Take Monday evening. The River Cats dropped to 1-4 with a 9-4 loss to Tacoma at Raley Field. Scarsone retreated to his office, where he slumped into his chair and exhaled before retrieving his phone.

While sharing the story Tuesday, Scarsone laughed recalling the text from his 19-year-old daughter, Leah.

"Nine up to bat and three runs allowed in the first inning? I'm yelling at my phone while watching online and everyone at work thinks I'm insane."

"And," Scarsone pointed out a moment later with a grin, "I have cell-video of our dog. This is what we do."

Scarsone, 46, said he is a baseball lifer, a former utility infielder who logged parts of seven big-league seasons in the 1990s.

"Early on, when I was playing, baseball was the cool thing to do, better than working and a little better than school," Scarsone said.

While the Southern California native was playing Double-A ball in Pennsylvania in the late 1980s, he met his future wife, Becki, in a bar and grill after a game.

"She followed me around, wouldn't leave me alone," Scarsone cracked. "It just felt right."

It also felt right when Scarsone left the game after coaching two seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks' system in 2001 and 2002. He chose to spend time with his family, to help Becki raise their two young children while he worked in real estate.

It was a big risk for Scarsone's baseball career. He was away from the game for six years, a lifetime in the sport and plenty of time to completely fall off the grid.

His son, Ty, is now a 16-year-old third baseman for his high school in Arizona.

"It was a risk, but it was a valuable thing to do with family, and I'm proud we did it," Scarsone said. "And I was pretty good in real estate, too, until the market went bust. I was fortunate to get back in (baseball)."

Scarsone is in his fifth year with the A's organization. He spent 2009 managing Class-A Kane County and 2010 at High-A Stockton. He managed Double-A Midland in 2011 and 2012, amassing 277 total victories.

Called "Scar" by his players, Scarsone uses a mix of humor and discipline as a manager. He knows what it's like to be drafted, to be traded, to be cut. He also speaks a baseball language that his players understand and appreciate.

"Scar's great because he knows exactly what we want, where we want to go, what we're going through," said pitcher Sonny Gray, one of five A's first-round draft picks on the River Cats' roster. "I played for him last year (in Midland) and really got to like him. He's easy to talk to. He's super competitive and he wants the same from us."

Scarsone was a late bloomer as a player. He started only his senior season at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills. He was drafted by Philadelphia in the second round out of Rancho Santiago College in 1986 but said he didn't develop into a major-league prospect until he was in Double A.

It took Scarsone six minor-league seasons to reach the big leagues. As a member of the Baltimore Orioles' organization in 1992, Scarsone went to the Arizona Fall Instructional League that was managed by Dusty Baker. He made an impression. After Baker became the Giants' manager in 1993, San Francisco traded for Scarsone. Baker once called him "a savior" for his ability to play any position during parts of four Giants seasons.

"I was a hard worker, quiet, did my job," Scarsone said. "That's what I tell these guys here now. I'm just a little story from the past. Things can happen, and they do happen. I pushed to be the best. I took pride in what I was doing."

He still does.

Scarsone and the River Cats will try to work out of their early-season slump and extend the team's streak of six consecutive division titles.

"None of us are pleased with how we're playing," he said.

Scarsone unwinds in his office for an hour or so after games before heading home. He jots notes and reads. And he finds comfort in those family texts and video clips.

He also works out, lifting weights or taking batting practice. He's only good for a few swings before feeling his age, he says.

On this day, Scarsone just completed a workout and sat sweating through his shirt.

"I like eating," he said, eyes wide for emphasis. "I have to work out. I gave up drinking so I can have more dessert."

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