Former Dodgers, Marlins coach Tim Wallach gives an inside look into how teams handled Spring Training
By Joe Frisaro/Man on Second Baseball
The crunch of metal cleats biting into the concrete path leading to the back fields is typically the first sounds of spring each day in Jupiter, Fla.
At roughly 9 a.m. ET every morning, dozens of players march from the clubhouse to their designated practice fields, where they warm up and get ready for the daily grind of Spring Training.
The sprawling Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex is the Spring Training home of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. The layout of the expansive property keeps each organization secluded and self sufficient.
Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium is much like every other Spring Training home, with a number of franchises based either in Florida or Arizona sharing property, and often only interacting when they play or scrimmage against each other.
The series of well manicured baseball fields is where teams revisit the basics. The mundane parts of the game are reintroduced to the players, like polishing up on the fundamentals, and getting players into shape for the regular season.
For decades, Tim Wallach was a fixture on such back fields, from his days as a player and more recently as a coach.
Wallach had a celebrated 17-year MLB career, and was a five time All-Star third baseman, a three time Gold Glove Award winner, and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
There’s no disputing Wallach’s standing in the sport.
From 2011-2019, Wallach was a mainstay on current Marlins manager Don Mattingly’s staff, first with the Dodgers (2011-15), and later with the Marlins (2016-19).
Now retired at age 63, Wallach is enjoying family time with his wife, children and grandchildren at his Southern California home. He still closely follows the Marlins, and his son, Chad, is a catcher on the club.
During his four years as Marlins’ bench coach, Wallach was instrumental in mapping out the team’s daily Spring Training workout schedule. Commonly, those duties fall into the lap of the bench coach.
“You really need a theme of what you’re trying to do, and how do you make it fun,” Wallach said in an interview with Man on Second Baseball.
During his time in Miami, Wallach said he would begin preparation for how to conduct Spring Training in early January. He’d speak with Mattingly, and review what the organization was trying to accomplish.
Spring Training Theme
“We’d start, in early January, especially with a new team,” Wallach said. “Donnie and I, we had gone through what defensive things we needed to do.”
Defense was a popular theme stressed by Mattingly-run teams.
“You’d go through the bunt defenses, you go through pickoffs, you go through cutoffs and relays,” Wallach said. “You had to have that all spelled out, and be able to explain that and show that in a way that the players could understand it.”
Communication was key, because making sure the players fully understand the objectives of the staff is critical to improvement and success.
“You have to get your beliefs to the players, and have them believe in what you believe in, basically, that can help you be a winning team,” Wallach said.
Terms like cutoffs, relays and bunt defense are used by all clubs, but not all execute these drills the same way.
“You talk about bunt defenses,” Wallach said. “A lot of teams want to try to get the lead runner all the time, to keep the double play in order. One of our main things, and we preached it every day, and we repeated it every day was, on a bunt play, you get an out. If they’re going to give you an out, you get an out. The one thing I always noticed, as a player, and a coach. When you make a mistake on a bunt play, if you don’t get an out, it turns into multiple runs.”
Two hour practices
Get to work, and get done. If all went well, the players could start heading to the showers after about two hours.
Experience taught Wallach that less could be more in a typical Spring Training day.
“You get their attention for about two hours,” Wallach said. “I know Donnie was this way, and I was this way: I loved to practice. And baseball can be very monotonous practicing. You lose interest and you stop learning something, or hearing something if you do it too long.
“We want to get as much done as quickly as possible. It always seemed to be a pretty good formula for us.”
Before the games started, Wallach routinely was at the park about 6:15 a.m. ET, and if all went well, he could be calling it a day around 3 p.m. When the games started, the hours would switch to shortly after 5 p.m.
“There were times when you had certain things you really had to focus in on, and get better on, and we’d spend more time on,” Wallach said. “But we tried to it more often in less time. We just made a priority in getting the guys to get their work done, and making it quality work, instead of quantity.”
Fun and competitive
Making even simple fielding drills fun and competitive were created by design. Wallach noted that when he worked with pitchers on fielding drills, there were times that say, 20 pitchers were lined up to field a bunt and throw to a base.
Seems harmless enough as a drill, except it was a drag and players could lose interest.
“You take 20 pitchers to one field, and bang ground balls at them, you’re waiting for 19 guys to get a ground ball and then you get one, and you get back in line and wait. You could do that for an hour and get 10 ground balls.”
Break the 20 up into two groups of 10, and have multiple drills going on at once. One group could be fielding bunts, while the other worked on covering first base.
“I’d have them doing three things at once on the little field, and they’d have to pay attention,” Wallach said. “You could do it in 10 minutes, and they would get 30 or 40 balls. So now, they’d have fun with it. They’d make a competition out of it.
“For me, athletes are about one thing, and that’s competition. The more you could put fun, competition together, the more you’re going to get out of them. That’s the one thing I always really tried to do. I tried to keep them competing, somehow and having fun doing it. They seemed to have fun with it.”