Dick Schofield was a first-round major league draft pick, a key member of the California Angels team that came within one strike of a World Series berth in 1986, and finished his career just shy of 1,000 hits.
He had a serviceable big league career. But Schofield’s road to Billings as a player development instructor was an uncharted one. Yet here he is, as a first-year manager in the Pioneer League, ready to lead the Mustangs headlong into the 2014 season.
Billings opens its 76-game schedule Monday night against North division foe Great Falls. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. at Dehler Park.
“When I was playing, the last thing I ever thought I’d do was become a coach,” Schofield said. “If you had told me 30 years ago that I’d be managing … there’s just no way. But it’s in my family, it’s in my blood, so I’m doing it.”
The 51-year-old Schofield comes to the Mustangs from the Reds’ Double-A affiliate in Pensacola, Fla., where he was the hitting coach last season. This will be his second year in the Reds organization after serving as a roving field coordinator with the Angels. He takes over for Pat Kelly, who is now the manager at Class A Bakersfield (Calif.).
Schofield previously managed in Springfield, Ill., in the Independent League in 2001, and was the skipper for the Diamondbacks’ Double-A affiliate in South Bend, Ind., of the Midwest League the following year.
“As far as philosophy, I don’t have one,” Schofield said. “A lot of that is dictated by the kids you have, and at this level it’s all over the place. It’s a development level.
“You want to win, but there are certain guys that have to get their at-bats and pitch their innings. The biggest part of it, No. 1, I just ask them to do one thing, and that’s play hard.”
Schofield is not new to the Pioneer League. As the third overall draft pick by the Angels in 1981, he played that summer in Idaho Falls and made his major league debut two years later.
His father, “Ducky” Schofield, played parts of 19 seasons in the majors between 1953 and 1971, and was a member of the 1960 Pirates team that beat the Yankees in the World Series on Bill Mazeroski’s famous ninth-inning homer in Game 7.
Schofield’s nephew is Jayson Werth, an outfielder with the Nationals.
Spotlight on: Tyler Mahle
Schofield said 19-year-old right-hander Tyler Mahle will be the Mustangs’ opening-night starter.
Mahle was a seventh-round draft pick of the Reds in 2013 and spent last season in the Arizona League, going 1-3 with 2.36 ERA. Mahle was drafted out of high school in Westminster, Calif. Mahle originally planned to play collegiately at UC Santa Barbara but chose to forgo that commitment to sign a professional contract.
“I just felt like I was ready,” said Mahle, whose brother Greg, a left-handed pitcher, was drafted out of UCSB in the 15th round of this year’s draft by the Angels. “I’ve been told, and I kind of know, that I’m a lot more mature than some of the pitchers that come out of high school. I got the right opportunity, so I took it.”
Schofield said Mahle won’t be on a strict pitch count. Mahle can mix six pitches: A four-seam fastball, a two-seamer, a cutter, a curveball, a slider and a changeup.
“From Day 1 in spring training until the end of extended (spring) he looks like he’s pitched at a much higher level,” Schofield said. “Very poised. For being 19 he’s just very polished.”
Around the league
• The Pioneer League begins earlier than usual, and is doing so with permission from Major League Baseball.
Typically, short-season Rookie league seasons don’t start until two weeks after the draft. But in an effort to accommodate players that will go to instructional leagues in September, the Pioneer League petitioned for -- and was given -- a waiver to open three days before its originally scheduled start date of June 19.
• Aside from Billings, four other Pioneer League clubs have new managers. That includes Ogden, which is helmed by 1993 American League Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell.
McDowell won 127 games in 12 seasons with the White Sox, Yankees, Indians and Angels. He went 22-10 with a 3.37 ERA in 1993. He takes over for previous skipper Damon Berryhill. This is McDowell’s first managerial job.
• McDowell isn't the only former Cy Young winner in the Pioneer League. Mark Davis, who won the award in the National League with the Padres in 1989 when he made a league-high 44 saves, is the new pitching coach in Idaho Falls.