SURPRISE, Ariz. — “The fans were absolutely electric. Every night we had 40,000-50,000 people,” Darnell Coles said about his time in Toronto.
“Obviously with the team we were putting on the field, we ended up winning our second World Championship in a row.”
Ah. That Toronto.
Coles left the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent in 1992 to go to the city that won it all, and he expected it to be outstanding. The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t disappoint.
“Most importantly, it was a great group of guys from Mr. Gillick and Paul Beeston on down,” he said. “A fantastic group that went out and did everything possible and gave us every opportunity to win a championship. And we did.”
The journeyman had a 14-year-long major-league career, selected in the first round by the Seattle Mariners in 1980 alongside notable draft classmates Darryl Strawberry, Kelly Gruber, Terry Francona and Billy Beane.
A busy tenure on baseball’s biggest stage took him to every corner of the United States with seven different teams, made him a sushi lover in Japan on two separate occasions, but to just one city that made him a champion.
At 50, his playing days are behind him. The California-native has been the manager of Double-A Huntsville, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, for three years.
He joined the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League as the hitting coach this October.
He is working with players from five organizations (the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins and Oakland Athletics) with Double-A Mississippi Braves’ manager Aaron Holbert as the manager.
“What these guys need to start to understand, is that there’s 30 major league teams,” he said at Surprise Stadium before the Dogs took on the Saguaros.
“The team that you’re playing for right now may not be the team that you make it to the big leagues with.”
Over 2,100 Fall League players have gone on to become major leaguers. Coles says the opportunity to play among the best is both a blessing for invitees, and an incredible challenge to see how you match up.
“It betters your chances to come out here and perform well. I think these guys understand that there’s a lot at stake every time you step on the field,” he said.
The work that is done in this off-season league is beneficial beyond the field. Successful careers don’t always mean a straight shot to the top.
“You play hard, you do things the right way, you show that you can move runners, you understand the way the game is played.”
The greater understanding is more visible than ever in the desert.
Although the Fall League draws fans eager to see the future stars of their favourite club, the crowd is also full of scouts, general managers, and farm directors equipped with their research, notepads, and video cameras.
Surely, these delegates are keeping their eyes on the men in the dugouts, too.
“We’ve all got aspirations. You want to coach at the top of your profession,” said Coles, who wants to come back to the league and manage.
“This is an opportunity to show people what you’re made of and how you gel with guys from different teams. You see a lot, learn a lot, and have a new understanding of how the game is played.”
When he wears his ring from 1993, the first thing he’s asked by admirers is if it was from the year that Joe Carter hit the home run.
“I don’t know what it’s like to win a Super Bowl. I most certainly don’t know what it’s like to win an NBA Championship,” Coles said.
“But I do know what it’s like to win a World Series on a home run at home. There is no more incredible feeling in the world.”
The dream team may have parted ways nearly two decades ago, but there’s always a little bit of fate that holds something so historical together.
“You forge those relationships,” Coles said of his World Series teammates. “I saw Todd Stottlemyre on a flight coming (to Arizona) for spring training. What are the chances of that?”