Former Baseball America intern Alexis Brudnicki is spending the winter working for the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League. She will be checking in regularly from Down Under with dispatches, profiles and other reports.
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—At some point, everyone stops playing baseball.
It’s not something you can do forever, but there is a way to stay in the game long after your playing days are done.
Kevin Jordan finished out his seven-year major league career as an infielder with the Phillies in 2001. He had previously spent a few offseasons playing for the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League before the league folded in 1999.
Jordan is back with the Bandits as manager of the team, trying to help revive the Major League Baseball-backed ABL in its second season since reforming in 2010. He works alongside Brisbane general manager Paul Gonzalez, a former teammate of Jordan’s with the Bandits.
“When we played together in 1996 we used to joke that we were going to be running the Bandits one day,” Jordan said. “Or that we were going to be a part of it again one day, and this was 15 years ago.”
A decade-and-a-half later, the two former teammates now find themselves together again, actually running the team and taking on those roles that they once joked about.
“Truth be told, somehow it’s actually happened,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got really good chemistry together so it’s been fantastic to work with Kevin this year and have him as part of the Bandits.”
Change Of Scenery
Insight is not the only thing the two Bandits-turned-Bandits have in common. Both KJ and Gonzo, as they are affectionately known within the organization, are American-born players who came to Australia for some play during the winter months. They also both met their wives here and have made Brisbane their new home, raising Australian-American children and trying to build the game of baseball down under.
As both Jordan and Gonzalez have experienced firsthand, baseball is a little different here for their kids than it was for them in the US when they were first introduced to the game.
“In the States you grow up playing sports right after school and usually your coach is one of your teachers, whether it’s your Phys. Ed teacher or English teacher or whatever,” Jordan said. “But as soon as school ends you go and you have your practice at school or somewhere close.
“Out here, pretty much everything is based on volunteer work. That’s when the coaches or parents get off work and usually training happens later. So that’s different and hopefully in the future they’ll start introducing it into more schools and it will become an after-school sport as opposed to just a night sport for training.”
Australians love for the game, and how committed people are to helping it, is one of the things that has surprised and impressed the Bandits manager the most
“I don’t think anyone would realize it unless they were out here and saw a baseball community,” Jordan said. “Just to realize how passionate these people are is great. Most of the people that work at the grounds are volunteers . . . and you couldn’t do it without the volunteers in Australia.
“You really could not run baseball and that shows how passionate they are because they’re giving up their free time to help. And they’re not just trying to help their children play ball, but they’re trying to help the whole sport.”
Assisting the Aussie game is something that Jordan thinks will start very simplistically.
“We just want to be an option for someone on the weekend,” he said of Bandits baseball. “For a family to come out and let their kid come and watch a ballgame. I think if and when the league grows, the young kids that we see out there now watching the games, they’re going to be the ones out there on the field someday.”
Jordan himself was out on the field not too long ago, playing for the Bandits from 1993-97. The San Francisco native was drafted by the Yankees in the 20th round of the 1990 amateur draft back when the Yankees had an affiliation with Brisbane. His only stint in the major leagues though, was with Philadelphia, where he began to learn the skills he now applies to managing his own team.
“I was lucky in the sense that I had real good managers with the Phillies,” the 42-year-old said. “Every year I’ve had a good manager and I’ve learned something from them. Every day I would pick their brains and ask them why they did something in a certain situation or if they would have done something differently.
“We had good coordinators with the Phillies and I would just sit there all day and grill them. I did this before I even thought about managing and I just did it because I consider myself a student of the game. I really want to try to learn as much as possible and get as much information as I can.”
Helping the rookie manager’s transition from coach to head honcho is former big leaguer Gary Nilsson. Nilsson is the Bandits pitching coach and someone with whom Jordan played with, played for and coached with over the last two decades.
“We’ve always had a really good rapport and now that we’re on the coaching side together that helps because I can ask him questions, he can give me feedback, I can give him feedback and we’re pretty much on the same page with a lot of the things that we’re trying to do,” Jordan said. “I think that really helps.”
While Jordan wants to help grow baseball in Brisbane, he is also focused on turning the Bandits into winners. This may seem an obvious goal, but after going 14-22 in the Bandits inaugural season last year and finishing out of playoffs after a couple of unsuccessful seasons in the Claxton Shield, the young manager wants to make sure his team knows that they are capable of winning before they even set out to do so.
“I want them to have self-belief,” Jordan said. “That’s one of the big things, that they know that they can be successful. We have not been successful organizationally for the last two or three years or whatever it’s been since we started playing.”
Gonzalez brought Jordan into the managerial role this season with the belief that he has a unique perspective and the capability to bond with his team.
“He brings an ability to connect with the young player and guide his development,” Gonzalez said. “That’s probably his biggest skill set. Kevin worked very hard in his career to get to the major leagues, he earned everything he received and I think he expects nothing less of the players on this team.”
The KJ strategy to help his team, first and foremost, is to keep a positive attitude in the clubhouse.
“I’m just trying to stay positive,” he said. “Obviously I want to be successful at what I’m doing and that’s the one thing that I can say I’m really trying to do. I’m trying to bring that type of atmosphere to the guys so that they expect to win every day as opposed to just hoping to win.”
While Jordan has plenty of experience and wisdom to offer about the game, his modesty allows him to think that his players might not even know about his time in the majors or in the ABL. Though it hasn’t come up yet, his door is always open.
“I don’t really talk about any of that stuff,” the former infielder said about his time with Philadelphia. “But any questions the team has for me, I’m there. I’m always available obviously. That’s one of the things I like about coaching is that I can help teach from my experience as a player from the good and the bad. I’ve played at every level and I’ve struggled at every level.”
To get through their struggles, Jordan tries to impart his wisdom on the players. He encourages a short memory and to not dwell on anything that might have happened in a game previously.
“Every day you wake up holds the possibility to be the best day yet,” he said. “Regardless of what happened the day before, once you get up that day there’s always the possibility that this might be the day that something special happens.”