From Brooklyn to the New York Boulders, Kevin Baez Reflects on Career in Baseball

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Kevin Baez enjoyed playing both baseball and basketball and even a little bit of roller hockey.  With is Mom moving the family to the Bay Ridge District, Baez was adamant on attending Lafayette High School.  Taking the either the bus or train to school every day.  Baez continued to play both baseball and basketball at Lafayette.

“I was a starter on both the baseball and basketball teams and one thing I loved about basketball is it kept me in shape and baseball wise,” said Kevin Baez.  “All you knew was Lafayette had a good baseball program, Louie Lopez, Johnny Franco, Fred Wilpon and Sandy Koufax to name a few.  A lot of guys that came out of there went to the minor leagues.  I enjoyed my time and still stay in touch with my coach, Joe Gambuzza, who lives in Marlboro, New Jersey.”

Once Baez graduated from Lafayatte, Baez did not field a ton of offers from colleges despite earning All-City honors.  One program that did stand out was Dominican College.  “If you look at me in high school, I was a skinny little rail,” Kevin Baez described.  “I said you know what, I want to get away from Brooklyn, I wanted to go to a school where I could at least sleep over and that’s part of college life.  It wasn’t too far away from home and best decision I ever made and made great friends and head coach, Rich Martin.”

A dream came true for Baez when he was drafted by the New York Mets in the 7th round of the MLB Draft in 1988.  The next couple of years Baez played in the minor leagues starting in Little Falls, New York in 1988, Columbia, South Carolina in 1989 and Jackson, Mississippi in 1990.  Finally, in September of 1990 Baez got the word he would be called up to the major leagues.

“My Mom is my biggest fan, still alive and in her 70’s and lives in North Carolina right now,” said Kevin Baez.  “She was excited no doubt when I got to the major leagues and dream come true.  Where I came from not too many people make it.  My Dad passed away when I was really young.  I saw him every other Sunday, growing up he was a good man, not involved as much and a correctional officer in the Brooklyn House of Detention.”

“The reason I got called up in case the team needed any offensive help in case anyone went down.  I was in awe of the talent on the team.  Buddy Harrelson was my first manager.  It was nerve wracking, a little ragged.  The first time walking out on to the field at Shea Stadium, John Franco, who was an expert and went to my high school helped me out, a memory I will never forget.  I remember getting my first hit in Pittsburgh, seeing Ozzie Smith in St. Louis.”

The following year Baez ran into a speed bump, struggling in Triple A compounded by getting plunked in the face shelved him for the rest of the season.  Baez rebounded by playing two more years for the Mets before the organization traded him to the Baltimore Orioles in 1994.  For the next five years Baez bounced around from city to city, state to state.  In 1995 and 1996 playing for Rochester in Triple A, next with the Toledo Mud Hens, Triple A with the Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins and Salt Lake City.  In the midst of all the traveling, Baez ended up getting married as well.

Keeping himself in shape year-round, Baez traveled down to Puerto Rico to play winter ball.  “Once you get an opportunity in the major leagues, you got to take advantage of it once because you don’t know if you are going to get that chance again,” Kevin Baez explained.  “I did speak a lick of Spanish, that was good to get down there and what an experience.  Living on the beach and playing baseball for three months out of the year.  I would come home for a couple of weeks and then go to spring training in February.”

“Reuben Sierra was the batting champ, when we started in October, we had a stud of major leaguers in Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Juan Gonzales and Carlos Baerga.  I didn’t have an agent, so you basically become your own agent.  You are making phone calls you make some money in the wintertime and get to live on the beach in Puerto Rico.  There were three teams, Arecibo Lobos, Ponce Leones and Caguas Criollos.  We had veteran players such as Bernie Williams and Candy Maldonado.”

In 2000, Baez ended up coming full circle back to the Mets playing for the Norfolk Triple A team.  In 2002, Baez jumped to the Atlantic League playing for the Long Island Ducks.  Just when the door seemed to be closing on a return to the major leagues, Baez got picked up the Cincinnati Reds Triple A affiliate.  After a short stint, Baez returned to the Ducks where the team made the playoffs.

“I came to the Ducks in 2002, 2003 I was having a good year and knew my career was coming to an end and play maybe closer to home,” Kevin Baez described.  “I got picked up by Cincinnati Triple A and the Ducks made the playoffs and I came back and we had a bitter ending.  I just wanted to play and Cincinnati came calling because they needed someone because a shortstop went down. Here I am 37 or 38 years old and said why not because I don’t know if I will get this shot again.”

“I think I ended up hurting my hamstring but I told the guys that it’s about displaying love for the game and doing well.  Don’t worry about getting picked up because you are putting stress on yourself.  Control what you can control, keep playing the game and they will call and I was excited to go to Louisville and play with them and get a chance and one step away from the big leagues.”

After his baseball playing days ended, Baez still wanted to stay in the game so he decided to remain with the Ducks as a full-time coach in 2005.  In 2007 Baez returned to the Mets organization as a manager in the Gulf Coast League.  Two years later Baez came back to Ducks as the third base/infield coach.

“I lived three miles from the Ducks stadium,” said Kevin Baez.  “At the time Dave Lapointe was the manager and Dom McCormack was also there.  Learning how to coach third was a little nerve-wracking because you don’t know the signs and threw in the fire.  In 2007 I got a call from the Mets after being away for six months. I didn’t like being away for that long.  I came back to the Ducks and because they had an opening and it felt good.”

After two years as the third base/infield coach, Baez was named as the new Ducks manager for the 2011 season.  “Michael Pfaff and Frank Bowen who was the owner gave me the opportunity to manage,” Kevin Baez said.  “They said we’re going to make a move with the manager position, think highly of you and want to take it.  I knew I didn’t have the experience but they surrounded me with a lot of veteran guys that helped me out tremendously.  Bud Harrelson was my bench coach, Jay Loviglio, the hitting coach and Steve Fouccault, the pitching coach.”

Going to manage Long Island for 8 years, Baez guided the Ducks to the playoffs seven times while winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013 and reaching the championship series three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018.

“My first year we had a great team, we won the second half and should have won the championship,” Kevin Baez explained.  “The following year we really had a good team, thought we could have won it and just a credit to the players.  Mike (Pfaff) and I had a conversation about putting together the best team.”

“When you get players that have Triple AAA, big league guys and couple of Double AA guys that have played the game for a quite a while and were dominant is a big leap.  They understand they are coming onto to your team and know how to play the game and prepare.”

Last year when the Rockland Boulders managerial position opened up, Baez opted to jump at the opportunity and take it.  “An exciting moment and new chapter in my career,” Kevin Baez described.  “I went to college in the area, the stadium was outstanding and great fan support.  When I first spoke to Shawn (Reilly) on the phone he was a true gentleman and professional.  Megan Ciampo, in her first year as Assistant GM, was outstanding and communicated with me all the time.”

Despite the team finishing up 42-50 in 2019, the Boulders reached the postseason for a sixth consecutive year.  Facing off against Sussex County in the first round of the Can-Am League Playoffs, Rockland put up a good fight but ultimately the Miners prevailed in the series 3-1.

“I know that the guys fought every day and had a lot of guys coming in and out and getting hurt,” Kevin Baez remarked.  “It’s a cut throat game, sometimes you have to release guys and you understand how passionate these guys are.  The guys came to the park every day, were good teammates and that’s the one thing I appreciate as a coach.  If you do that every day, everything will fall into place. Obviously, you are not going to win every day but having that desire to compete and win.”

“Losing John Brontsema and Ryne Birk was huge but other guys stepped up.  It’s frustrating because guys that were there with you from the beginning and they played well.  It could have been who is going to make a play, get a timely hit and old saying goes the is keeping mistakes at a minimum.  We did win one game in Rockland but had opportunities and couldn’t come through.”

“As a manager or player, you feel terrible when you lose.  You have been through the season with guys, ups and down and road trips.  I sold them at the beginning of spring training you have to get along because we are going to be with each other a lot.  Though it hurt I went up to each and every guy and shook their hand and thanked them for their season.”

A couple of months after the season ended wholesale changes too place for the Boulders organization.  First, changing the team name from Rockland to New York and moving to the Frontier League.  Baez on the impact, “I’m sure the people from Rockland were torn and a little bit disheartened but they have to understand going to a new league they want us going to new places where they not really going to know Rockland.  They will know more about the New York Boulders.  I have heard a lot of good things about the Frontier League and excited to get started.”

A father of 14 and 9 year-old boys, Baez spends his time in the off-season conducting baseball clinics with kids and adults.  “They’re into sports, they play all the sports and baseball and basketball like me,” said Kevin Baez.  “ They are very athletic and eager in trying to get better every day.  The one thing I do regret is not having kids younger so they could see me play.  I’m always away a lot, my wife holds down the fort.  She gets annoyed sometimes but a good person and mother.”

“I’m trying to teach kids and adults the fundamentals, teaching them other aspects of the game of baseball which is exciting for me and just to see the enjoyment of the younger kids.  Obviously, I’m not a big-league star but you know they come up to me for an autograph and that makes me happy and feel good about myself.  Making some kids and teaching baseball is what I’m enjoying right now.”