To view the first part of this interview, please click here.
Rick Magnante's day job is as a minor league manager and scout in the Oakland A's organization. He has been the A's short-season affiliate manager since 2006, skippering the Vancouver Canadians squad from 2006-2010 and the Vermont Lake Monsters the past two seasons. During the off-season, Magnante has been wearing a different green-and-gold hat as the manager of the South African national baseball team.
Recently, South Africa competed in the qualifying tournament for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The tournament in Florida was held September 19 through the 23rd. South Africa competed in the same bracket with Israel, France and Spain. The South African team would fail to qualify, going 1-2 in their three games. Spain would win the bracket to advance to the WBC.
Magnante tabbed A's minor league coaches Brian McArn and Craig Lefferts to help him with the South African team. McArn served as the team's batting coach and Lefferts was the team's pitching coach.
Donald Moore spoke with Magnante after the conclusion of the WBC qualifying tournament. Below is part one of their conversation.
Donald Moore: Coach, what is your take on the first game you had against Israel, resulting in a 7-3 loss, with your South African squad?
Rick Magnante: The Israeli team is a compilation of high A ball to as high as big league players in terms of experience and a level of play. And to go out there with an 18-to-19-year-old right-handed pitcher from the Northwest League by the name of Dylan Unsworth, and stay in that ball game – it was a one run game though seven innings – I thought was quite a statement in terms of our ability. If we can pitch, we can compete at a higher level as move forward as a nation.
DM: Your team put a fierce battle against France, ultimately winning that game 5-2, in a two-day, 11-inning game. I thought it was kind of unfair to have your team play another game on that same day against Spain.
RM: That was a bear fight and that what you have to do for television and what their schedule is and the broadcast stuff and they have to get that in by Monday at the latest. That's just how that worked out. If we had a lost, it would have been one game. But I think everybody was okay with that, and we understood the weather does factor into that, too. But I thought that was a big win for South African baseball. First World Baseball Classic win that they had in seven games, so I'm glad we were able to get off the schneid and be a part of something.
We didn't have much time to savor it, but we went back in, and we had to come out and play Spain. We were not able to put out an experienced starting staff to combat a pretty much strong kind of international Latin ball club from Spain, so we threw high school players against veteran guys, and it can get out of hand and it kind of did. We didn't have infielder Anthony Phillips, who played in the Midwest League for Clinton, whose in the Mariners chain, and we didn't have pitcher Taylor Scott, who is under contract with the Cubs, so we were a little short-handed. We were hoping our squad would have had been a little deeper, but without a infielder and starting pitcher, that didn't work out.
DM: Coach, your team has eight guys on your roster currently playing professional baseball in the United States. Do you think that there is a chance that one of them could become the first South African to make the Major Leagues?
RM: I think our shortstop, Gift Ngoepe, is that guy right now. [Ngoepe is in the Pirates organization.]
DM: Any players on your current squad right now that the A's are scouting for next year?
RM: I would say probably say at this point not, but the kids that did pitch are under contract with different teams other than the A's.
DM: I noticed you have minor league A's coaches on your coaching staff – Ports pitching coach Craig Lefferts and Midland hitting coach Brian McArn. Does it make it a lot easier to combine your talents and skills together as a group to help coach this club?
RM: Yes, it provides continuity. I think it provides an attitude, an energy that we try to bring forward in Oakland at the lower levels, which is exactly what this is in terms of teaching and development. Knowing these guys and knowing that they are professional, and their first and most important purpose is teaching and trying to develop the game at all levels. So yes, it does enhance the coaching experience I believe for these players for the South African Team.
DM: What are your plans for the off-season?
RM: I'm just going to relax now and I'm glad that I am home. I've got a few meetings in while I'm in Phoenix. Then next month, I will head to South Africa in early December to do an another academy there for the African Nations Baseball Academy with MLB to develop baseball not only in South Africa but in the other countries as well, be it Uganda, Kenya, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, or any of the other African countries. We will probably have about 40 kids, who will probably be 15-to-18 years old and see what we've got in terms of talent in the continent, as well in South Africa.
DM: Are you the advanced scout for the A's in the African continent to evaluate players?
RM: Yes, it does gives us an opportunity that maybe a lot of organizations don't get to be able to be on the field in international baseball, but at the same time being out there, looking at talent that a lot of organizations do not see because it's either not budgeted or my relationship that I have with the South Africans allows me to see international baseball that maybe other organization wouldn't see. I think it would be incumbent upon me if I did recognize something to tell our people that maybe there might be a player that might be of interest to the Oakland A's.
DM: Coach, it's always a pleasure to speak with you, and thank you again for all your time and insight, and the best of luck to you in Africa.
RM: Don, my pleasure.