Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Interview: Former Royals Pitcher Tony Cogan

Its World Series time. So its time for Jews everywhere to find a connection to the Series. Well, Kevin Pillar is done. Theo Epstein didn't come through. How about we go back in time a little. Introducing Tony Cogan. Tony played for the Royals, although is admittedly a Cardinals fan. Tony recently joined Speaker Series. Here is his take on the ups and downs of getting to the Majors and the best pizza in Chicago.

Image result for tony cogan baseball
1)  Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
I live in Chicago with my wife, our young son, and our golden retriever. We are expecting our second child in late February. I grew up in the North Suburbs of Chicago and love the city, the Midwest, and its people. I have a passion for the outdoors – fishing is on top of the list. I am actively involved with the Scleroderma Foundation of Greater Chicago.

2) You pitched at Highland Park High School. Ever go back to catch a Giants game?

I have been to one or two since graduating, but most of my time was spent away from home. I spent the majority of my off-seasons training with other ball players in northern California, close to school. I did, however, give private lessons in HP for a number of years following retiring from baseball.

3) Was it hard to jump from college (Stanford) to the minor leagues? What is the biggest difference?
Actually, it was surprisingly not that tough of a jump. The big jump was minors to majors. When I got to the minors out of college, I was frothing at the mouth to pitch to wood bats! I felt like the edge was tilted in favor of pitchers because most of the guys were coming out of college or high school and had to make an adjustment to using wood bats. That actually gave me a fair amount of confidence going into my first pro season. The playing field leveled as I moved up the ladder.

4) What was it finally like getting to the majors?

 It was an incredible experience. I made the team out of spring training after only two minor league seasons – so it was quite a surprise. I was not really expecting to be invited to major league spring training let alone making the team. On the last day of spring, the team was making final cuts and a few guys were still hanging out, waiting to talk to management. I was on pins and needles and one of the other players, Chris Wilson, pulled me aside and forced me to sit down and play cards with him to calm my nerves. When I finally got in the office, I had a good feeling, but still wasn’t sure. Then, Tony Muser (the manager of the Royals at the time) sat me down and told me that I was going to be on a plane to New York to face the defending champion Yankees on opening day. I will quote him… “you did a nice job in spring training, now don’t get all poopy pants on me!” Three days later I was in Yankee Stadium!

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5) When did you know it was time to finish your career?

That is a very tough question. A lot of thought and consideration went into the decision. I was still physically able to play when I ultimately hung ‘em up. I can’t say that “I knew” it was time, but it felt like the right time for me.

6) What have you been up to since baseball?

I am now an investment adviser. I work with a great team in the Private Wealth Management division at William Blair and Company in Chicago. I am a husband, a father of a two year old boy, and have one on the way.

7) You played for the Royals. Are you a Royals fan? Do you have them winning it all?

I am a fan, but it’s more about the current team and less about the fact that I played for them. Technically, I am a Cardinals fan, but mostly I am a fan of the game and good baseball. I like the Royals’ chances in ’15, but if they lose and this is printed after the fact you can strike my prediction from the record.

8) Since you are a Chicagoan. Where is your favorite place to grab pizza?
Great questions – there are so many great places to eat pizza in Chicago. I am not much of a deep dish fan (blasphemy!) My current favorite would have to be Piece Pizza in Wicker Park. I am drooling just thinking about it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Interview: MLB's First Female Baseball Coach Justine Siegal

Just a few weeks ago headlines across the country were talking about Justine Siegal. Siegal has become Major League Baseball's first female coach, as she is a special instructor to the Oakland As. Siegal is joining elite company with other trailblazers like Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman in the NBA and Jen Welter in the NFL. Two of these four women are Jewish! We have interviewed Lieberman in the past and we are excited to introduce you all to Justine Siegel. Both are a part of The Great Rabbino Speaker Series and can be booked for events ( Welcome to the Bigs Justine!

1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
I’m a mom of a 17 year old girl. Its been quite the journey with her and we are very close. Without her support I could not have done any thing that I have been doing over her life time. …Pursing a PhD, coaching college, running a nonprofit, etc. She doesn’t even like to play baseball. But she knows my work is important because its about not letting gender boxes define you and being who you want to be.

2) When did you get into baseball?

I played T-ball and just never stopped. I had a great time until I was 13. That is when the first of many coaches told me I should quit because I am a girl.

3) What is "Baseball for All”?

Baseball for all is a national nonprofit providing opportunities for girls in baseball, including playing, coaching, umpiring, and other leadership positions.

4) What was it like to be the first female to throw batting practice?

Preparing was a a lot of hard work. I knew if I messed up it would be a long time before another woman would be given a chance. But it was really cool. Like being in a movie. I have all my MLB jerseys hanging in my closet. My daughter and I (who was 13 at the time) drove 800 miles in 5 days to throw to 4 MLB teams. I asked her what it felt like to be living the rockstar life of traveling, she responded “they stay in better hotels.” It was all pretty fun and amazing.

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5) What is your role with the Oakland As?

I was a guest coach at instructional league. So I was working with minor leaguers. It is unknown if I will be given any other coaching positions. But a handful of guys asked me to be there at Spring Training.

6) You used to coach at a Jewish school. What was that like?

I taught PE at the Montessori Jewish Day School in Toronto. Its a beautiful school. We celebrated all the holidays. When Jasmine was 6 her favorite movie was Ten Commandments. She watched it over and over.

7) Do you think female's will begin to gravitate more towards baseball than softball?

I think many females want to play baseball they just don’t feel its really open to them. The more they its open and welcoming, the more they will play.

8) Who is the greatest player you have ever worked with?

Steve Delebar was on the Brockton Rox with me. He went on to pitch in the MLB All-Star game.

9) What else do people need to know about Justine Siegal an Baseball for All?

I have a PHD in sport psychology. That I started what is now Baseball for All at the young age of 23. I have attached an essay I wrote for Chasing Dreams book.

Thank you to Justine for her time. I am looking forward to hearing about her success and the many girls she influences in the years to come!